Welcome to our informational guide to bloat in dogs, a particular health concern for owners of several large dog breeds.
As a dog owner, it is important that you know what to do in a medical emergency. Fortunately, most such emergencies are easy to recognize and the most prudent course of action is usually obvious.
For example, if your dog sustains a serious laceration in a battle with another dog, most owners will instinctually apply pressure with a clean rag or towel and rush off to the vet. Because long or deep cuts can have tragic consequences if not handled properly, the urgency of the situation is plainly obvious.
But some emergencies fail to elicit this type of response from their owners. Unaware that something terrible is happening, many fail to take action, or only do so once it is too late.
Unfortunately, this occurs all too often for pets suffering from dog bloat.
What Is Bloat in Large Breed Dogs?
Dog bloat, also known as gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV), occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with air and twists on its axis. It is not clear whether the stomach twists and then fills with air, or fills with air and then twists; it may even vary from one case to the next.
As the stomach expands, it begins to press against other internal organs, including the liver, spleen, diaphragm, spinal cord, heart and arteries. Among other things, this cuts off blood flow from the rear half of the body, which can lead to shock, while the stomach’s pressure on the diaphragm can make it difficult for the dog to breathe.
Additionally, as the stomach twists, it cuts off its own blood supply too, which leads to tissue death.
Dog Bloat Symptoms
The single most obvious sign of dog bloat is abdominal distension – the dog literally bloats. This is not to be confused with the full-stomach look your dog normally exhibits after eating. Bloat in dogs causes significant pain and discomfort, and your dog will probably wince in pain if you press gently on his belly.
Some of the other common bloat symptoms in dogs include:
- Lying in unusual positions
- Appearing unable to lay comfortably
- Unproductive vomiting (“dry heaving”)
- Rapid breathing
- Emitting pained vocalizations
Dog Breeds Susceptible to Bloat
Any breed can suffer from dog bloat, and there are records of almost all breeds experiencing the problem. However, bloat in dogs is far more common for some breeds than others – particularly large breeds with deep, narrow chests.
Some of the breeds at greatest risk of bloat include:
- Great Dane
- Irish Setter
- Standard poodle
- Bassett hound
- Doberman pinscher
- Old English sheepdog
- German short-haired pointer
- German shepherd
- Airedale terrier
- Labrador retriever
While all owners should be aware of the signs and symptoms of bloat in dogs, it is especially important for those who own one of the breeds listed above.
Dog Bloat Requires Immediate Action
Bloat in dogs can be fatal in as little as an hour or two, so you’ll need to take immediate action at the first sign of trouble.
Place a call to your veterinarian or the emergency clinic, explain that you are on your way and follow any instructions they provide. For example, some vets may encourage you to give your dog a double dose of simethicone (Gas-X), if you have any on hand.
Try to keep your dog as comfortable as possible during the journey to reduce the amount of pain he experiences. If possible, let him stretch out in the back seat.
Note that some dogs may have trouble walking while suffering from bloat, so you may need to carry him. If he is too big to carry safely by yourself, make a “stretcher” from a bed sheet and have a friend help you carry him to the car.
The first thing the vet will do is verify that your dog is, in fact, suffering from bloat. Then, he or she will work to help reduce the gas pressure in the stomach. They may do this by inserting a tube down your dog’s throat, or via a sharp needle inserted through the body wall.
Once the pressure has been relieved, the vet will likely order imaging studies, so they can tell how much damage has been caused by the twisting, and what type of operation will be able to best repair the damage.
While operating on the dog, many vets will stitch or staple the stomach in place, so that it cannot twist again in the future.
Avoiding Bloat in Dogs
Obviously, it is better to avoid bloat than to treat it after it has occurred, but vets have yet to devise a recipe that completely prevents it from happening.
However, vets have noted correlations between various behaviors or physical traits and bloat.
Some of the most common include:
- Males are twice as likely as females to suffer from dog bloat
- Dogs with relatives who’ve suffered from bloat are more likely to experience it themselves
- Feeding a food that contains soybean meal appears to increase your dog’s chances of suffering from bloat
- Foods with fats or oils listed among the first few ingredients appear to increase your dog’s chances of suffering from bloat
- Dogs fed one meal per day suffer from bloat twice as often as those fed twice-daily meals
- Fast eaters are much more susceptible to bloat than slow eaters are
- Anxious, depressed and stressed dogs suffer bloat more often than calm, happy dogs do
Some vets used to recommend that dogs at high risk of developing bloat be fed from elevated dog feeders. However, this does not appear to prevent the possibility of bloat, as many dogs suffer from the condition even when fed from these types of dishes.
If your dog is at an increased risk of developing bloat, it may be wise to consider having your vet preemptively tack the stomach in place to alleviate the possibility of it twisting.
You’ll need to discuss the possible risks and costs of the procedure with your vet, to make the best possible decision.
Have you ever experienced a bloated dog? We’d love you to share your story. Specifically, we’d love for you to describe the symptoms and circumstances surrounding the episode.
Your experiences with dog bloat may help others recognize the signs and symptoms that demand immediate attention.[wpdatatable id=68]
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.