As pet owners, there's nothing more important than the well-being of our canine companions, and when we notice symptoms like a swollen abdomen, we have every right to worry. Ascites in dogs is one of the most common reasons our dogs can have a swollen or distended belly.

Dealing with a medical issue like ascites can feel daunting and overwhelming. That's why we've created this guide on a common yet often misunderstood condition from the best veterinary sources. So, we'll break down the jargon around canine ascites (pronounced uh·sai·teez) and explain this condition in straightforward terms.

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  1. What is Ascites in Dogs
  2. Symptoms of Ascites in Dogs
  3. Causes of Ascites in Dogs
  4. Treatment for Ascites in Dogs
  5. How Can The Petcube Emergency Fund Help With Treatment
  6. FAQs
  7. Conclusion

What is Ascites in Dogs

In the simplest terms, ascites, often referred to as "water belly," is a medical condition that occurs when excess fluid accumulates in a dog's abdomen, called the abdominal or peritoneal cavity. This can lead to an unusually large, distended belly and is often a symptom of an underlying health issue.

Understanding what ascites is can help you recognize its signs early and seek timely veterinary help, ensuring your dog gets back to wagging its tail happily as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Ascites in Dogs

Ascites symptoms and signs can sometimes be easy to overlook. My friend has an elderly Anatolian Shepherd named Pip. Pippie had been losing weight for some time, and when he started coughing when he laid down, my friend took him to the vet to discover Pip had chronic heart failure (CHF).

Symptoms of ascites in dogs with heart failure, like weight loss, refusing to eat, coughing, and blue gums, were all obvious at that point. However, it was much harder to see his distended belly because of his thick double coat. This is why it’s important to run your hands over a dog regularly to look for anything unusual, like a distended belly.

Ascites can present a range of symptoms that can indicate your dog might be struggling with this condition. Here's a quick list of what to look out for if your dog’s abdomen seems swollen.

  1. Distended Abdomen: This is often the most noticeable sign. Your dog's belly may appear swollen or bloated, similar to how a balloon looks when inflated.

  2. Difficulty Breathing: The excess fluid in the belly puts pressure on the lungs, making it harder for a dog to breathe and causing labored breathing. If you notice panting or shortness of breath, it could be a sign of ascites. Because of this, dogs may also struggle to settle when they lay down because laying down puts even more pressure on the lungs, causing restlessness.

  3. Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss: Dogs with ascites may eat less than usual, leading to weight loss despite the bloated appearance.

  4. Lethargy: Your pet may seem tired or less enthusiastic about activities they usually enjoy, like walks or playing fetch. They also can’t seem to exercise much and can tire easily on walks.

  5. Trouble Moving: The excess fluid can make it difficult for your dog to move around comfortably, leading to a decrease in overall activity levels.

Identifying these signs early can make a big difference in your dog's health, and this is where technology can be a huge help.

With a Petcube Pet Camera, you can monitor your pet's behavior remotely, even when you're not home. It allows you to observe your dog's activity levels, breathing, eating habits, and overall demeanor. Noticing any changes in these behaviors, such as those mentioned above, can alert you to potential health issues like ascites and prompt you to seek veterinary attention at the earliest possible time.

Causes of Ascites in Dogs

Ascites in dogs can be caused by a variety of conditions, many of which revolve around how the body handles fluids and nutrients. In The American Journal of Medicine studies, the exact process is pretty complicated, so let's put these in easy-to-understand terms to explain how ascites happen to dogs.

  1. Poor Blood Flow and Obstruction: Just like traffic jams can cause delays, problems with the flow of blood can lead to fluid buildup in the body, causing ascites. This can occur when there's a blockage or if the heart isn't pumping blood effectively.
    Issues with Fluid Removal: Sometimes the body struggles to get rid of excess fluid, causing it to build up in areas like the abdomen.

  2. Increased Permeability: Think of this like a leaky faucet: when tissues in the body start to let fluids and proteins seep out, it can lead to fluid accumulation and nutritional deficiencies, both of which can cause ascites.

  3. Infections: Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can all contribute to the development of ascites in dogs.


Research points to several underlying health conditions that can also lead to ascites:

  1. Hypoproteinemia: This is a condition characterized by abnormally low levels of protein in the blood. It can result from malnutrition, poor absorption of nutrients, or excessive protein loss in the urine or bowel movements. In the context of ascites, low protein levels can lead to fluid leaking out of the blood vessels and into the abdomen.

  2. Nephrotic Syndrome: This is a kidney disorder that causes your dog's body to excrete too much protein in the urine. With fewer proteins to keep fluid in the blood vessels, the fluid may leak out into the body, including the abdomen, causing ascites.

  3. Left-sided Heart Failure and Congestive Heart Failure: Both of these conditions occur when the heart isn't able to pump blood efficiently. This can cause blood to back up into the veins, increasing pressure within these blood vessels and leading to fluid leakage into the abdomen.

  4. Cirrhosis and Other Liver Diseases: Cirrhosis is a late-stage liver disease characterized by scarring of the liver. It, along with other liver diseases, can obstruct the normal flow of blood, causing fluid to leak out into the abdomen.

  5. Kidney Diseases: Various kidney diseases can cause the protein to be lost in the urine, leading to fluid leakage into the abdomen.

  6. Ancylostomosis (Hookworm Infection): Hookworms are parasites that can cause significant damage to the intestines, leading to protein loss and potentially resulting in ascites.

  7. Bacterial Infections such as Tuberculosis: Bacterial infections can cause inflammation and increased permeability in various organs, allowing fluid to leak out into the abdomen.

  8. Malnutrition: Lack of adequate nutrition can lead to a deficiency of protein in the blood, causing fluid to leak into the abdomen.

  9. Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis: This is an infection of the fluid in the abdomen, often seen in animals with liver disease or those who have had fluid in their abdomen for an extended period.

  10. Lymphoma: This is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the immune system. It can cause increased pressure in the lymphatic system, leading to fluid leakage.

  11. Hypoalbuminemia: This is a condition where there's a lower-than-normal level of albumin (a protein) in the blood. It can result from liver disease, kidney disease, or excessive protein loss through the gut and can lead to fluid leakage into the abdomen.

  12. Hepatorenal Syndrome: This is a serious condition that affects the liver and kidneys and is often seen in advanced liver disease. It can cause significant abnormalities in circulation, leading to fluid leakage into the abdomen.

ASPCA studies show that toxins, including those from certain poisonous plants, can indeed play a role in causing canine ascites. If your dog ingests a toxic plant, it can damage various organs, like the liver or kidneys.

These organs play a crucial role in managing the body's fluid balance, so when they're damaged, it can disrupt this balance and lead to fluid accumulation in the abdomen, resulting in ascites. For this reason, it's important to be aware of your dog's environment and prevent them from ingesting harmful substances whenever possible.

Understanding the cause is the first step toward finding an effective treatment for ascites in your dog. It's always best to consult with a veterinarian if you suspect your dog might be dealing with this condition.

Treatment for Ascites in Dogs


The treatment for ascites in dogs often involves addressing the underlying cause of the condition. This could mean treating heart or liver disease, kidney disorders, or other causes identified by your vet. However, here are some common treatment approaches:

  1. Diuretics: These are medications that help the body get rid of excess fluid and are often prescribed by vets to treat ascites.

  2. Diet Changes: A low-sodium diet can help reduce fluid buildup in the body. Your vet may also recommend a high-protein diet if your dog has a protein deficiency.

  3. Fluid Drainage: In some cases, your vet may decide to drain the fluid from your dog's abdomen to provide immediate relief.

  4. Surgery or Chemotherapy: If the ascites is due to a tumor or cancer, surgery or chemotherapy may be required.

  5. Antibiotics: If an infection is causing the ascites, antibiotics will be necessary to combat the bacteria.

In terms of home remedies and diet, it's essential to consult your vet before making any significant changes. However, there are a few general things you can do:

  1. Monitor Diet: As mentioned, a low-sodium, high-protein diet may be beneficial. Avoid feeding your dog processed foods that are high in salt.

  2. Keep Your Pet Hydrated: Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water. This can help the kidneys flush out toxins and manage fluid balance.

  3. Regular Exercise: If your vet approves, regular, gentle exercise can help keep your dog's body functioning well.

  4. Keep Your Pet Comfortable: If your dog is experiencing discomfort from a distended abdomen, ensure they have a comfortable place to rest and provide plenty of TLC.

Remember, while these tips can support your dog's health, it's vital to seek veterinary attention if you suspect your dog has ascites. Only a vet can accurately diagnose and treat this condition.

How Can The Petcube Emergency Fund Help With Treatment

The Petcube Emergency Fund is a supportive resource that can help cover treatment costs for pets in an emergency, like dogs with ascites. By offering financial assistance of up to $3000, the fund can make necessary treatments more accessible, potentially improving your dog's prognosis and quality of life.


Is ascites in dogs painful?

Yes, ascites in dogs can be uncomfortable and may cause pain due to the pressure of the excess fluid in the abdomen. The discomfort level may vary depending on the severity of the condition.

How long can a dog live with ascites?

The prognosis for a dog with ascites depends on the underlying cause. With proper treatment and management, some dogs can live comfortably for months or years. However, conditions like cancer may have a more serious prognosis.

Final thoughts

In closing, ascites in dogs is a serious condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. While it can be distressing to see your pet ill, remember that early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve their quality of life. Always monitor your dog for any changes in behavior or appearance, and don't hesitate to consult your vet if you have any concerns.

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