gut feeling: preventing bloat in dogs

Dog licking bowl | Preventing bloat in dogs
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jun 24 2014

Bloat is a subject that we’ve talked about before, but it’s been awhile. It’s a subject that is near and dear to my heart, because it caused the death of my own beloved dog last year at the tender age of 15.

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 to bloat, so today’s blog will focus things you can do to try to reduce the chances that your dog will bloat.

If you recall from previous blogs, bloat (also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV) is the life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air and/or fluid and then twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach. Dogs who are bloating will often have a distended abdomen and will wretch as if trying to vomit but will be unable to bring anything up. Bloat is a medical emergency that requires quick intervention. If your dog shows signs of bloat, get to your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately.

Any dog can bloat, but we see this condition more often in large-breed dogs. 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. The risk of bloat increases in older dogs, too, regardless of their breed.

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:

1. Eating once a day

2. A family history of bloat

3. Eating rapidly

4. Eating from elevated food bowls*

5. Eating dry food that has been moistened*

6. Eating dry food with a high fat content

The two starred factors are controversial, as 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, though the recommendations are still often given.

Knowing these risk factors, here are a few things you can do to decrease the risk that your dog will develop bloat:

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 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.

I cannot stress enough that bloat can happen to any dog, regardless of how hard you try to prevent it. If your dog shows signs of bloat, get him or her to your veterinarian immediately!