My Dog's Stomach Is in Pain When I Touch It
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Abdominal pain is a frequent reason for veterinary consultation among small animals. As dogs are expert at hiding their pain, we need to be sensitive to certain signs the dog's stomach hurts. One common symptom is trembling of the area, usually with your dog trying to prevent you from touching them. In more acute cases, howling, whining, depression or even reduced mobility may point towards an issue causing the dog pain in the belly area. It is important we distinguish this between normal sensitivity a dog may have toward their belly.
If you see my dog's stomach is in pain when I touch it, it is vital you take them for a veterinary consultation. As we will explain at AnimalWised, the causes of this abdominal pain in dogs can be very serious and potentially life threatening. In some cases, every minute will count.
Gastric torsion in dogs, sometimes known as gastric dilation is pathology which affects the stomach. It is the result of the over-accumulation of gas and fluid in the stomach which causes a subsequent distention or dilation. Once this dilation increases to a certain point, the organ will rotate and cause torsion. When this occurs, the dog will present the following signs:
- A very distended abdomen
- Strong colic pain
- Great nervousness
It is a disease which most commonly affects large and giant dogs. Small dogs can be affected and there is some evidence to suggest certain breeds are more susceptible than others of a similar size. These include the Shar Pei and Bassett Hound breeds.
Although the precise cause that triggers this disease is not known, there are certain predisposing factors that have been related to the development of gastric torsion in dogs:
- Aerophagia: the dog swallows and gulps a lot of air, usually occurring with dyspnea (breathing difficulty). It is one of the most determining factors of this disease.
- Eating: rapid intake of a large amount of food will often occur before the dog develops gastric torsion.
- Loss of appetite: once the gastric torsion occurs, they will not be able to eat or hold down food.
- Eating from an elevated bowl: dogs with megaesophagus are more predisposed to developing gastric dilatation/torsion. For this reason, if a dog is susceptible to this condition, they are recommended to eat from ground level. Learn more in our article on whether dog bowls should be raised.
- Stress: especially when several dogs live together and there is a competition for food.
- Exercise: although the practice of exercise before or after meals has traditionally been associated with the onset of this disease, recent studies call this into question.
Regardless of its cause, gastric torsion is a life-threatening disease with rapid progression. It requires immediate veterinary care. When the rotation of the organ takes place, necrosis of the stomach and the rest of the organs that twist along with it begins to occur. Consequently, there is:
- Hypovolemic shock: due to vascular compromise.
- Endotoxic shock: due to tissue necrosis.
- Septic shock: if the stomach is perforated, it can have fatal consequences for the animal if it is not treated in time.
Treatment of gastric torsion in dogs
Gastric torsion/dilation is a veterinary emergency that requires immediate medical attention. The steps to be followed are as follows:
- Stabilize the patient: sedation, analgesia, fluid therapy, antibiotic therapy, and oxygen therapy should be administered.
- Decompress the stomach: once the patient is stabilized, the stomach should be decompressed by performing an orogastric tube to evacuate the air.
- Surgery: when decompression of the stomach is not possible due to gastric torsion, it will be necessary to perform emergency surgery to change the stomach's abdominal position and fix it to the abdominal wall (gastropexy). When the stomach is decompressed by catheterization, it will also be necessary to schedule surgery to fix the organ to the abdominal wall (gastropexy) and thus prevent the reappearance of the pathology.
Learn more about gastric torsion and other serious canine health conditions in our article on the most deadly diseases in dogs.
Antral chronic gastritis
In general, any gastroenteritis can lead to abdominal pain in dogs. However, there is a pathology which is particularly associated with very intense pain to appear when you touch a dog's stomach. Chronic antral gastritis is an inflammation of the ‘pyloric antrum’ of the stomach or the distal part of the duodenum. It usually occurs secondary to duodenitis (inflammation of the duodenum).
Antral chronic gastritis presents with bilious vomiting on an empty stomach (generally in the morning). In some cases, chronic diarrhea with weight loss can occur. In patients affected by this disease, it is characteristic to observe an unnatural posture called ‘prayer pose’ or ‘praying position’. The animals adopt this strange position to relieve abdominal pain. In addition, when the pain is very intense, attacks of abdominal pain may appear which can be confused with epileptic seizures due to their severity.
Treatment of chronic antral gastritis in dogs
The treatment of chronic antral gastritis in dogs is based on two main factors:
- Dietary treatment: a low-fat and low-fiber diet should be provided in order to accelerate gastric emptying.
- Medical treatment: gastritis must be treated with antisecretory agents, prokinetics and protectors of the gastric mucosa. In addition, as it is a secondary process to duodenitis, it is necessary to establish a specific treatment against the cause that originates the duodenitis.
Gastric ulcers are injuries that occur in the mucosa of the stomach as a result of multiple factors. These include foreign bodies, anti-inflammatory drugs, kidney failure, etc. These injuries can be superficial (erosions) or can affect the entire gastric wall, causing perforation of the stomach.
These patients, in addition to abdominal pain, usually present:
- Vomiting with or without digested blood
- Presence of digested blood in the stool (dark stool)
Treatment of gastric ulcers in dogs
The treatment of gastric ulcers should be based on two main factors:
- Dietary treatment: a moist or semi-moist, low-fat, low-fiber diet should be administered.
- Medical treatment: mucosal protectors (such as sucralfate) and gastric antisecretory agents (such as famotidine) should be administered in order to protect the gastric mucosa from acid secretions from the stomach.
Some research suggests that omeprazole for dogs can be used to treat gastric ulcers, but a more conrete review is required.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic inflammatory process that can affect both the small intestine or the large intestine. In both types of IBD, the predominant clinical sign is diarrhea. It is an idiopathic pathology (i.e. it is of unknown origin), although it seems to have immunological, allergic, dietary or even parasitic influences.
In the specific case of small intestine inflammatory bowel disease, attacks of acute abdominal pain are relatively common. When severe, these episodes can be confused with epileptic seizures (as occurs in antral gastritis).
Treatment of IBD in Dogs
The treatment of IBD in dogs is based on two main factors:
- Dietary treatment: a low-fiber, low-fat diet should be given, with a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids of 1:5 or 1:10. In addition, in cases of small intestine inflammatory bowel disease, it is recommended to provide a diet with hydrolyzed proteins. Learn more with our guide to the best omega-3-rich food for dogs.
- Pharmacological treatment: consists of the administration of immunosuppressive drugs, alone or in combination with other medications, such as metronidazole, prednisone, cyclosporine and azathioprine.
Most intestinal obstructions occur in the small intestine due to its smaller diameter compared to the colon. The causes that can produce a clinical picture of intestinal obstruction are:
- Foreign bodies: specifically, those that are able to pass through the stomach, but are trapped when they reach the small intestine.
- Neoplasms or granulomas in the intestinal wall: depending on their size, they can cause a total or partial obstruction due to abnormal proliferation of cells.
- Intussusception or intussusception: consists of the entry of a segment of intestine into the lumen of the immediately posterior segment (as if it were a sock that folds back on itself).
- Incarcerated hernia and strangulation: when loops of intestine protrude through a hernia, they can become blocked and imprisoned in such a way that intestinal obstruction and interruption of blood supply to the intestine occur. You can see the dog's abdomen be in severe pain when you touch it due to inguinal hernias in dogs.
- Mesenteric volvulus: the mesentery is a fibrous network that is responsible for keeping the intestine in its proper position, attaching itself to the abdominal wall. In volvulus, the mesentery rotates in on itself. In turn, this causes acute intestinal obstruction with infarction and intestinal necrosis.
Regardless of the cause, dogs with an intestinal obstruction present with severe abdominal pain. Their abdomen is often impossible to touch since pain leads them to hunch themselves over and may even be aggressive if we try to touch the area.
Treatment of intestinal obstruction in dogs
The treatment of an intestinal obstruction is always urgent. Surgical treatment is necessary. In severe cases in which the intestine is devitalized or necrotic, it will be necessary to resection the affected segment of intestine and join the healthy ends (enterectomy).
Pancreatitis consists of an inflammation of the exocrine pancreas, i.e. the tissue responsible for producing and releasing the pancreatic juices necessary for digestion to the intestine. Although its specific etiology is unknown, there are a number of risk factors that predispose to its appearance. These include obesity, high-fat diets and the side-effects of some drugs.
Regardless of the cause, most dogs with pancreatitis experience vomiting and abdominal pain. If any dog is in pain when your touch their stomach, pancreatitis should be included as a possible differential diagnosis.
Treatment of pancreatitis in dogs
As in most cases its specific etiology is unknown, treatment is based on the establishment of support therapy, which should include:
- Fluid therapy: restores hydroelectrolytic balance.
- Antiemetics: to control vomiting.
- Opioid analgesics: to control pain.
- Nutritional support: initially, nutritional support can be started parenterally (by blood) or by nasogastric tube. When the animal tolerates the food, a low-fat diet for dogs should be provided.
Learn more about treatment and symptoms of this disease with our guide to pancreatitis in dogs.
The peritoneum is the serous membrane that internally lines the abdominal cavity and surrounds the viscera. When this serous membrane becomes inflamed, it results in peritonitis. Since many different causes can lead to inflammation of the peritoneum, it can be classified into different types of peritonitis:
However, all peritonitis types usually present with a picture of moderate to severe abdominal pain. This may be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, depression, etc.
Treatment of peritonitis
The treatment of peritonitis must be directed at the primary cause that triggers it. In some cases, pharmacological treatment will suffice. In other cases, surgical intervention will be necessary. Regardless of the cause, it will be necessary to establish supportive treatment to stabilize the physiological state of the animal and manage symptoms.
Check out the information we provide in our guide to peritonitis in dogs.
Genitourinary system diseases
As you have seen, there are various digestive diseases that can cause your dog to feel pain when their belly is touched. However, there are other diseases outside of the gastrointestinal system that can also cause abdominal pain.
The following pathologies affect organs of the reproductive and urinary systems of dogs:
- Urinary obstruction: especially due to the presence of stones in the urinary tract, something we usually see with crystals in their urine.
- Pyometra: a uterine infection which results in the accumulation of pus in the uterus.
- Prostatitis: inflammation of the prostate.
- Tumors: ovarian, uterine, in the urinary bladder, etc. To learn more about tumors in dogs which may affect this area, check out our article on why a dog has a lump near their anus.
Treatment of pathologies of the genitourinary system in dogs
As you can imagine, the treatment of these processes will depend on the specific disease in question. Sometimes, it will be enough to treat with drugs. Others will require surgical treatment.
Throughout this article we have pointed out the processes that can most frequently cause clinical pictures of abdominal pain in dogs. However, other possible processes should not be ruled out. There are many other pathologies that can cause discomfort or abdominal pain in our pets.
In any case, whenever you detect any sign of abdominal pain in your dog, do not hesitate to go to a trusted veterinarian as soon as possible. As you have seen, some of the processes described in this article require urgent veterinary attention, so it is important you act quickly to best ensure a good prognosis.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Stomach Is in Pain When I Touch It, we recommend you visit our Intestinal problems category.
- Hernandez, C. (2010). Gastrointestinal emergencies in dogs and cats. CES Med. Vet. Zootec Magazine, 5(2), 69-85.