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Ascites in Dogs

Ascites is fluid build-up in the abdomen.

Ascites is abnormal fluid inside the abdominal cavity. It's also called abdominal effusion.

What Causes Ascites in Dogs?

Ascites can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Bleeding into the abdomen
  • Abdominal cancer
  • Ruptured bladder
  • Liver failure
  • Right-sided congestive heart failure
  • Hypoproteinemia (low protein levels in the blood)
  • Bacterial infection

What Are the Signs of Ascites in Dogs?

The signs of ascites in dogs can include:

  • Visibly enlarged, taut abdomen
  • Abdominal pain evidenced by a hunched posture or difficulty getting comfortable lying down
  • Vomiting
  • Low or absent appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Trouble breathing

How Is Ascites in Dogs Diagnosed?

When a veterinarian suspects ascites, either through a physical exam or because they've taken an x-ray or ultrasound of the abdomen and identified fluid, they will remove some liquid with a needle (perform an aspiration) to examine it under the microscope. Bacteria, blood, protein levels, and other clues can help the vet diagnose the cause of the ascites.

Other tests such as chest x-rays, blood work, and urinalysis can also help with the diagnosis.

What Is the Treatment for Ascites in Dogs?

If the ascites is severe and causing significant clinical signs, the veterinarian may remove some of the fluid. However, the underlying cause must be addressed because the fluid will just continue to build up.

Treatment may include surgery to remove cancerous tumors or a bleeding spleen or to repair a ruptured bladder, antibiotics, medications to support the liver if it's failing, diuretics to help remove the fluid from the body, medicines for heart failure, and others.

The prognosis for a dog with ascites depends on the underlying cause.

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