bloat in dogs

Bloat in dogs | signs of bloat in dogs | preventing bloat in dogs
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jun 24 2014

Bloat is a life-threatening condition that can affect any dog, although certain dog breeds and activities can put pets more at risk. Learn what the first signs of bloat are, how to prevent it and how it is treated to know when your canine may be in danger. 

What is bloat in dogs? 

Bloat is a deadly condition in which the dog's stomach fills with air and/or fluid and then twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach.

While “being bloated” may sound harmless enough in people, in dogs and cats it is used to describe a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV; literally distention of the stomach with gas. While the gastric dilatation may be merely uncomfortable initially, it alone only occurs in about 25 percent of bloat cases; in 75% of pets who bloat, it will progress to a second stage called gastric volvulus whereby the stomach rotates and the gas becomes trapped.*

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As the digestive processes continue in the stomach, the gas continues to form but, because the twisted stomach is effectively closed, cannot escape. As the pressure increases, the distended stomach can press on blood vessels and diaphragm, causing difficulties in circulation and breathing. If left untreated, bloat can be a rapidly progressing fatal condition in just a few hours.

Symptoms of bloat in dogs

  • Bloated abdomen
  • Retching
  • Dry heaving
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Rapid heart rate

Bloat is a medical emergency that requires quick intervention. If you notice any signs of bloat in your dog, get to your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately.

What causes bloat in dogs?

Any dog can bloat, but we see this condition more often in large-breed dogs, whose risk of developing bloat increases 20% each year after the age of five. Furthermore, we see it in dogs who are deep-chested, meaning that their chests are larger than their waists. The dog breed most often affected by bloat is the Great Dane, who is a great example of a deep-chested dog with the highest average lifetime likelihood of a bloat episode.* Other breeds at risk include Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, St. Bernards, Standard Poodles and Weimaraners. 

The risk of bloat increases in older dogs, too, regardless of their breed. For large breeds, the risk goes up 20 percent each year after the age of 5. For giant breeds, it goes up 20 percent each year after the age of 3.* Male dogs over the age of seven are also twice as likely to get bloat than females.

While we don’t know what causes bloat in any one dog on any one particular day, we do know that there are risk factors involved that can contribute. Things like breed and age are out of our control. But there are a few risk factors that we can control. 

Factors that increase the risk of bloat include:

  • A family history of bloat (63% increase in risk)*
  • Eating rapidly (15% increase in risk)*
  • Eating once a day
  • Eating from elevated food bowls
  • Eating dry food that has been moistened
  • Eating dry food with a high fat content

Up until a few years ago the recommendations were to feed dogs from an elevated bowl and to moisten dry food with broth or water. These things have since actually been implicated in causing bloat rather than preventing it. 

How to prevent bloat in dogs

  1. Feed small meals three to four times a day.
  2. Encourage your pet to slow down when eating. You can buy “portion pacers” or special bowls that make dogs work harder for their food, thereby increasing the time it takes to eat.
  3. Feed a combination of wet and dry food.
  4. Avoid foods that are high in fat. If fat is in the top 4 ingredients of your dry food, ditch it!
  5. Never exercise your pet after a meal.
  6. Avoid stressful situations, especially in pets prone to stress.

One of the best precautions you can take in dogs who are prone to bloat is a surgical procedure called a prophylactic gastropexy, which tacks your pet’s stomach to his or her abdominal wall. This can be done at your dog’s spay or neuter, and while it won’t prevent your dog’s stomach from filling with air, it will prevent it from twisting and may just save your dog’s life. If you have a deep-chested dog, it’s worth looking into.

Is it safe to walk my dog after meals?

There have been links made about large-breed or barrel-chested dogs bloating after vigorous exercise shortly after eating. However, the key here is that the exercise is generally vigorous and unchecked (running, jumping, rolling, etc).

Gentle walks after a meal can aid your dog’s digestion and alleviate some of his or her ghastly gaseousness. If your dog is a lunatic off the leash, it’s important that these walks be on the leash and that the level of exercise is mild to moderate to avoid any potential problems with bloat.

How to treat bloat in dogs

Bloat can happen to any dog, regardless of how hard you try to prevent it. If your dog shows symptoms of bloating, get him to your veterinarian immediately! Being familiar with the signs noted above and getting your pet to the vet as soon as possible really can make all the difference. Some pets with bloat have passed away in as little as 30 minutes after their owners first noticed signs. Approximately 30% of dogs diagnosed will not survive.* 

Surgery will be necessary to save your dog's life, and since many emergency and specialty clinics charge more than $6,000 for critical care, surgery and after-care for bloat, dog parents with pet insurance coverage are always glad to have peace of mind during this difficult time.

*Risk Factors for Canine Bloat, Jerold S. Bell, DVM

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