Why is My Dog Potbellied?

Like people, no two dogs are the same, and that individuality doesn't discriminate with body types. Some canines are naturally slender and sleek, while others can carry a little extra weight on certain parts of their bodies like their chest or their bellies — all of which serve some purpose and make their particular breed, or mix thereof, special. Some dogs, however, wear noticeably round bellies that protrude unnaturally, which are often referred to as pot bellies.

Fat dog sitting.
credit: quantum40/iStock/GettyImages

What is a pot belly?

A pot belly is defined by Merriam-Webster as "an enlarged, swollen, or protruding abdomen," and they aren't usually to hard to spot. Dogs with a pot belly are seen with a round stomach that sticks out at their underbelly, out to the sides, or both, much like a pregnant dog (or perhaps a dog who just recently ate a very large meal.) Usually, a pot belly will make a dog uncomfortable, and they may be seen having trouble walking or getting comfortable. Unlike a dog who is simply overweight, a potbellied dog is usually only only oversized in the abdominal area, and this is usually the result of an underlying issue, which can range from eating her food too fast to adrenal disorders, depending on the dog.

Common causes of a pot belly

Parasites like worms could explain why your dog has a protruding stomach, especially if you have a puppy on your hands, according to VCA Hospitals. While younger dogs awaiting all of their vaccines are more prone to worms, like roundworms, for example, some older dogs can get them too, especially those who share common areas with dogs who may not be up to date on their shots, like at an animal shelter or even a dog park.

Stray dog
credit: nathamag11/iStock/GettyImages

Sometimes, a pot belly is the result of another condition that doesn't call for immediate medical attention, such as overeating, which can lead to an overweight or obese dog. Overeating in dogs can result in excess fat becoming stored in the belly area, especially if he isn't getting enough exercise on a regular basis, is aging, or if fat storage in that area is common among his breed.

And while it may go without saying, a distended belly in an unspayed female dog could be a sign that she's carrying puppies, in which case a trip to the veterinarian is definitely in order to help determine what to expect in the coming weeks.

More serious problems

Sometimes, a poochy belly can be a sign of a serious issue, which is why you should always be ready to consult a doctor in case more intensive treatment is needed. Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California lists gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV as one of the most common emergencies to treat among dogs with pot bellies due to bloat. GDV occurs when a bloated dog's stomach rotates and blood is prevented from flowing, and requires immediate medical attention. Peritonitis, which occurs when a dog's intestine becomes punctured, can also lead to a distended belly, as can fluid buildup in the stomach, which is often symptomatic of diseases like heart or liver failure.

Close-Up Portrait Of Dog
credit: Michael Borst / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

One disorder that's very commonly associated with a pot belly is Cushing's disease, which is also known as hypoadrenocorticism. According to the FDA, Cushing's disease occurs when too much cortisol, a stress hormone, is produced by the body. This excess in cortisol is caused by a small tumor either in the pituitary gland or on the adrenal glands, and results in symptoms like hair loss, an increase in thirst or appetite, a low activity level, and a round, pot bellied appearance. Cushing's disease is only cured if the tumor causing the overproduction of hormones is surgically removed, but can be managed with medication, which will usually be a lifelong treatment.