Abdominal pain is a frequent reason for veterinary consultation among small animals. Since dogs are experts at hiding their pain, we need to be sensitive to certain cues. A common symptom is trembling in the area, usually when your dog tries to avoid being touched. In more acute cases, howling, whimpering, depression, or even reduced mobility can indicate a problem causing pain in the dog’s belly area.
If you notice that your dog’s belly hurts when you touch him, it is important that you take him to a veterinary consultation. Next, we will talk about the possible causes of this abdominal pain in dogs.
Gastric torsion in dogs, also known as stomach torsion, is a pathology that affects the stomach. It is the result of the excessive accumulation of gas and liquid in the stomach that causes subsequent distention or dilation. Once this dilation increases to a certain point, the organ will rotate and cause a torsion. When this happens, the dog will present the following signs:
- A very distended abdomen.
- Strong colic pain.
- Great nervousness.
It is a disease that most often affects large and giant dogs. 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 swallows a lot of air, usually presenting with dyspnea (difficulty breathing). 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 gastric torsion occurs, they will not be able to eat or keep food down.
- 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, it is recommended that they eat from the ground.
- Stress: especially when several dogs live together and there is 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 attention. When the rotation of the organ occurs, necrosis of the stomach and the rest of the organs that rotate together with it begins to occur. Consequently, there are:
- 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.
In general, any gastroenteritis can cause abdominal pain in dogs. However, there is a pathology that is especially associated with a very intense pain that appears when touching a dog’s stomach. Antral gastritis is an inflammation of the “pyloric antrum” of the stomach or the distal part of the duodenum. It is usually secondary to duodenitis (inflammation of the duodenum).
Antral gastritis presents with bilious vomiting on an empty stomach (usually in the morning). In some cases, chronic diarrhea with weight loss may occur. In patients affected by this disease, it is characteristic to observe an unnatural posture called “prayer pose”. The animals adopt this strange position to relieve abdominal pain. In addition, when the pain is very intense, attacks of abdominal pain may appear that can be confused with epileptic seizures due to their severity.
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).
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic inflammatory process that can affect both the small intestine and the large intestine. In both types, the predominant clinical sign is diarrhoea. It is an idiopathic pathology (that is, of unknown origin), although it seems to have immunological, allergic, dietary or even parasitic influences.
In the specific case of inflammatory bowel disease of the small intestine, attacks of acute abdominal pain are relatively frequent. When severe, these episodes can be confused with epileptic seizures (as occurs in antral gastritis).
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 capable of passing 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 total or partial obstruction due to abnormal cell proliferation.
- Invagination 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 on itself).
- Incarcerated hernia and strangulation: When loops of intestine protrude through a hernia, they can become blocked and imprisoned in such a way as to cause intestinal obstruction and cut off the blood supply to the intestine. You can see that the dog’s abdomen is in severe pain when touched 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, adhering to the abdominal wall. In volvulus, the mesentery turns on itself. In turn, this causes acute intestinal obstruction with infarction and intestinal necrosis.
Regardless of the cause, dogs with intestinal obstruction present with severe abdominal pain. Their abdomen is often impossible to touch, since the pain makes them hunch over and they can even be aggressive if we try to touch the area.
Pancreatitis consists of an inflammation of the exocrine pancreas, that is, 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 side effects of some medications.
Regardless of the cause, most dogs with pancreatitis experience vomiting and abdominal pain. If any dog feels pain when you touch its stomach, pancreatitis should be included as a possible differential diagnosis.
The peritoneum is the serous membrane that internally lines the abdominal cavity and surrounds the viscera. When this serous membrane becomes inflamed, peritonitis occurs. Since many different causes can lead to inflammation of the peritoneum, it can be classified into different types of peritonitis:
- Post surgical.
However, all types of peritonitis usually present with moderate to severe abdominal pain. This may be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, depression, etc.
Diseases of the genitourinary system
As you have seen, there are various digestive diseases that can make your dog feel pain when you touch his belly. However, there are other diseases outside the gastrointestinal system that can also cause abdominal pain.
The following pathologies affect the organs of the reproductive and urinary systems of dogs:
- Urinary obstruction: especially due to the presence of stones in the urinary tract, something that we usually see with crystals in your urine.
- Pyometra: a uterine infection that results in the accumulation of pus in the uterus.
- Prostatitis: inflammation of the prostate.
- Tumors: ovarian, uterine, urinary bladder, etc. To find out more about tumors in dogs that can affect this area, check out our article on why a dog has a lump near the anus.
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 symptoms 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 that you act quickly to ensure a good prognosis.