What Is Bloat In Dogs?

Here’s why it’s an emergency 🚨

dog with bloated stomach

If you’ve ever heard of the condition bloat in dogs, you might have immediately assumed that it’s just an annoying side effect of eating too much (like it is in people).

But that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Bloat in dogs is a life-threatening condition, and if you think your dog has it, you should take him to the vet immediately.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and a veterinary consultant for FiveBarks, to find out everything you need to know about bloat in dogs and how to keep your dog safe.

What is bloat?

Bloat is a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus (aka GDV), and it’s always an emergency for dogs.

“Bloat is a life-threatening condition that occurs rapidly in the course of a few hours,” Dr. Simon told The Dodo. “The stomach fills with gas and liquid and twists on its axis, trapping the contents inside. This can lead to the blood supply being cut off to certain organs and [can lead to] shock.”

Once the stomach flips from bloating, both the entrance and exit to the stomach become blocked. This prevents gas and liquid from passing through, which causes them to continue to build up even more.

This also disrupts blood flow to and from the stomach and to the rest of the body, resulting in damage to body tissue and shock.

Simple bloat (aka dilation) is when a dog’s stomach is expanded and doesn’t involve twisting. This can resolve on its own, but it can also progress to the point where the stomach flips and twists (becoming GDV), which can turn into an emergency situation.

Because of this, it can be risky to monitor your dog’s bloating at home, since simple bloat can become dangerous at any point. The best thing to do if you notice bloat is to contact your vet. Even if it turns out not to be GDV, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

What causes bloat in dogs?

Certain factors can put dogs at greater risk for bloat, but the exact cause of the condition is unknown. The risk factors include:

  • Eating too quickly
  • Overeating
  • Drinking too much in a short period of time
  • Stress
  • Older age (this condition occurs most often in middle-aged dogs)
  • Exercising after eating
  • Eating from a raised food bowl

While any breed can develop bloat, large breeds with deep chests are typically at greater risk. Around 20 percent of dogs weighing over 100 pounds will develop bloat, whereas, overall, about 6 percent of total dogs will develop it.

“Large and giant breeds, such as the Great Dane, are overrepresented,” Dr. Simon said.

Great Danes have the greatest risk. Dogs of this breed have up to a 42 percent risk of developing bloat during their lives. Other high-risk breeds include:

  • German shepherds
  • Standard poodles
  • Boxers
  • Akitas
  • Bloodhounds
  • Irish setters
  • Greyhounds
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Saint Bernards
  • Weimaraners
  • Mastiffs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Chow chows
  • Airedales

Symptoms of bloat in dogs

Bloat can come on suddenly in dogs, which is why it’s important to know the signs so you can act quickly if your dog does develop it.

Bloat can become fatal within an hour if it goes untreated, so if you think your dog might have it, take your dog to the vet ASAP.

The most obvious sign of bloat in dogs is a swollen stomach, but there are other symptoms to watch out for.

“Dogs will drool, retch and look visibly uncomfortable,” Dr. Simon said. “Owners will also notice their [dog’s] abdomen is enlarged and tense like a big balloon.”

Signs of bloat to look out for include:

  • Swollen or distended belly
  • Painful belly
  • Retching or dry heaving
  • Excessive drooling
  • Collapse
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Pale gums
  • Rapid heart beat

How to treat bloat in dogs

Bloat is treated with surgery and must be treated immediately to have a favorable outcome.

When you take your dog to the vet for bloat, your vet will first perform bloodwork and X-rays to diagnose the condition. They may also do an ECG (electrocardiogram) to check if your dog is experiencing abnormal heart rhythms.

If your dog has gone into shock, your vet will likely treat the shock first. This will include pain medication and IV fluids.

Your vet will also try to release pressure from the stomach by either using a stomach tube or by inserting a needle into your dog’s stomach.

Then your vet will perform surgery to rotate his stomach back to its normal position. If there is tissue death in the stomach or spleen, part of those organs might need to be removed also.

During surgery, your vet will also tack his stomach to the abdominal wall in a procedure called a gastropexy. This will prevent the stomach from flipping and twisting in the future, which is important since dogs who develop bloat have a greater chance of getting it again.

Gastropexy is sometimes performed as a preventative measure for breeds who are at higher risk, such as Great Danes (this can be done in combination with another procedure, like a spaying, so your dog doesn’t have to have surgery twice).

Prognosis of bloat in dogs

The sooner you get your dog treatment for bloat, the better the possible outcome for him. Up to 80 to 90 percent of dogs who receive quick treatment will survive.

Certain factors that can contribute to poor outcomes for dogs include:

  • The dog was symptomatic for more than six hours.
  • Part of the stomach died and needs to be surgically removed by the vet.
  • The spleen needs to be removed.
  • The dog had heart arrhythmia before surgery.

Preventing bloat in dogs

Bloat is a scary condition for your dog, but there are ways to help prevent it, including the following:

  • Feed your dog a few small meals throughout the day, rather than one large meal, to prevent overeating.
  • Don’t let your dog run around a lot or play too much immediately before or after eating.
  • Don’t give your dog large amounts of water at once.
  • Reduce stress, especially around mealtime.
  • If your dog eats too quickly, consider getting an interactive food-dispensing toy to slow him down. (You can get this dog puzzle that received The Dodo’s Paw of Approval from Amazon for $12.99.)
  • Avoiding feeding your dog out of a raised bowl.
  • Consider preventative gastropexy for breeds at higher risk.

Bloat is an emergency and a life-threatening condition in dogs. But if you know the symptoms to look out for and follow these steps to help prevent bloat, you can keep your dog safe.

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