Bloat in dogs

Before you start learning about bloat in dogs, first a WARNING: Did you find this page because your dog is showing symptoms of bloat right now? Then STOP reading and hurry to the vet this second!

Gastric dilatation and torsion (commonly referred to as bloat) is one of the most urgent medical emergencies a dog ever faces.

Still reading because you're not sure whether it's bloat, but it looks like symptoms of bloat? Well, as I always say: “It's better to err on the side of caution”. Now go!

Example of a bloating dog

Ok, so you're still here and your dog is just fine at the moment. Apparently you are a responsible dog owner and reading about this topic before you actually face it. Thumbs up for you!

Let me tell you about the symptoms, causes and remedy of gastric dilatation in dogs.

What is bloat?

Bloat in dogs is an acute and serious medical emergency that often ends in death. When bloating your dog's stomach becomes dilated with gas and twists on itself. The blood flow is blocked and the stomach cannot be emptied. The gas buildup continues and the vital organs receive not enough blood to continue functioning.

If not treated quickly and effectively your dog could die from blood poisoning and toxic shock.

dog and man sunbathing on the grass Relaxing after dinner together

Symptoms of bloat in dogs and gastric dilatation

When your dog is suffering from bloat he (or she) is very uncomfortable. You may see these signs:

Go see a vet!

Be alert whenever your dog is not acting like his usual self.

The drum-like abdomen is not always seen.

  • A distended abdomen that might feel like a drum.
  • Pace back and forth, unwilling to sit or lie down, restlessness.
  • Drooling and producing more saliva.
  • Panting and having trouble breathing.

When you notice only some of these signs then visit your vet (and hurry!).

Causes of bloat

The actual cause is unclear, though bloat is more often seen in large dogs with deep narrow chests (as compared to small dogs with barrel-shaped chests). Dog breeds that are at risk are: Great Danes, St. Bernards, Gordon Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, Weimaraners and Doberman Pinschers. Please note that this list is not complete and all dogs can develop this condition.

Not all narrow chested dogs will experience bloat and other factors that contribute to the risk are:

  • Rapid eating and gorging behavior. Dogs that eat slowly and chew their dog food carefully have a lower incidence of bloat. You can buy special dog food bowls that will reduce eating speed.

  • Whether exercise right after eating increases chances of developing gastric dilatation is unclear. To be on the safe side my dog and I always go for a walk first and he gets his meal after. Better be safe, than sorry.

  • A relation between stress and bloat is likely, so try to avoid that too. Happy dogs have a lesser chance of developing gastric dilatation as compared to fearful and dogs in stress situations.

Curing bloat

Speed is of the essence!

Chances of loosing your furry friend range from 10 to 60 percent. When your dog is not given veterinary treatment within a few hours after the symptoms appear, he is most likely to die. Gastric torsion is such an acute life-threatening condition that when your dog develops symptoms in your absence, you could find your friend dead.

Your vet will physically examine your dog and can confirm the diagnosis using x-ray. The x-ray photo will then show a stomach that is twisted and/or distended with gas. The stomach can be decompressed by passing a tube down your dog's throat or, when impossible, multiple small cylinders through the skin into the stomach. Your vet will then have to perform surgery to return the stomach to its normal position and tack it to your dog's body wall (in order to prevent twisting in the future).

Prevention of bloat in dogs

Especially dogs that have suffered from bloat should eat multiple, small feedings per day instead of one large meal.

During surgery, your vet can attach the stomach wall to the body wall. This is the most effective means of prevention. When your dog received medical treatment, but not surgery, the risk of recurrence is quite high. In those cases, feed small meals, avoid stress and allow the food to digest before play or exercising your dog.

Here's an example of a dog that plays first, then eats ánd chews really… really well!

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Recommended resource about dog health issues

For a complete survival guide on stress-free dog care, including detailed information on when your dog needs to see the vet, how to respond to pet emergencies, dog first aid and all common health problems, check out Ultimate Guide to Dog Health.

This is a quality handbook on dog health care, and teaches you how to take a proactive and prepared approach to knowledgeable dog ownership.

Learn how to deal with minor dog health problems before they become major ones »

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