Ascites in Dogs
Ascites, also known as abdominal effusion, is the medical term referring to the buildup of fluid in the abdomen of a dog. This may cause symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and loss of appetite. A wide variety of causes may be responsible for ascites, thus treatments vary accordingly.
The condition or disease described in this medical article can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.
Symptoms and Types
- Weight gain
- Weakness at times
- Signs of discomfort when the abdomen is felt
- Groaning noises when lying down
Difficulty breathing (or dyspnea) may also occur due to abdominal swelling putting pressure on the chest, or due to a related buildup of fluid in the space between the chest wall and lungs (referred to as pleural effusion). Male animals sometimes show a buildup of fluid in the scrotum or penis.
There are many causes for the occurrence of fluid buildup (or edema) in the abdomen. Some of these include abdominal bleeding, abdominal cancer, an inflammation of the lining of the abdomen, a ruptured bladder, liver damage, low levels of protein in the blood (or hypoproteinemia), and right-sided congestive heart failure, in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
A medical condition known as nephritic syndrome -- where the dog has protein in its urine and high cholesterol in its blood -- may also be responsible for fluid buildup in the abdomen.
To diagnose ascites, an ascetic fluid evaluation is general procedure. This involves the removal of abdominal fluid to analyze for characteristics such as bacterial presence, protein makeup, and bleeding. The veterinarian may also analyze the urine, or perform X-rays and ultrasounds on the dog, to determine the cause of abdominal fluid buildup.
Diagnoses of the cause for fluid buildup in the abdomen may range from liver damage, to ruptured bladder, to right-sided congenital heart failure. Additional symptoms will help determine further diagnostic procedures.
Treatment is largely dependent on the underlying cause of the case of ascites. If symptoms are severe and the animal is having great discomfort, the abdomen may be tapped to remove fluid and make the animal more comfortable. Corrective surgery may be necessary in some cases; for example, if a tumor is present or to control abdominal bleeding.
Medications are determined according to the underlying cause. For instance, fluid buildup due to bacterial infection (known as septic ascites) requires antibiotic therapy. It is important to note that aggressive medication treatment with diuretics, which are used to remove excess body fluid, may cause low levels of potassium in the blood, a condition known as hypokalemia. This can worsen symptoms and lead to further complications.
Living and Management
Continue to monitor symptoms and administer medications regularly, if prescribed. Also, restrict dietary salt, as it helps control fluid accumulation related to some causes of ascites, such as liver damage, heart failure, and low levels of protein in the blood.
Due to the fact that there are many different causes of ascites, there is no one all-encompassing prevention method that can be recommended. To avoid abdominal fluid buildup due to trauma, keep dogs in confined locations, or on a leash, to prevent access to roads and other dangerous areas where traumatic incidents may occur.