Hard Swollen Stomach in Dogs (No Pain, Bloat) Causes & Remedies

Dog hard stomach

When you take note of a hard or enlarged stomach in your dog, you are likely to get curious and press it to check what it is. At times, the dog may behave normally and have no pain with the touch.

A hard, swollen stomach in dogs is usually caused by canine bloat. Your dog may be in pain, but in other instances, no gas or pain is felt. Growths, pregnancy and excessive fluid in the canine’s belly can also make it distend. You may observe other symptoms such as lethargy and fainting. Take your dog to the vet for diagnosis and treatment because the problem can turn out to be serious.

Why is my dog acting normal with a hard stomach?

You may be surprised that your dog is acting all normal with a distended stomach. This depends on the cause of the condition. It ought to be stated that some causes are painful while others are not.

As such, when you see your dog with a hard abdomen and the fellow is acting normal, there is no pain to the condition. Still, you need to have the case checked by a vet to establish the reason behind it. When you take your dog to the vet, the diagnosis will be based on the symptoms the dog presents upon a physical exam. At times, the vet may require to carry out ultrasounds and radiography tests.

Other tests that may be required include blood, urine and stool tests, and tests on any unusual fluids associated with the condition.

As said before, you need to let the vet deal with the issue given that it may be painful and the dog may respond with a bite when you touch the hard stomach. Also, the painless stomach may be a sign of a serious case such as cancer growths that need immediate medical attention.

Causes of a swollen belly

There is a long list of the causes of a distended hard stomach in dogs. Some of them are simple cases that will need a home remedy while others are complex enough to require surgery. After examination, the vet will tell you what the cause is, and what needs to be done to restore your dog’s health (and shape).

The causes include:

1. Bloating

Among the most common causes of a hard stomach in dogs is bloating. Also called GDV (gastric dilation and volvulus), this is a condition whereby food or gas causes the stretching of a dog’s stomach.

GDV is the more serious form of boating whereby the stretched stomach rotates and traps gas in the stomach such that the blood supply to the abdomen is cut off. You may notice your dog’s stomach making loud noises.

This condition is very painful and needs immediate medical attention lest you lose your dog. Among the causes of this condition include:

  • If you feed your dog only on a single meal a day.
  • If the dog has a family history of GDV and general bloating.
  • Age; the most likely age for bloating is between 7 and 12 years for dogs.
  • Breed; large and deep-chested dog breeds such as Weimaraners, St. Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, Old English Sheepdogs, Borzoi, Boxers, Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, German Shepherds, Akitas, Standard Poodles, and Great Danes are more likely to have bloating and GDV issues than smaller ones like chihuahuas.
  • When you feed your dogs on bowls that are elevated, the elevation increases the chances of the dog taking in more air than is healthy hence leading to bloating.
  • Bloating can also be caused by eating too quickly.

You can keep an eye on these aspects to prevent bloating.

2. Peritonitis

Peritonitis refers to a condition whereby the peritoneum, the tissue which lines the wall of the abdomen and the abdominal organs, swells due to inflammation. The peritoneum is a watery membrane which gets inflamed and causes a lot of discomforts.

The causes of this condition include:

  • Injury elsewhere in the body which leads to secondary peritonitis.
  • Spreading of a causative agent in your dog’s blood.
  • Injury to the abdomen.
  • Wounds that penetrate into the abdomen.
  • Surgical sites that have opened up.
  • Abdominal trauma.
  • Pus in the abdomen.
  • Inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Liver abscesses.
  • When the bile duct, urinary bladder or gallbladder rupture.

Apart from the enlargement of the abdomen, this condition also has symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Signs of shock
  • Low blood pressure
  • Arrhythmia; abnormal heart rhythm.
  • The dog may assume the praying position to reduce the severity of the pain.

Peritonitis is also a life-threatening condition and very painful.

3. Hormonal issues

For dogs older than 5 years, the likelihood of having a hormonal imbalance are high. Issues such as hypothyroidism are common in dachshunds, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, boxers, golden retrievers, Irish setters, Doberman pinschers and Great Danes.

The symptoms of hormonal imbalances include a change in the dog’s coat to a loss of hair, skin dryness, brittleness and thinness being noted. The skin will also have infections, scales, odor and become oily.

The dog can also become seemingly overweight even when its lifestyle is still normal. The abdomen will become considerably larger. Besides that, you will observe a lack of energy and enthusiasm in the dog. It will have low alertness when plagued with a hormonal imbalance.

Other symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance in dogs include:

  • Intolerance to cold conditions.
  • Abnormal heartbeats.

Most of these symptoms are easy to take note of and can be treated once noted by the vet.

4. Liver disease

When dogs have liver disease, they exhibit various symptoms including:

  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Loss of weight
  • Jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Increased thirst
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Behavioral changes
  • Drooling excessively
  • Poor appetite

The liver disease is a life-threatening one and needs the vet to treat the dog accordingly.

5. Uterine infections

Aside from the hard abdominal region, a UTI in dogs can be diagnosed with the following symptoms:

  • When the dog breaks house training.
  • Dribbling urine.
  • Strain during urination.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Signs of pain during urination such as crying.
  • Licking the genital area frequently and obsessively.

Other UTI symptoms are available. Most of them are similar to those found in human urinary tract infections but may be hard to notice as they are rarer in dogs.

5. Pregnancy

If your dog is a fertile female, chances are high that the hard stomach is actually little puppies developing in her womb. Around the 6th week of the pregnancy, dogs will have a swollen abdomen. If the dog is acting normal (without pain), you may need to check for pregnancy.

Besides the hard abdomen, you will know the dog is pregnant with the following signs:

  • Nesting
  • Mothering activity
  • Self-nursing
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Enlarged mammary glands
  • Loss of appetite

If you see a combination of these symptoms, you need to have a pregnancy test done for your dog.

6. Tumors and growths

Tumors which may be cancerous or benign in nature can develop in the abdomen of your dog leading to its distending. Whether they are painful or not will depend on the causes of these growths.

7. Heart disease

The hard abdominal cavity can be due to heart disease. This disease, besides causing the enlarged abdomen, can be known through its various symptoms such as:

  • Dry coughs that worsen at night.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Fainting spells.
  • Dry coughs after exercising.
  • Shortness of breath.

Like most causes on this list, the heart disease is life-threatening and one that is easy to miss noticing as most symptoms may manifest when it has advanced.

8. Free fluid in the abdomen

Also called ascites or abdominal effusion, fluid can build up within the abdominal cavity leading to the hardening and/or enlargement of the abdomen.

Ascites can be caused by various conditions among them congestive heart failure, (hypoproteinemia) low levels of protein in blood, liver damage, a ruptured bladder, the inflammation of the abdominal lining, cancer of the abdomen, and bleeding in the abdomen.

A lot of the causes of ascites are life-threatening issues which need the immediate attention of the vet.

9. Obesity

The distended abdomen of your dog may be nothing other than the fat accumulated by your dog. As the body stores fats around the body, the abdomen is among the areas excess fats are stored. Even in human beings, the belly area is favored by fats over other areas. Some dog breeds are more prone to obesity than others.

Don’t assume that an obese dog must have fats around its abdomen since they are even at a higher risk of the values of a hard abdomen than healthy dogs. Always check with the vet whenever you suspect something.

10. Bleeding

One of the most alarming conditions can be internal bleeding. This occurs when blood starts pooling in the dog’s abdominal cavity leading to its distending. Internal bleeding can be caused by broken bones, trauma, a pregnancy, medications, bleeding after surgery and food items such as alcohol.

With internal bleeding, your dog will require immediate medical attention to save its life.

These are just but some of the causes of a hard stomach in your dog. No matter what the cause may be, the attention of your vet is needed to address it.

Symptoms you may notice

When our pets fall sick, the ease with which we will recognize their sickness depends heavily on how close we are to them. If you are close enough, you will know their routines and appearance enough to recognize an anomaly when it occurs. A hard stomach in your dog will be accompanied by the following symptoms:

Gurgling

Your sick dog may gurgle when with a hard stomach. A characteristic hollow burbling sound can be observed especially when the dog has bloating. As it struggles to breathe and has pain in the abdomen, the gurgling sounds will be heard during breathing.

Gurgling can be dangerous to the dog as it may lead to suffocation and eventual death.

Bloating

A bloated stomach is another symptom of a hard stomach in dogs. Bloating, as noted above, can be as a result of many different issues including eating too fast and eating from elevated bowls.

While normal bloating is not an issue, some extreme cases may be dangerous to the life of your dog and will need to be addressed promptly.

Distended (swollen) stomach

Unlike bloating which can be easily resolved with home remedies and at the vet’s office, a distended stomach can be a sign of a serious health issue with your dog. The swelling can be painful or not depending on the cause of the condition.

Shaking

At times, the condition may affect the dog in ways that make it shake. For example, hormonal issues in dogs lead to cold intolerance hence shivering whenever temperatures drop even slightly.

Other times, it could be an issue affecting the nerves leading to a weakness that makes the dog shake. Also, the issue may be making the dog shake to relieve pain.

Lethargy

Most sicknesses in pets lead to lethargy which is a lack of energy and enthusiasm. If your dog is often jolly then one day he shuns any play for a considerable amount of time, you should have him checked by the vet.

Pain

The pain felt with a hard stomach can be due to various reason including inflammation, injury, infection, and others. You can see that the dog is in pain when it winces, cries or walks or sleeps in an unusual position.

Anemia

Some of the conditions that lead to a distended abdomen can also lead to anemia which is the deficiency of red blood cells. It can be diagnosed by paleness and a lack of energy.

Drinking a lot of water

Some causes of the hard stomach can lead to heightened thirst and hence the drinking of water in more-than-usual amounts.

Diarrhea and vomiting

These are classic signs of sick health which require the problem to be tackled before it becomes too late for your dog.

Fainting

Fainting spells may accompany the hard stomach especially when the cause is the heart disease and other serious cases. Fainting may be due to the lack of supply of blood to the brain.

A general loss of balance can also be noted with the dog walking like a drunken person.

With these and other symptoms, you can always tell that your dog needs medical attention to be normal once more.

Swollen stomach but no pain

Not all the time when your dog has a distended stomach are accompanied by pain. There are causes of this condition which are not painful. They include the following:

  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal issues
  • Some growths
  • Mild bloating

As such, when you see your dog with a distended abdomen and he/she is acting normal, it may be due to one of the reasons above. The bottom line is that, at all times, you need to have a proper examination made on the dog when you see an anomaly of any kind.

Home remedies

For most of the causes of the condition at hand, bloating is the only one that you can handle while still at home. Other conditions often develop slowly and will take a while before they pose a major danger to your dog. However, bloating can develop in minutes and kill your dog in a short while.

For this reason, the home remedies in this section focus on dealing with bloating issues in dogs and how to quickly step in to save your dog’s life. The list below has medicines which can be given to the dog at home but ONLY IN EMERGENCIES. If the bloating is mild and the vet is close by, there is no need to give the dog these medicines. They are:

Nux Vomica

This medicine is used mainly when your dog becomes bloated after a meal. This situation often forces the dog to try vomiting but, in most cases, it is not successful. The dog will thus constantly retch and become chilly and irritable. To induce vomiting, nux vomica is the solution.

Argentum nitricum

If your dog is susceptible to chronic vomiting, argentum nitricum is the best emergency solution on your hands. Chronic bloating often fills the mouth of the dog with mucus and makes the abdomen in general very painful. A dose of this medicine will induce vomiting thus giving your dog relief.

Belladonna

For sudden cases of bloating and serious symptoms of the same, belladonna is the best emergency medication you can give to your dog. It occurs when the dog has dilated pupils, it is restless and agitated due to the condition. An increase in temperature is often noted as well.

Any of these symptoms warrant using this medicine.

Carbo vegetabilis

Carbo vegetabilis is the solution given for acute cases of bloating. The prime candidates for this type of medicine include dogs with intense symptoms such as bluish gums and tongues, cold ears and legs and general weakness.

When buying these medicines, ensure you have the right dosages from the pharmacy since an overdose can be lethal to your dog.

Treatment options

The treatment options available will depend on the causes of the hard stomach. Below are the most common treatment options for specific cases:

  • Surgery: Growths will need to be surgically removed whether they are cancerous or benign. This will also depend on the danger they pose to the life of the dog and the advice of the vet.
  • Draining the fluids: If the abdomen is filled with excessive fluids, they will need to be drained for the dog to revert back to normal health.
  • Weight Loss: The vet will give advice on the best weight loss routine for your dog if it is established that he is above his weight.
  • Relieving gas: The right procedure to release the excessive gas will be chosen by the vet. This can include puncturing the stomach to release it or operating on the dog to restore the normal shape of the stomach in the case of volvulus.

Keep it in mind that, no matter how little the bulge may be on its abdomen, the expert advice of the vet is the best solution to keep his health in order.

Preventing a hard stomach in dogs

To prevent these situations from occurring, you can do the following:

  • Include canned food in your dog’s diet.
  • Ensure your dog has eaten at least two meals each day. This also has the benefit of ensuring the dog does not eat too fast when food is availed.
  • Rest the dog after a meal i.e. avoid exercises on a full stomach.
  • Ensure the feeding and drinking bowls are positioned at the right height to avoid strain.
  • Regular checkups can also prevent most problems before they occur. Besides the vet, you can do physical exams of your dog when playing with him.
  • Avoid giving your dog junk foods that may add to his weight.

The best advice for this case and any others is to always have routine checkups for your pets. The vet may identify serious issues long before they become a threat to your dog’s life.

List of sources and references
Dr. Winnie
About Dr. Winnie 341 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone