Here at Rover, we like to consult a vet’s opinion when it comes to serious conditions that your dog may face. Bloat in dogs is among the serious ailments that can go from bad to worse quickly. Read on for a veterinarian’s guide to canine bloat so you can be prepared.
What is bloat in dogs?
Bloat is a life-threatening condition, predominantly found in large and giant breed dogs, often described as physically deep-chested dogs. Dog owners with pets that display the common characteristics that make them predisposed to bloat should be aware of the risks, signs, and symptoms of the disease. Bloat, if developed by your pet, requires immediate veterinary attention.
Bloat, or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), refers to the enlargement of the dog’s stomach and subsequent rotation of the stomach on its axis, sometimes referred to as twisted stomach. The disease progresses quickly, and in the following steps:
- As the term implies, the dog’s stomach first becomes abnormally distended with gas, liquid, and/or food.
- Some believe that dry food slows the stomach emptying and may increase the likelihood of bloat.
- If the stomach becomes distended beyond a critical point, it then rotates on its axis.
- After the stomach twists, the exit point into the small intestine is blocked.
- The blockage of the small intestine causes even more gas and fluid to accumulate in the already distended stomach.
- Then, the stomach’s blood supply gets cut off, so the stomach wall does not receive oxygen and other nutrients usually supplied via healthy blood flow.
Although the causes of this disease are not fully understood, there are many risk factors which can be avoided. In addition, you should be aware of the symptoms of bloat, so that you can get your dog life-saving veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Not only is this condition very painful, but a dog with GDV will die within a matter of hours without emergency veterinary care. Your vet may direct you to an animal hospital.
What are the risk factors for bloat?
Although bloat can occur in any sized dog, it is much more common in large and giant breed dogs. Some statistics suggest that dogs weighing greater than one hundred pounds have a 20% chance of bloat. Specifically, deep-chested breeds are at greatest risk. Some breeds at a higher risk of GDV include:
- Great Danes
- Saint Bernards
- German Shepherds
- Standard Poodles
Other risk factors include:
- an aggressive or anxious personality type
- advanced age (highest incidence occur in older dogs, aged over 7 years of age)
- eating one meal a day instead of multiple meals
- eating or drinking large amounts rapidly
- as previously stated, weighing over 100 pounds and/or a body type with a deep chest cavity.
What are the signs of bloat in dogs?
The hallmark sign of bloat is unproductive vomiting.
Your dog may act like he needs to vomit but will retch without anything coming up other than a small amount of white foam. This is because when the stomach is overly distended or twisted, the valve to the stomach is blocked and the stomach’s contents cannot be vomited.
Because bloat is so painful, your dog may show other signs of experiencing pain:
- difficulty getting comfortable when lying down
- enlargement of the abdomen
- stomach sensitive to pressure
- pale gums
- excessive saliva
If you notice these symptoms you should contact your dog to your veterinarian immediately.
How is bloat treated?
Your veterinarian or animal hospital technician will confirm that your dog has bloat by doing a thorough examination and taking an x-ray to evaluate the stomach. Once bloat is confirmed, your veterinarian will try to stabilize your dog in preparation for emergency surgery.
Dogs with bloat are in shock and experiencing decreased blood perfusion to vital organs, so intravenous (IV) fluids are started immediately. Many dogs will also experience a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia, which will be closely monitored and treated if possible.
Before proceeding with surgery, your vet will consult about possible outcomes and risks of surgery. If opted for, surgery is done to flip the dog’s stomach back into its normal position, and also secure the stomach to the body wall in order to prevent it from flipping again. This procedure is called a gastropexy.
The mortality rate for this condition goes up significantly each hour the dog goes without treatment. Because this is such a time-sensitive condition, many veterinarians are now performing prophylactic or preventative gastropexy in high risk dogs.
The preventative procedure is very safe and effective when done in a healthy dog, and can be done at the time of spay or neuter in young dogs. The stomach is tacked down to the body wall so that it can not twist or flip on its axis.
Other possible preventative measures
A few things pet owners can do to prevent bloat include:
- With the help of your vet, treat any adjacent diseases such as food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Slow down tendencies for fast eating
- Reduce stress
- Feed small meals in multiple portions throughout the day
Bloat is a very serious condition in dogs, and it can be life-threatening. There are many established factors that make your dog at risk of bloat, as well as clear symptoms to look for which indicate bloat and require immediate veterinary attention. Owners of high-risk dog breeds should talk with their veterinarian about prophylactic gastropexy in order to prevent bloat from occurring.
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Mara Tugel, DVM, cVMA is a veterinarian in Lexington, KY and received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and attended veterinary school at Iowa State University. Dr. Tugel is a board member at the Lexington Humane Society and a practicing doctor at Sheabel Veterinary Hospital – Boarding & Grooming.