Intra-abdominal fluid volume and hydrostatic pressure were elevated by positive pressure infusion of Tyrode solution into the peritoneal cavity of anesthetized dogs. The compliance of the peritoneal cavity fell from 10.8 to 0.56 ml X mmHg-1 X kg-1 of body wt as intra-abdominal pressure increased from 0 to 40 mmHg. Intrathoracic pressure also increased as elevated peritoneal pressure caused diaphragmatic bulging. Cardiac output and stroke volume were reduced by 36% after an intra-abdominal pressure rise of 40 mmHg; in contrast, heart rate did not change. Flow in the celiac, superior mesenteric, and renal arteries was reduced by 42, 61, and 70%, respectively. Pressure in the femoral vein increased to 46 mmHg, while flow in the femoral artery decreased by 65%. Whole-body O2 consumption, pH, and arterial PO2 decreased as intra-abdominal pressure rose. The peritoneal cavity, with its high initial compliance, affords the body an ideal location for the temporary accumulation of small to moderate volumes of fluid during episodes of increased vascular pressure or permeability. The marked alterations in the hemodynamic properties of the cardiovascular system are indicative of the physiological changes that occur when intra-abdominal fluid accumulation becomes excessive and peritoneal pressure rises to high levels.