Q: Can you give a dog with a distended abdomen – but no other symptoms – Pepto-Bismol or Milk of Magnesium?
A: A distended abdomen can be a sign of an emergency condition in some dogs. Unfortunately, it may be too late by the time you read this.
Large, deep-chested dogs such as Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes and German Shepherd Dogs are prone to GDV, or gastric dilatation and volvulus. This is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s stomach twists around from its natural position.
After the stomach twists, gas is unable to escape, and the abdomen begins to distend. Sometimes, dogs with GDV will try to vomit, but unsuccessfully. Retching and a distended abdomen in a large breed dog are definitely signs of a possible GDV, and any dog owner observing these signs should rush their dog to the nearest veterinary hospital.
Emergency surgery is required to untwist the stomach and attach it permanently in place (a procedure known as a gastropexy). If there is too long of a delay before surgery, blood supply to the stomach will be interrupted, and the stomach tissue will become irreparably damaged.
Other serious conditions related to a distended abdomen can be fluid in the abdomen due to internal bleeding, heart failure or liver disease. Your veterinarian would have to sort these out with a thorough physical exam.
As for the use of Pepto-Bismol or Milk of Magnesia, these products can be used cautiously in dogs that appear to have an irritated stomach. You might see a small amount of vomiting and signs of nausea, such as drooling or licking of the lips. Pepto-Bismol acts to coat the stomach, potentially decreasing the irritation that might be caused by a superficial ulcer or erosion. Other over-the-counter medications that might be effective include Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac, which are acid blockers and need to be given at a dose similar for humans of approximately equal weight.
Of course, if the signs of the upset stomach continue, a visit to the vet is necessary to rule out something more serious. There are more effective prescription products your veterinarian can recommend and prescribe.