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Fluid in the Abdomen (Ascites) in dogs and cats

Ascites is the accumulation of unwanted fluid in the abdominal cavity, either from normal functions (physiologic) or resulting from disease (pathologic). Fluid accumulates between the body wall and the internal organs.

This radiograph illustrates ascites. The fluid that has built up makes it difficult to distinguish individual organs. Emaciated animals with no body fat, or young animals with minimal abdominal fat accumulation, can look like they have ascites, when in reality they are perfectly normal.

Additional information

Ascites is the escape of fluid, either transudate or exudate, into the abdominal cavity between the parietal and visceral peritoneum.

Ascites can be caused by the following:
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) and associated interference in venous return
  • Depletion of plasma proteins associated with inappropriate loss of protein from renal or gastrointestinal disease (i.e., protein losing nephropathy or enteropathy, respectively).
  • Obstruction of the vena cava or portal vein, or lymphatic drainage due to neoplastic occlusion
  • Overt neoplastic effusion
  • Peritonitis (i.e., infective or inflammatory)
  • Electrolyte imbalance, especially hypernatremia
  • Liver cirrhosis due to a decreased production of plasma proteins.

    Systems Affected
    - Cardiovascular - Gastrointestinal - Renal/Urologic - Hemic/Lymphatic/Immune
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