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Health & Wellness

The truth about ascites in dogs

And the reasons behind your dog’s bloated belly.

It’s common for dogs’ weight to fluctuate throughout their lives — but if you notice that your dog’s belly seems larger than usual and it’s tough for them to breathe, you’re right to wonder what’s going on. 

There’s a name for this type of belly swelling — it's called ascites, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says. Ascites is a symptom of many diseases, and we’re here to give you a cheat sheet so you can get your pup the help they need as soon as possible. 

Causes of ascites in dogs

So, what’s causing your pup’s stomach to bloat? Ascites is when there's an accumulation of fluid in a dog's belly, typically around a dog's organs, including the liver, intestines, spleen, kidneys and bladder, Dr. McCullough explains. The amount of fluid in a dog’s belly depends on the underlying cause, she adds.

And there are several causes of ascites in dogs — the most common being heart and liver disease, Dr. McCullough says. However, gastrointestinal tract disease, kidney disease, bleeding, cancer, wounds, ingesting poison, pancreatitis and bacterial, viral or parasitic infections can also cause ascites, she adds. 

Symptoms of ascites in dogs

Ascites may cause dogs to experience difficulty breathing, a lack of appetite, lethargy, weight gain and discomfort, Dr. McCullough explains. 

If you think your dog might have ascites, Dr. McCullough recommends seeing your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will likely diagnose ascites by doing a physical exam, blood tests, X-rays, an abdominal ultrasound or taking a sample of fluid from your dog's abdomen, she adds.

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Treatment for ascites in dogs

Since ascites is the symptom of an underlying condition, treatment varies depending on the root cause, Dr. Aliya McCullough says. Once your veterinarian figures out the reason behind the swelling, they'll likely recommend the best treatment plan. And because each treatment option is different, pups’ recovery times will vary, too. 

“Unfortunately, there’s no prevention for ascites,” Dr. McCullough adds. “Working with your veterinarian to establish a preventive care plan for your dog can help catch abnormalities early.”

Diet for ascites in dogs

Every dog is different, so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about the right diet plan for your dog if they’re struggling with ascites. 

Reach out to your veterinarian as soon as you spot changes in your dog’s belly. This way, they’ll be able to get them the help your pup needs quickly. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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