Dogs with belly or abdominal pain can have fairly noticeable symptoms of pain but occasionally, you might not even know that something is wrong. Signs of belly pain should be taken seriously as many possible conditions can worsen over time leading to permanent damage.
Bloat is the build up and expansion of the stomach due to food, gas, or fluids. As the stomach expands, the usual blood flow from the hind legs and abdomen is severely restricted from traveling back to the heart, causing some dogs to go into shock due to limited blood volume and blood pooling at the back of the body. Known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, the twisting and rotation of the stomach is a medical and surgical emergency. Other complications can include tears in the walls of the stomach and a harder time breathing. In some cases, the spleen and pancreas can be dragged along with the stomach when it flips, causing the oxygen-starved pancreas to release toxic hormones that can stop the heart.
Vets are unsure as to what causes bloat but there are a few things that can increase risk such as eating from a raised bowl, consuming one large meal a day, eating or drinking too much, playing or running after eating, eating too quickly, and stress. Large, deep-chested breeds have a higher risk of experiencing bloat. This includes Akitas, Boxers, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherds. Some are more susceptible, including Great Danes, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, and St. Bernards. Bloat symptoms include retching, enlarged abdomen, salivation, and restlessness. Dogs will typically display stomach pain symptoms right away and may drool, act restless, pace, try to vomit, have a swollen stomach, look at their stomach, or stretch with their front half down and rear end up. As the condition worsens, they may collapse, have pale gums, a rapid heart beat or shortness of breath. It is critical that owners take their pets to the vet as soon as possible if they suspect bloat.
Cystitis is the general term used to describe inflammation of the bladder and causes both pain and discomfort in affected dogs. Primarily caused by bacterial infection, cystitis can also be caused by polyps in the bladder, bladder stones, tumors, and abnormal anatomy (especially in female dogs). Some cases can cause clinical signs and inflammation without any infection (called sterile or interstitial cystitis). Signs of infection include blood in urine, frequent urination, frequent squatting, and straining to pass urine. When there is a history of hematuria, dysuria, and pollakiuria, it is more likely that some form of cystitis exists. Diagnosing combines a number of tests such as a urinalysis that detects abnormalities, bladder palpation to detect bladder stones, and a urine culture and sensitivity test. If tests show no present bacteria, radiographs are conducted as well as ultrasounds to evaluate the bladder.
Gastritis is the inflammation of the stomach lining that can occur within a short episode (acute) or prolonged (chronic) duration. Called the gastric mucosa, the stomach lining becomes inflamed and can lead to ulcers, gastrointestinal blockage, and infection. As a common ailment, gastritis is triggered by consumed foods (raw or spoiled), foreign objects, fungi, table scraps, or trash. Other conditions such as bacterial infections, viruses, ulcers, stomach cancer, kidney failure, inflammatory bowel disease, and immune disease can all lead to inflammation. Symptoms vary from abdominal discomfort, decreased appetite, diarrhea, blood in stool, vomit (yellow, foamy bile), dehydration or increased thirst. These symptoms can last 24 hours in acute gastritis and two to four weeks in chronic gastritis.
Also known as a gastrointestinal blockage, a bowel obstruction is common among all dogs. A partial or complete blockage in the stomach or intestines restricts solids and liquids from passing through the tract, leading to a possible decrease in blood flow resulting in deterioration to portions of the bowels, along with the absorption of toxic contents. Foreign objects such as string, rope, and carpet fibers can lead to the bunching of the intestines. Ingesting foreign objects causes most bowel obstructions but in older senior dogs, an obstruction can be due to a mass or tumor. When a foreign material or object is ingested (bones, toys, etc.) it usually leads to the object becoming lodged and in some cases, causing perforation of the stomach or intestines. A few medical conditions such as masses or tumors, twisting of the intestines (around the membrane that separates them from the abdominal wall), pyloric stenosis (narrowing of the passage from the stomach to the small intestine), hernias, and intestinal parasites, can lead to blockage. Symptoms include diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, hunching or whining, loss of appetite, and dehydration. If not treated immediately, a blockage can lead to severe damage of the affected organs, rupture, extensive pain, and death. A physical, ultrasound, radiograph, and endoscopy may be performed to accurately diagnose.
Stomach ulcers are sores or lesions that form in the stomach lining. Conditions that cause an excessive amount of acid in the stomach can include long-term medications like corticoids/ NSAIDs, diet high in fat, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), chronic gastritis, pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease, lymphoma, ingestion of toxic substances, stress, viral or bacterial infections. Ulcers can cause loss of appetite, abdominal pain, weakness, severe vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, pale gums, drooling, rapid heart rate, and irritability. In extreme cases, dogs can collapse, experience shock, or become disoriented. With several causing conditions, many times ulcers are successfully treated if caught early. If the ulcer has led to perforation, surgery may be required. Antacids will be administered to reduce stomach acid and aid ulcer healing. Dogs who experience dehydration will be treated with fluids. Overall, treatment includes finding the cause of the ulcer, making necessary dietary changes, and providing supplemental care for prevention.
Inflammatory bowel disease is a syndrome that’s primarily caused by a reaction to chronic irritation of the intestinal tract. More specifically, IBD is an allergic-type response that happens in the intestinal tract which leads to a surge of inflammatory cells that invade the lining. When this occurs, normal digestion and absorption of nutrients are halted. Most dogs affected with IBD have a history of recurring diarrhea, poor appetite, chronic vomiting, and belly pain. Several causes include a bacterial or parasitic infection (Giardia, E.coli, Salmonella) or reaction to a protein in their diet. Since IBD typically affects the gastrointestinal tract (GI) or intestinal tract, clinical signs include chronic vomiting if the stomach is impacted or chronic diarrhea if occurring in the intestinal tract. If both sites are affected, then chronic vomiting and diarrhea will occur. The syndrome can last for a couple of months, resulting in weight loss and a lack of appetite. However, in some cases, dogs will gain a heightened sense of hunger due to the lack of absorption. Diagnosing IBD includes an examination of fecal matter, imaging of the intestines, and comprehensive blood tests. Finding the specific type of IBD entails minor surgery or endoscopy to find the location of origin. Tissue biopsies are usually sampled to examine the inflammatory cells and accurately diagnose the type of IBD. Supplemental tests include B12 measuring to spot nutrient deficiency and folate observation to indicate an imbalance in GI tract bacteria.
Inguinal hernias are hernias that affect the inguinal canal in both male and female dogs. The inguinal canal is an opening of the muscle wall in a dog’s groin that allows passage of blood vessels and spermatic cord to pass through to the testes in a male and the vaginal process to pass through a female. When a hernia occurs, the canal widens, making way for abdominal contents to bulge/spill out of the opening. Causes of a inguinal canal are mostly congenital (present at birth) or acquired through physical trauma, pregnancy, or obesity. Symptoms include a visible protrusion (appears as swelling on one or both sides of a dog’s groin), noticeable pain, bloody urine, frequent urination, malaise, vomiting, warmth at the site, or lack of appetite. Hernias can present themselves as reducible (abdominal lining or fat that protrudes) or irreducible (abdominal organs are protruding). With ridicule hernias, vets can manually push the protrusion in while irreducible hernias can cause severe trauma to the affected organs. Ultrasounds and X-rays are conducted to define any organ entrapment in irreducible hernias.
Intestinal intussusception is a condition that occurs in the gastrointestinal tract. When intestinal intussusception happens, one of the segments of the intestine telescopes or invaginates (folds in) on itself, causing a potential blockage or blood supply cutoff to the affected area. The most commonly affected areas are the middle of the small intestine (jejunum) or where the small intestine meets the large intestine or colon (ileocecocolic junction). Causes include parasitic infection (roundworm, hookworm), bacterial or viral infections (salmonella, parvo, giardia), abnormal movements, or dietary changes. With some cases resolving themselves, most dogs who suffer an intestinal intussusception usually require surgery as treatment. Symptoms include dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, regurgitation, crying, whimpering and hesitancy to lie down. The pain of an intestinal intussusception can cause progressive weight loss and poor appetite. Diagnosing is made through a physical examination, abdominal ultrasound, and X-rays.
Lumbosacral stenosis (also referred to as sacral stenosis) is a disease that directly affects the structures of the spinal cord in the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine. Lumbosacral stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal which then imposes compression on the spinal nerve roots (the nerves that directly exit the spine). This compression can be caused by intervertebral disc herniation, congenital malformation, arthritis, or a spinal tumor. More commonly, this condition is caused by arthritis or an intervertebral disc herniation. Signs of lumbosacral stenosis include pain in the hind end, unable to rise or wag their tail, difficulty rising after sitting or lying down, gnawing on paws or tail, or urinary/fecal incontinence. These signs indicate inflammation of nerves and muscles to the aggravated spinal cord and the affected area. As the disease progresses, the disc located between the last lumbar vertebrae and sacrum may erupt, causing uncoordinated movement or paralysis of the rear legs. X-rays can indicate arthritic changes but diagnosing the condition consists of a myelogram (injection of contrast to highlight any pressure put on the spinal cord) or MRI and CT scans.
Obstipation is commonly known as constipation in dogs that is hard to manage or treat. Medically, this includes the infrequent, incomplete, passage of hard or dry bowel movements that cause discomfort. Many cases involve foreign objects to be ingested, swallowed hair, bones, lack of water, lack/excessive amounts of fiber in their diet, neurological dysfunction, trauma, paralysis/muscle weakness, or low levels of certain hormones that can lead to struggles with digestion. Obstipation can be very painful for dogs so owners should watch for the following symptoms: straining to defecate with little to no fecal matter, occasional vomiting, little/no bowel movements, swelling around the anus, vocalizing during bowel movement, loss of appetite, a small amount of liquid stool with mucus in it (known as tenesmus). Diagnosing includes a physical exam, blood chemical profiles, X-rays and ultrasounds, dietary evaluations, and possible colonoscopy to spot any internal lesions, strictures, or masses.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas caused by enzymes prematurely activating in the pancreas instead of the small intestine. When this occurs, the pancreas begins digesting itself causing fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Physical symptoms can include dogs taking a ‘prayer position’ with their front paws extended and head lowered on the floor. Acute pancreatitis occurs at different severity levels with mild, edematous, or severe hemorrhagic levels permitting spillage of enzymes from the pancreas into the abdominal cavity resulting in secondary liver damage as well as injury to the bile ducts, gallbladder, and intestines.
Dogs who have overcome severe pancreatitis have an increased chance of developing chronic or relapsing bouts of the disease. Some breeds such as miniature schnauzers and the english cocker spaniel have a higher predisposition of experiencing pancreatitis. Typically, pancreatitis is idiopathic (no conclusive cause) however in some cases, a fatty meal or chemotherapy medications and antibiotics can lead to inflammation. Lab tests that include blood panels can show an elevated white blood cell count but this can also be caused by other reasons. Vets typically conduct multiple tests that include abdominal ultrasounds to accurately diagnose.
Peritonitis is the inflammation of the lining within the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). Some cases involve a bacterial infection entering the abdomen from an external wound or from a perforation of an internal organ that leads to severe complications. Perforation of the GI tract is one of the most common causes of septic peritonitis, usually occurring when a foreing object is swallowed. Other potential causes are ulcers brought on by medications, rupture of the gallbladder, rupture of the bladder, rupture of a bile duct, rupture of an infected uterus, or an inflamed pancreas. Sometimes peritonitis originates from an infection beginning in the bloodstream (parasites, fungi, viruses, or bacteria). Dogs may have a decrease in appetite, diarrhea, black stools, vomiting, weakness, and rapid breathing. Other symptoms include pale gums, rapid heart rate, fever, low blood pressure, fluid in the abdomen, abdomen pain, and unwillingness to lie down. Diagnosing includes collecting fluids in the abdomen (if present) to look for inflammatory cells and bacteria. Blood tests, urinalysis, X-rays, and abdominal ultrasound can also be conducted prior to surgery.
Pyometra is an infection of the uterus caused by bacteria in female dogs. The most likely culprit is E.coli, which is widely found in feces. A uterine infection in a female dog usually appears a few weeks after her heat cycle. The uterus may be packed with pus, and there may be a foul-smelling vaginal discharge. In many cases of pyometra, however, the pus remains trapped inside the uterus. If left untreated, this type of infection can lead to dehydration, sepsis, renal failure, and even death. Pyometra is most prevalent among older female dogs that have not been spayed. This sort of uterine infection, on the other hand, can strike any unspayed female dog of any age. The dog's immune system is further stressed by the hormone variations that occur with each heat cycle, increasing her risk of illness.
If the cervix is open, the symptoms include fever, lethargy, anorexia, and depression. If the cervix is closed and cannot drain, the symptoms include being anorectic, listless, and extremely depressed. Toxins produced by the bacteria impair the kidney's capacity to retain fluid causing their urine production to rise, and many dogs compensate by drinking excessive amounts of water. Pyometra with an open cervix and one with a closed cervix can both produce an increase in water intake. To diagnose, vets look into your dog’s medical, physical and behavioral history such as how much food and water they’ve been intaking as well as the date and duration of her previous heat cycle. Blood tests, as well as an ultrasound of her uterus, will usually be performed to assess her liver and renal function, red and white blood cell counts, and hydration status.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a tick-borne illness that’s caused by an intracellular parasite known as rickettsia rickettsii. American dog tick, wood tick, or brown dog tick infected with the disease are the culprits that transmit it to the dog. An unfed tick can take up to 10 hours to affect a dog or a fed tick can take only 10 minutes which is why it’s always so important to remove ticks properly as soon as you see them. Dogs that have been bitten by an infected tick may show the following signs: pain in the abdomen or joints, lethargy, diarrhea, cough and fever, nosebleed, enlarged lymph nodes, reduced appetite, nose or eye discharge. Vomiting, lameness in the limbs, and swelling in the legs or face. Clinical signs can range from mild to severe or life-threatening. A vet will consider the clinical signs and then run diagnostic tests, including basic blood tests, urinalysis, and x-rays. In a blood test, they will look for low numbers of red blood cells (anemia) and platelets, or abnormal complete blood count (CBC) results, or white blood cell counts.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an immune-mediated disease in which a dog’s immune system begins to attack its own tissue. Essentially, the dog’s body produces antibodies to antigens that are found in its body systems and tissues. Some breeds have a greater predisposition to SLE such as medium to large dogs that are over five years of age. This includes the Shetland sheepdog, Old English sheepdog, Beagle, German shepherd, Irish setter, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, Poodle, Collie, and Afghan hound. Signs of SLE can peak and slow over a period of time, with signs increasing as the disease progresses. These include lameness that moves from limb to limb, lethargy, fever, enlarged spleen, enlarged lymph nodes, ulcers at mucocutaneous joints (lips), muscle pain (or atrophy), skin abnormalities (such as thinning or loss of hair, ulcers, redness). Factors such as genetic, physiologic, and environmental elements can increase SLE development.