What is bloat in dogs?
Bloat is a medical emergency and one of the most rapidly life-threatening conditions that vets treat in dogs. It involves the stomach but can quickly lead to life threatening shock if left untreated. But it is rare; Blue Cross has operated on 14 dogs with bloat in the four years between 2013 and 2017.
When bloat happens, the stomach fills with gas and often twists in a way that it cuts off the blood supply to the gut and stops gas and food from leaving. It can also make the spleen twist and lose circulation, and block vital veins in the back that transport blood to the heart.
Bloat is immensely painful for dogs and it can kill in a matter of hours without veterinary intervention, so it’s important that pet owners know the signs and ways to help prevent it. The condition is also known, more scientifically, as gastric dilatation-volvulus.
What are the symptoms of bloat in dogs?
Symptoms can appear quickly, and will usually include one or more of the following:
- A swollen, hard belly
- Retching but not able to vomit
- Pain in the abdomen when touched
- Other signs of distress such as panting and restlessness
What should I do if I think my dog has bloat?
Take your dog straight to the vets. Bloat is a veterinary emergency, and minutes can make a difference to your pet’s chances of survival.
How will my vet treat bloat?
There are other potential emergencies that present the same symptoms of bloat, so a scan may be done first of all to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment will then be needed immediately.
Your vet will first release the build-up of gas and air inside the stomach to stop the tissue in the stomach from dying and take pressure off surrounding organs. This can be done using a tube and stomach pump, but surgery is sometimes needed. It’s possible to untwist the gut at this point as well, but not always.
At the same time intravenous fluids will need to be given to reverse the shock and slow down the heart rate to prevent heart failure. This will often require strong painkillers, antibiotics and medicine to correct the loss of blood flow to the heart caused by bloat.
If a dog can be made stable after this initial treatment, it will need surgery to repair the damage to the stomach, which will involve removing any tissue that is dying due to the cut off in blood supply. There is a high risk that dogs that have suffered from bloat will have further attacks and so usually during the operation vets will try to fix the stomach to the body wall so that it can’t twist again ( an operation known as a gastropexy).
Are certain breeds more prone to developing bloat?
Any dog can suffer bloat but larger breeds with deep chests, such as great danes, St Bernards, weimaraners, German shepherds and Labradors are particularly susceptible. In breeds at risk a preventative gastropexy is sometimes recommended at a young age.
How do I prevent bloat in my dog?
The causes of bloat are not really understood. It’s thought that feeding little and often may make it less likely and sticking to lower fat food is also recommended. It’s also advised to avoid strenuous exercise after feeding. Eating rapidly is another risk factor, so it is a good idea to consider using a slow feeding bowl if your dog is a fast eater. Overweight and very underweight dogs are also more susceptible to bloat, so maintaining a healthy weight is also important.
I hate this disease. When I first started as a vet, we gave a dog with bloat a 50-50 chance if he could walk into the hospital. Many were too weak and had to be carried in. They often died. Now, 30 years later, bloat still kills about 30 percent of the dogs it affects, even after extremely intensive treatment.
I hope you never see this disease in your dog, but learning about what it is, why it happens, and how it’s treated may help your dog fall into the percentage of dogs that survive. Read on for common questions about bloat and new perspectives on prevention.
What is Bloat in Dogs?
Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, is a medical and surgical emergency.
As the stomach fills with air, pressure builds, stopping blood from the hind legs and abdomen from returning to the heart. Blood pools at the back end of the body, reducing the working blood volume and sending the dog into shock.
If this isn’t enough, there is yet another scary thing that happens, and it is devastating to see. As the stomach flips, it drags the spleen and pancreas along with it, cutting off the blood flow. The oxygen-starved pancreas produces some very toxic hormones. One, in particular, targets the heart and stops it cold. In fact, a dog can go through successful treatment and seem to be out of danger, when suddenly the heart stops.
Even in the mildest case of bloat, which is extremely rare, dogs die without treatment.
What Are the Signs of Bloat in Dogs?
- An enlargement of the dog’s abdomen
- An affected dog will feel pain and might whine if you press on his belly
Without treatment, in only an hour or two, your dog will likely go into shock. The heart rate will rise and the pulse will get weaker, leading to death.
Why Do Dogs Bloat?
This question has perplexed veterinarians since they first identified the disease. We know air accumulates in the stomach (dilatation), and the stomach twists (the volvulus part). We don’t know if the air builds up and causes the twist, or if the stomach twists and then the air builds up.
How is Bloat Treated?
Veterinarians start by treating the shock. Once the dog is stable, he’s taken into surgery. We do two procedures. One is to deflate the stomach and turn it back to its correct position. If the stomach wall is damaged, that piece is removed. Second, because up to 90 percent of affected dogs will have this condition again, we tack the stomach to the abdominal wall (a procedure called a gastropexy) to prevent it from twisting.
How Can Bloat Be Prevented?
For years, veterinarians have been looking for ways to prevent bloat. If you search on the Internet, you will find a host of suggestions, but much of it is folklore. We have to look at what is scientifically proven and implement those strategies.
Risk of bloat is correlated to chest conformation. Dogs with a deep, narrow chest — very tall, rather than wide — suffer the most often from bloat. Great Danes, who have a high height-to-width ratio, are five-to-eight times more likely to bloat than dogs with a low height-to-width ratio.
In addition to Great Danes, large- or giant-breed dogs at greatest risk include St. Bernards, Weimaraners, Irish Setters and Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, and Doberman Pinschers. Males are twice as likely to bloat as females. Neutering or spaying has no effect on risk.
If a dog has relatives (parents, siblings, or offspring) who have suffered from bloat, there is a higher chance he will develop bloat. These dogs should not be used for breeding.
Certain dietary ingredients have been blamed over the years, but the data is inconclusive. This is because most large-breed dogs are fed a cereal-based diet, so making a statement that those diets are to blame is difficult. However, we do know that foods containing soybean meal or having oils or fats in the first four ingredients increase the risk by fourfold.
Over the years, I have seen studies that show that food bowls on the floor cause more cases of bloat, but a few years later this was debunked, and elevated food bowls are now known to be just as much of a risk. With these conflicting results, a solid recommendation can’t be made.
Dogs fed one meal a day are twice as likely to bloat as those fed two meals a day. Rate of eating is also a contributor. Fast eaters have five times the risk than dogs that are slow eaters. Using slow feeder bowls with fingers (or center posts) or putting large rocks in the bowl slows dogs down physically, but it’s also important to address the anxiety that comes with feeding around other dogs, because that can be a risk factor. Stressed dogs and those that are hyperactive are more likely to bloat. Separating dogs at feeding times may help reduce anxiety and stress surrounding food. Unhappy or fearful dogs are twice as likely to bloat as those that are happy.
A recent trend is to perform a preventive surgical gastropexy on an at-risk dog. Often performed when a dog is sterilized, some veterinarians now do this procedure laparoscopically to reduce the invasiveness. Unfortunately, the hardest part is determining which dogs are at a high enough risk to warrant this surgery. It could be said that all the above-mentioned breeds should have this surgery performed. We just don’t know if it is cost-effective. Consult with your veterinarian about this option.
We can’t prevent all cases of bloat, but by implementing some of the above techniques, you may be able to reduce your dog’s risk. If your dog shows signs of bloat, take him to a veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic immediately.
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS and by wikiHow staff writer, Jessica Gibson. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Have you noticed your Great Dane acting restless or uncomfortable? If you see a change in behavior along with swelling of his abdomen, he may have bloat (also known as gastric torsion, twisted stomach, Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV). Bloat is a potentially life-threatening condition. Large breed dogs such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds as well as other large chested dogs are predisposed to because of the additional space it creates in their abdomen. Great Danes are by the most common breed to get bloat and was shown to occur in over 42% of all Great Danes.  X Research source The stomach can swell or become twisted during several stages while your dog rapidly deteriorates. Be aware of the symptoms of bloat and get immediate veterinary help. This will give your dog the best chance of survival.  X Research source Canine gastric dilatation – volvulus syndrome in a veterinary critical care unit. Brockman. JAVMA 207 (4)
In this Article
- What Is Dog Bloat?
Dog bloat is a common condition that can be dangerous, even deadly. Dogs who have it need treatment right away. Know the signs so you can recognize when your pup needs help.
What Is Dog Bloat?
Bloat happens when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid, making it expand. The stomach puts pressure on other organs. It can cause dangerous problems, including:
- Decreased blood flow to their heart and stomach lining
- A tear in the wall of their stomach
- A harder time breathing
In some cases, the dog’s stomach will rotate or twist, a condition that vets call gastric dilatation volvulus (GSV). It traps blood in the stomach and blocks it from returning to the heart and other areas of the body. This can send your dog into shock.
Bloat from GSV usually comes on very quickly. At first, your dog may show signs that their stomach hurts. They may:
- Act restless
- Have a swollen stomach
- Look anxious
- Look at their stomach
- Try to vomit, but nothing comes up
- Stretch with their front half down and rear end up
As the condition gets worse, they may:
- Have pale gums
- Have a rapid heartbeat
- Be short of breath
- Feel weak
If you think your pet has bloat, get them to a clinic right away. If dogs don’t get treatment in time, the condition can kill them.
Vets aren’t sure what causes bloat, but there are some things that raise a dog’s risk for it, including:
- Eating from a raised food bowl
- Having one large meal a day
- Eating quickly
- A lot of running or playing after they eat
- Other dogs they are related to have had bloat
- Eating or drinking too much
Any dog can have bloat, but it’s much more common in deep-chested, large breeds, like Akitas, Boxers, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherds. Some are at a higher risk than others, including Great Danes, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, and St. Bernards.
The treatment a dog gets depends on how severe their condition is.
First, the vet may put a tube into your dog’s throat and down to their stomach to release the pressure that has built up. Sometimes, a twisted stomach can keep the tube from passing through. If that’s the case, the vet may put a large, hollow needle through their belly into their stomach and release the pressure that way.
If your dog is in shock, the vet will start giving them fluids through an IV immediately, usually withВ antibiotics.
TheВ vet will take X-rays to see if their stomach is twisted. If it is, your dog will have emergency surgery to untwist it and put it back in its normal position. The vet also will fix the stomach to prevent GSV in the future. They’ll also check to see if the condition damaged other parts of their body.
Bloat can be scary, but there are ways you can keep it from happening to your dog:
- Don’t use a raised bowl unless your vet says your dog needs one.
- Don’t let themВ run or play a lot right before or after meals.
- Feed themВ a few small meals throughout the day instead of one or two large ones.
- Make sure theyВ drinkВ a normal amount of water.
- For predisposed breeds, your vet will sometimes tack the stomach when your dog gets spayed or neutered
Glickman, L. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, published online Nov. 15, 2000.
American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: вЂњGastric Dilatation-Volvulus.вЂќ
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: вЂњBloat.вЂќ
American College of Veterinary Surgeons: вЂњGastric Dilatation-Volvulus.вЂќ
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: вЂњSoft Tissue Surgery: Medical Conditions.вЂќ
GDV and Stomach Bloat in Dogs: Signs, Treatment and Prognosis
Stomach bloat, also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is a condition in which a dog’s stomach becomes distended with gas. In some cases the stomach is distended with fluid or food.
As the stomach becomes distended, it usually twists in a clockwise direction. After the stomach is twisted and distended, the esophagus and duodenum become twisted and kinked off, thus trapping the gas in the stomach. The twist in the stomach not only makes the pet very uncomfortable, but also impairs the blood flow to the stomach, thus if left untreated may result in the death of the stomach and ultimately, the death of the patient.
Another event that occurs is occlusion of the main vein (vena cava) leading from the back half of the body to the heart and resultant shock. Shock, a condition in which there is inadequate perfusion of the body with blood, is fatal if not treated.
A number of breeds are commonly affected by stomach bloat. About 50% of all Great Danes will bloat during their lifetime.
About 1 in 5 Irish wolfhounds will bloat in their lifetime. Other susceptible breeds include standard poodles, bloodhounds, Akitas, Irish setters, German shepherds, dachshunds, and Labrador retrievers. Females and males are equally affected.
Clinical signs of bloat include:
- Unproductive retching
- Abdominal distension
- Pale gums
- Rapid heart rate
- Weak pulse
The diagnosis of bloat is confirmed with abdominal x-rays.
Initially, intravenous fluids are administered to help reverse shock. Next, the patient is anesthetized and a tube is passed from the mouth to the stomach to relieve gas and fluid buildup. The stomach is then rinsed with water to remove ingested food.
Following these pre-op procedures, the patient will be taken to surgery where the stomach is untwisted. Here, the stomach is tacked to the right side of the body wall (called gastropexy) to prevent the stomach from twisting again. Sometimes a portion of the stomach has died (necrosed) and needs to be removed. If too much of the stomach is dead, euthanasia may be recommended. If the spleen has developed blood clots, it will be removed.
After surgery, the patient is carefully monitored in the intensive care unit. Intravenous fluid therapy is continued after surgery. In some cases, artificial plasma (Hetastarch), plasma and blood transfusions may be needed. Pain is controlled after surgery with a variety of medications. Blood pressure, EKG and other vital signs are closely monitored.
Preventative surgery can be performed to minimize the risk of bloat in high-risk patients such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, bloodhounds, Irish Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, standard poodles and other susceptible breeds.
This surgery is done laparoscopically via two small incisions and the aid of a telescopic camera. The surgery can be done as early as six months of age (at the time of neutering). This procedure has minimal morbidity, less anesthesia and surgery time, short hospital stay (done as an outpatient surgery), and is less expensive than treating bloat.
If treated early, about 90 to 95% of the dogs having surgery to treat bloat will survive. If a portion of the stomach is found to be dead at the time of surgery, the survival rate decreases to 50%.
Patients that have bloated are predisposed to abnormal heartbeats that if left untreated uncommonly may result in death. Disseminated intravascular coagulation uncommonly occurs and results in dysfunction of multiple internal organs, bleeding disorder and commonly death.
A gastropexy (stomach tack) can also break down and result in recurrent bloat and twisting of the stomach, but this is unusual (less than 5% chance). Chronic recurrent bloat occurs infrequently, but usually is due to very poor function of the muscle of the stomach.
Medication may be administered to improve the stomach motility, but this will be effective in only about 50% of patients.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dogs and Bloat
Do you have a Big Dog?
I love big dogs and have grown up with them all my life. Currently, my family and I have 2 dogs, a female Rottweiler named Cleopatra and a 120 pound Bull Mastiff named Diesel. As you can imagine, our dog food budget is enormous! However, it is worth the cost because the bigger the dog the bigger the kisses. But, owning a large breed dog does require that you consider a few things that owners of smaller dogs generally do not need to worry about: house size and one with a sturdy foundation (Diesel likes to eat drywall), an endless supply of poop bags, and literally being pushed out of the bed in the middle of the night. But, I could not imagine life without my giant companions and that is why it is so important to be aware of BLOAT.
What is Bloat?
Bloat is a term that is often used to describe the condition GDV. GDV stands for Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus. It is a life threatening condition that can develop in some dogs that causes the stomach to rapidly fill with gas and/or fluid and then flip upon itself. Once rotated, the gas is unable to escape and continues to build up.
Who can get Bloat?
Dogs that are at high risk for GDV are large and giant breed dogs and dogs with deep or barrel shaped chests. It has also been suggested that dogs that have nervous temperaments, are in high stress situations, eat too quickly or had a parent or sibling that bloated may also be at higher risk.
At risk breeds:
German Shepherds Great Danes Weimaraner Chow Chow
Bloodhound Standard Poodle Airedale Irish/Gordon Setter
Labs Goldens Basset Hound Borzoi
Collie Newfoundland Boxer Bull Mastiff
Rottweiler St. Bernard Milinois Cocker Spaniel
How do I know if my dog Bloats?
Often signs of GDV develop 2-3 hours after eating a large meal. However, it does not need to be associated with eating at all. The classic sign of bloat is unproductive retching (it looks like your dog has to throw up but nothing comes out). The abdomen appears to be swollen and firm to the touch. Breathing may also appear to be labored and they may have a hard time getting up or even collapse.
Is this an emergency?
YES!! YES!! YES!!
When the stomach becomes distended and then rotates, both the entrance and exit to the stomach are blocked. Extreme distention of the stomach decreased and blocks the blood supply to the stomach, as well as the blood flow to the rest of the body. Systemic circulation becomes seriously compromised resulting in systemic shock. Without treatment this condition is fatal in almost every case.
How is it treated?
Treatment for GDV involves emergency surgery. However, even with emergency treatment and surgery, GDV is fatal in 10-30% of affected dogs.
How do I prevent Bloat?
There are a few things that can be done at home to help decrease the incidence of bloat, for instance, feeding your dog from a bowl on the ground instead of from an elevated bowl on a stand, and feeding at least 2 meals a day is helpful. However, the best way to put your nerves at rest would be to consider a prophylactic surgery called a gastropexy. A prophylactic gastropexy is a procedure that anchors the stomach to the inside of the body wall, preventing it from rotating when it becomes distended. This procedure can be done as a puppy at the time of their spay or neuter. Or even as a laparoscopic procedure in bigger dogs who have already been altered.
So what am I trying to tell you?
Bloat is a very scary and life threatening condition and it is better to try and prevent it rather than to treat it after it occurs.
Talk to your primary care veterinarian with questions about a prophylactic gastropexy.
Dr. Shani Boone graduated from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in May 2004. She completed her internship at Friendship before joining us as a full-time staff veterinarian. Dr. Boone works in our Primary Care and Surgery departments.
Canine Bloat is a life-threatening pet emergency with a 50% mortality rate. Canine Bloat, a.k.a gastric dilation and volvulus, is when the stomach distends (expands) with gas and fluid causing serious abdominal pain. Volvulus (meaning rotation) is when the stomach literally twists and rotates on itself blocking off blood supply and occluding exits for the gas within. Other serious conditions bloat can cause are: acute dehydration, bacterial septicemia (life-threatening bacterial infection), tissue necrosis (tissue death), shock and cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate).
Without immediate treatment canine bloat is a very serious condition that can lead to a painful death within hours. Every dog owner, no matter what breed you have, should know the warning signs and symptoms for this serious condition.
The initial symptoms of bloat can include, but are not limited to:
- Distended stomach
- Labored breathing
- Whining or acting as if in pain
- Retching with little to no food coming up
If your pet shows any combination of these symptoms, especially after eating, proceed to your veterinarian immediately! Retching with lack of substance is a very serious symptom and should not be taken lightly. If this symptom occurs it is considered an emergency. DO NOT HESITATE; TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE NEAREST VETERINARIAN.
Most Common Breeds & Risk Factors
Any dog can bloat however deep chested dogs are at a much higher risk. Owners of Great Danes, St. Bernards, Mastiffs, Greyhounds and dogs with similar thoracic anatomies should be on the lookout for the symptoms listed above. Other factors increasing a pets risk for bloat include:
- weighing over 100 pounds
- eating only one meal per day
- family history of bloat
- rapid eating
- no water before or after meals
- excessive water after meals
- underweight dogs
- feeding dog food that lists animal fat within the first four ingredients
- fearful, anxious or aggressive temperaments
- males and senior dogs.
Factors that decrease risk for bloat include:
- happy demeanor
- eating dry food high in meat meal
- no exercise for at least 30 minutes following a meal
- eating 2 or more smaller meals per day
If you own a dog with a high risk for bloat, gastropexy surgery is an option. There are many different types of gastropexy surgeries; however the most common is the “Linear Gastropexy.” During this procedure, our veterinarian will use a surgical laser to cut an incision into the stomach and another into the abdominal muscles. They will then suture the stomach lining into the abdominal wall in order to create a stable connection. Your pet will still be able to bloat after this surgery; however, the stomach will not be able to twist.
In the unfortunate event that your dog does bloat, immediately bring your pet in to our animal hospital in Fort Collins. Once arriving, the veterinarian will palpate (feel) your pet’s stomach to see if it is hollow and distended. X-rays on your dog are a common diagnostic tool used to confirm this condition. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, our doctor and team of veterinary technicians will decompress the stomach and put your pet on IV fluids in order to reverse the shock your pet is in. They will then assess your pet’s heart rhythm and determine whether your pet is stable or not. After stabilization, your pet may need to do undergo exploratory and gastropexy surgery. During the exploratory part of this surgery, our veterinarian will assess the internal damage and take out any dead tissue. They will then perform a gastropexy in order to assure there will be no twisting of the stomach if your dog experiences bloat again. Gastropexy is a very important part of this visit because statistics show that without this procedure the re-occurrence of bloat (even within the next few hours) is 75%.
Early detection and prevention of bloat are key to your pet’s survival. If you have any questions please contact Aspen Grove Vet Care at 970-416-0232.
Most people have experienced bloating, that uncomfortably stuffed feeling in your stomach that happens when you’re feeling gassy. But while bloating normally subsides in people, it can be deadly in dogs.
“Bloat is one of the more common major illnesses that we see,” Jessica Romine, DVM, a veterinary internal medicine specialist with BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Southfield, Mich., says. “If your dog has signs of bloat, it’s always an emergency.”
Learn what you should watch for and the steps you can take to prevent bloat from happening in your pup.
What is Bloat in Dogs?
Bloat occurs when gas, food, or liquid gets trapped in the stomach and expands. Bloat can cause the stomach to grow so big that it takes up the entire abdomen space—even getting as large as a basketball in some dogs.
Pressure from a ballooning stomach pushes on the lungs, making it difficult for the dog to breathe. The pressure also narrows both ends of the stomach, keeping contents from escaping. Your dog’s stomach isn’t able to empty into the intestines or by vomiting or burping.
The most dangerous situation is when the stomach twists over on itself—like a wet towel being wrung out—and cuts off blood flow to vital organs like the heart and spleen. This condition is called gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), gastric torsion, or twisted stomach, and without treatment, it’s almost always fatal.
What Are the Signs of Bloat in Dogs?
There’s a time and place for watchful waiting at home, but not for dog bloat. The condition has a rapidly progressing timeline. If your dog has signs of bloat, you should seek treatment right away. Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine warns that the condition can become life-threatening within one to two hours.
The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) notes that signs of bloat may initially start with your dog being restless or pacing. It’s common for dogs with bloat to drool and have dry heaves, which may bring up a small amount of foam or mucus. You might also notice a swollen belly, but it can be difficult to see in bigger or overweight dogs, Romine says.
As bloat progresses, symptoms worsen and include:
- Excessive drooling
- Frequent dry heaves
- Shallow breathing
You won’t be able to tell what stage of bloat your dog has by symptoms alone. X-rays are needed to determine if your dog’s stomach has twisted.
“If your dog suddenly becomes agitated or painful and is trying to vomit, see a veterinarian immediately,” Romine advises. “Time is of the essence with these cases.” The AKC Canine Health Foundation says that with early treatment, more than 80 percent of dogs with bloat survive.
How is Bloat Treated?
There’s no at-home treatment for dogs with bloat. It’s an emergency that requires veterinary care as soon as possible. Depending on how advanced the condition is, your vet’s treatment of bloat can involve several steps:
Step 1. Stabilization and Diagnostic Tests
Many dogs with bloat go into shock, so the first step is stabilizing your pup’s vitals with intravenous (IV) fluids. Your veterinarian will also run tests and take x-rays, which will reveal if the stomach is just bloated or if it’s twisted as well. Your dog may also need an echocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate heart function since bloat causes abnormal heartbeats in about 40 percent of dogs.
Step 2. Emptying the Stomach
If your dog’s stomach hasn’t twisted yet, the goal is to relieve mounting pressure by emptying the stomach. Your vet will sedate your dog and then pass a tube down to the stomach to pump out the contents. An alternative procedure releases air by inserting a needle through the skin into the stomach.
Step 3. Surgery
It’s common to follow stomach emptying with gastropexy, a surgery that prevents bloat. The procedure involves attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall to keep it from twisting. “If the stomach is only decompressed but not surgically tacked in place, there’s a 75 percent chance your dog will develop bloat again,” Romine says. “But with gastropexy, that rate drops to 6 percent.”
When the stomach is twisted, your dog will definitely need surgery to untwist it. Your vet will also remove damaged tissue in the stomach or spleen. Once the immediate danger has been taken care of, your vet can then perform a gastropexy.
Are There Risks That Increase a Dog’s Chances of Getting Bloat?
Although bloat has been widely studied, researchers still don’t fully understand why it happens. But they do know that biggest factor is dog breed. Any dog can develop bloat, but large and giant breed dogs are prone to it. The theory is that dogs with deep, narrow chests have more room in their abdomen for the stomach to move around and get twisted.
“Overall, about 5.7 percent of dogs will develop bloat,” Romine says. “But that goes up to 20 percent for dogs weighing 100 pounds or more. Great Danes have the highest risk of all—42 percent of them develop bloat if they don’t have a preventative gastropexy.”
Other breeds that are often affected include:
- German shepherds
- Irish setters
- Irish wolfhounds
- Saint Bernards
- Standard poodles and their mixes like goldendoodles and Aussiedoodles
Dogs can also inherit a predisposition or tendency to develop bloat too. If one of your pup’s parents or siblings had bloat, your dog is more at risk. Other factors associated with increased risk for bloat include:
- Being older (over three years for giant breeds; over five years for large breeds)
- Consuming dry food with high fat or oil content
- Eating one large meal a day
- Going through a stressful event (such at a boarding kennel)
- Gulping down food
- Having a nervous or reactive demeanor
Is Bloat Preventable?
If you’re concerned about your dog’s risk factors, there are things you can do to help prevent bloat. A preventative gastropexy is the most effective way to ensure your dog doesn’t get GDV, the fatal progression of bloat.
“[A gastropexy] can be done at the time of spay or neuter or as a separate procedure,” Romine says. “It’s highly recommended for particularly high-risk dogs like Great Danes.”
What and how you feed your dog can make a difference too. Experts once thought that raised feeding bowls could help prevent bloat, but new research suggests that using them might actually increase risk. However, there are other mealtime changes that may be helpful. Instead of feeding your dog one large meal, divide it into two or more meals a day, Romine suggests.
As for the food itself, a diet that’s rich in protein and carbs is best. Mixing canned and dry food could help. But Romine recommends avoiding dry food that lists fat or oil as one of the first four ingredients since diets with high fat or oil content are associated with increased risk of bloat. Serving smaller-size kibble may also be beneficial.
Taking preventative measures is a great way to avoid bloat. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s risk and the best diet for your pet. Remember though, the most important thing you can do is keep an eye out for worrisome signs. If you spot them, take your dog to the vet right away.
Have you heard of GDV or twisted stomach or bloat? It’s a serious condition that dogs can develop. Without treatment the condition can become fatal quickly. But what is it exactly and how do you know if your dog has GDV? We’ve answered those question as well as how to treat it and how to prevent it.
What is GDV?
Gastric Dilation and Volvulus, also know as bloat, stomach torsion and twisted stomach, refers to stomach distension and twisting. It occurs when the stomach fills with gas, fluid or food causing it to swell. It then does a 180 to 360 degree twist on itself – referred to as volvulus. The twisting causes the distended stomach to press onto large blood vessels, disrupting the blood flow to internal organs, including stopping the blood flow to the stomach and spleen. Dogs who experience GDV go into shock quickly. It can also affect breathing since the swelling limits chest movement.
What causes twisted stomach in dogs?
The exact reason why GDV occurs is still unknown. However, there are a number of factors that increase a dog’s risk. These include:
- Ingesting bones which can block the outflow of food, fluid and gas from the stomach
- Foreign body obstruction (ingesting toys, corn cobs, for example)
- Having one large meal a day
- Eating quickly
- Eating or drinking too much
- Vigorous exercise after eating
- Genetic predispositions (see below)
There are currently several studies looking into what happens physiologically in dogs that develop GDV to help us understand the condition more.
Are there dogs predisposed to GDV?
Any dog can develop GDV, but it is more common in some breeds than others. Large dog breeds with deep, narrow chests, like Great Danes, Shepards, Weimeraners and Dobermans, are more likely to develop GDV. The problem can occur in small dogs, but only rarely.
Interestingly, male dogs are twice as likely to develop gastric dilatation and volvulus as females. Dogs over seven years of age are more than twice as likely to develop GDV than those who are two to four years of age.
It’s not just dogs who can develop GDV, we’ve also treated guinea pigs in our hospitals with the condition.
X-rays of a Dafney the guinea pig showing her bloat resolving after treatment at Animal Emergency Service
What are the signs and symptoms of twisted stomach?
There are a number of signs and symptoms of GDV, some are obvious while others aren’t. The more obvious signs include:
- Abdominal distention (swollen stomach)
- When tapped the stomach makes a ‘ping’ sound
- Non-productive vomiting (appears to be vomiting, but nothing comes up or only produces white froth)
Other signs include:
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive salivation
- Weak pulse
- Rapid heart rate
- Pale gums
Bloat is a serious condition and needs immediate treatment. Without treatment the condition can prove fatal within an hour. With early treatment more than 80% of dogs will survive.
Our pets can have bloated stomachs for other reasons, such as pregnancy, cancer and infection, these reasons are serious and also require an immediate trip to the vet.
What is the treatment for GDV?
When you arrive at your vet clinic or emergency hospital your vet will assess your pet. The first step is radiographs (x-rays) to assess whether the stomach is simply dilated or if it is twisted as well. If the stomach is twisted, immediate emergency surgery is the only treatment option.
Dogs with GDVs are in shock, or are likely to go into shock, so fluids will be administered. As this is also an incredibly painful condition, pain relief is administered rapidly.
Your vet will then release the pressure that has built up in their stomach either by passing a stomach tube or inserting a large needle into the stomach and releasing the gas. This improves blood flow and assists in stabilising the patient prior to surgery.
This is a very challenging and complex surgery, requiring a high skill level, close anaesthesia monitoring and multiple medications. During surgery, as well as untwisting the stomach, the surrounding organs, including the stomach and spleen will be inspected to see if any damage has been done. As well as properly repositioning the stomach during surgery, your vet will also perform a procedure called a gastropexy, which is when the stomach is stitched to the inside of the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting again in the future.
After surgery, your pet will be closely monitored for several days for signs of infection, heart abnormalities, stomach ulceration or perforation, and damage to the pancreas or liver. Antibiotics and additional medications may also need to be given.
Some dogs with GDV develop a bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), in which small clots start to develop within the dog’s blood vessels. This is a life-threatening complication which requires management by a pet intensive care unit.
Your dog’s heart rate and rhythm will be closely monitored throughout their treatment, as some dogs with GDV can develop heart arrhythmias. Dogs who already have heart issues will most likely be given medications to help manage their condition.
Can you prevent GDV?
While your pooch might be predisposed to developing GDV, there are ways in which you can prevent the risk of the condition occurring, such as:
- Feed your pet two small mornings rather than one large meal
- Limit amount of water after a large meal to prevent significant expansion of the stomach
- Avoid vigorous exercise, excitement and stress directly before and after meals
- Use feeding bowls designed to slow down eating
- Diet changes should be made gradually over a three to five day period to allow the gut bacteria to adjust and reduce the risk of gas forming
- Avoid or at least monitor the feeding of bones closely
- For breeds predisposed to GDV gastropexy can be done at the same time as desexing to reduce the risk of bloat. It has been found that this preventative surgery can reduce the risk by more than 90%
If you are concerned about GDV and the risk to your pet, see your local vet for a health check up and to talk through any concerns.
What is meant by the term “bloat” in dogs?
This is a term that is synonymous with the more scientific term Gastric Dilatation/Volvulus (GDV). Dilatation means that the stomach is distended with air, but it is located in the abdomen in its correct place. Volvulus means that the distension is associated with a twisting of the stomach on its longitudinal axis. GDV is a rare but very serious disease that frequently causes death.
How or why does it occur?
We are not sure how or why this condition occurs. Original theories suggested that it occurred when a dog ate a large meal of dry food and then drank a lot of water. Although this is the most common explanation given, there is no scientific evidence to support this theory. In most dogs experiencing GDV, the stomach is not excessively full of dry food and the dog has not recently engaged in strenuous exercise. The most current theory is that the stomach’s contractions lose their regular rhythm and trap air in the stomach; this can cause the twisting event. However, in most cases, there is no explanation as to why the condition occurs.
How is it diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosis concerns breed disposition. The condition almost always occurs in deep-chested dogs of giant or large breeds. Some of the more commonly affected breeds include Great Danes, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Afghan Hounds and Basset Hounds.
The next step is to establish that the stomach is distended with air. An enlarged stomach will cause the body wall to protrude prominently, especially on the dog’s left side. The swelling will be very firm and obvious enough to see across the room. Occasionally, this distension is not very apparent. This occurs in dogs that have a large portion of the stomach up under the rib cage. In most cases, however, the owner is able to detect the distension.
A dog that experiences significant pain will be very depressed. It may lie in what is commonly called a “praying position” with the front legs drawn fully forward. This should occur quickly, within two to three hours at the most.
The presence of a rapidly developing distended abdomen in a large breed dog is enough evidence to make a tentative diagnosis of GDV. A radiograph (x-ray) is used to confirm the diagnosis of dilatation. It can also identify the presence of volvulus, in most cases.
What happens when the stomach is distended with air?
The first major life-threatening event that occurs is shock. This occurs because the distended stomach puts pressure on the large veins in the abdomen that carry blood back to the heart. Without proper return of blood, the output of blood from the heart is diminished, and the tissues are deprived of blood and oxygen.
The reduced blood output from the heart and the high pressure within the cavity of the stomach cause the stomach wall to be deprived of adequate circulation. If the blood supply is not restored quickly, the wall of the stomach begins to die and the wall may rupture. If volvulus occurs, the spleen’s blood supply will also be impaired. This organ is attached to the stomach wall and shares some large blood vessels. When the stomach twists, the spleen is also rotated to an abnormal position and its vessels are compressed.
When the stomach is distended, digestion stops. This results in the accumulation of toxins that are normally removed from the intestinal tract. These are absorbed into the circulation. These toxins activate several chemicals that cause inflammation. This causes problems with the blood clotting factors so that inappropriate clotting occurs within blood vessels. This is called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and is usually fatal.
What is done to save the dog’s life?
There are several important steps that must be taken quickly.
- Shock must be treated with administration of large quantities of intravenous fluids. They must be given quickly some dogs require more than one intravenous line.
- Pressure must be removed from within the stomach. This may be done with a tube that is passed from the mouth to the stomach. Another method is to insert a large bore needle through the skin into the stomach. A third method is to make an incision through the skin into the stomach and to temporarily suture the opened stomach to the skin. The last method is usually done when the dog’s condition is so grave that anaesthesia and abdominal surgery is not possible.
- The stomach must be returned to its proper position. This requires abdominal surgery that can be risky because of the dog’s condition.
- The stomach wall must be inspected for areas that may have lost blood supply. Although this is a very bad prognostic sign, the devitalised area(s) of the stomach should be surgically removed.
- The stomach must be attached to the abdominal wall (gastropexy) to prevent recurrence of GDV. Although this is not always successful, this procedure greatly reduces the likelihood of recurrence.
- Abnormalities in the rhythm of the heart (arrhythmias) must be diagnosed and treated. Severe arrhythmias can become life-threatening at the time of surgery and for several days after surgery. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is the best method for monitoring the heart’s rhythm.
What is the survival rate?
The severity of the distension, the degree of shock, how quickly treatment is begun, and the presence of other diseases, especially those involving the heart, will largely determine this. Approximately 60 to 70% of dogs will survive if treatment is instigated early.
What can be done to prevent it from occurring again?
The most effective means of prevention is gastropexy, the surgical attachment of the stomach to the body wall. This will not prevent dilatation (bloat), but it will prevent volvulus in most cases. Various dietary and exercise restrictions may also be used.
Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Tabitha Kucera, RVT, CCBC, KPA-CTP, is a veterinary technician and writer with over a decade of experience working in veterinary medicine for small animal veterinary hospitals, farm sanctuaries, and various cat and dog rescues. She is also Fear Free Certified and a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.
Mickrick / Getty Images
Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a serious medical condition that occurs when the stomach expands and rotates, trapping gas and preventing blood flow. Large breeds and deep-chested dogs are more susceptible to this condition. Bloat can happen very quickly and should always be considered an emergency because it can be fatal.
What Is Bloat?
Gastric dilatation-volvulus, or bloat, occurs when the stomach expands with gas, fluid, or food and then rotates in the abdomen. This creates a twist in the digestive tract at both the stomach’s entrance and exit, trapping material inside the stomach. The spleen may flip over with the stomach as well. The rotation obstructs blood flow to the stomach and spleen, leading to necrosis (tissue death).
The stomach continues to expand and can put pressure on the vena cava, a major vein that carries blood from the back half of the body to the heart. The resulting decrease in blood flow to the heart can lead to shock, which is often fatal if not treated immediately.
Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs
Signs of bloat will vary from case to case and may be mild or absent in the early stages. If you have any reason to suspect your dog may be suffering from bloat, contact an emergency veterinary facility immediately.
- Distended/bloated abdomen
- Nonproductive retching or heaving
- Restlessness due to discomfort
- Hypersalivation (excessive drooling)
- Fast panting or heavy breathing
- Pale mucous membranes
- Lethargy and depression
A dog with bloat will typically exhibit restlessness due to discomfort. It will experience nausea with hypersalivation and retching or gagging. The dog will have an urgency to vomit, but the stomach contents will be trapped due to torsion. Saliva may be regurgitated, though, because it cannot enter the stomach when swallowed.
The dog’s abdomen may or may not appear distended. Some dogs will vocalize due to abdominal pain while others will become lethargic and withdrawn.
The enlarged stomach may press on the diaphragm and affect breathing. Disruption of the circulatory system can lead to abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). In some cases, the dog will collapse or become depressed and unable to get up.
Causes of Bloat
Researchers are still not completely certain why bloat occurs in dogs, but most agree that the following circumstances may increase a dog’s risk:
- Breed: Large and giant dog breeds, especially deep-chested breeds (like Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, standard poodles, Basset hounds, Irish wolfhounds, golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers, Old English sheepdogs, and German shepherds) are particularly predisposed.
- Number of Meals: Feeding one large meal a day, instead of multiple smaller meals, can encourage bloat.
- Gorging on Food: Swallowed air during rapid feeding can quickly distend the stomach.
- Genetics: A dog with bloat in its lineage is more likely to experience bloat.
- Stress: Heavy exercise or anxiety-induced panting can cause a dog to gulp air, increasing the odds of bloat.
Elevated food bowls were once considered beneficial for large and giant dog breeds. However, some evidence suggests that elevating feeding increases the risk of bloat in dogs. While this is not certain, most vets recommend that dogs be fed at ground level.
Diagnosing Bloat in Dogs
Your veterinary team will work rapidly to stabilize and assess your dog. An IV catheter will be placed to administer fluids and medications that will address shock. An electrocardiogram (EKG) may be performed to check for cardiac arrhythmia. If necessary, medications may be given to stabilize the heart. Oxygen therapy may also be necessary if the dog is having difficulty breathing.
Abdominal x-rays will quickly be taken to look for stomach distention (gas, fluid, or food). Blood will then be drawn to run several tests; these typically include a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel (to assess organ function), electrolyte levels, and blood gas analysis.
While stabilizing your dog, the vet will try to decompress the stomach by passing a tube through the dog’s mouth. If this is not possible due to the twisting of the stomach, the vet may insert a large needle through the abdominal wall and allow air to expel.
Abdominal surgery will then be performed to rotate the stomach back into place and evaluate the tissue damage. Part of the stomach wall or the spleen may need to be removed if necrosis has occurred. The stomach will be stapled or sutured to prevent future rotation.
Prognosis for Dogs with Bloat
Most dogs recover from bloat with surgery and supportive care. However, the risk of fatality increases if the condition has lasted more than six hours, if heart arrhythmia is present, or if surgical removal of organ tissue is necessary.
How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs
There are ways to prevent bloat or reduce the chances it will develop. These include:
What is bloat?
Bloat, also known as gastric torsion, and also as gastric dilation volvulus (GDV) syndrome, is a life-threatening disorder that happens when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and becomes twisted. It mainly occurs in deep-chested breeds.
What causes gastric torsion?
We don’t really know why bloat happens. It is thought that if there is enough room in the abdomen for gas-filled organs to move, then occasionally they will. This is why the condition is most common in deep-chested dogs.
Why does the stomach become gas filled?
Vets believe that there are two likely triggers:
Animals (including humans) usually swallow more air when they are anxious. This is known as aerophagia (literally “eating air”) and it is usually seen in stressed, kennelled dogs. The constant intake of air causes the stomach to balloon in size, which changes the abdomen’s normal organ layout.
If dogs are moved onto very fermentable foodstuffs that produce gas at abnormal rates, the stomach can struggle and not deal with the gas efficiently by burping or passing it into the intestines.
Either way the dog is now bloated, which is an emergency in itself even if not one requiring surgery. If this inflated stomach twists however, the situation rapidly changes from serious to catastrophic.
How can I tell if my dog has bloat?
As with any emergency with your dog, if you suspect something is wrong, speak to a vet immediately, as time is crucial.
Signs to look out for:
- Gut bloating: if you notice a distended stomach, seek advice fast
- Problems breathing: the expanded stomach prevents the dog from breathing properly
- Dribbling or drooling
- Trying to be sick, without success
- Pain around the stomach
How is bloat treated in dogs?
Treatment for bloat will depend on how unwell your dog is. Your vet will usually x-ray them to see whether surgery is needed. Animals critical with GDV are high anaesthetic risks, so your vet may use heavy intravenous sedation first to make sure the dog is pain free and lying still.
How might my vet treat a severely bloated stomach?
If the stomach is an abnormal size your vet may:
- pass a stomach tube through the mouth and down the oesophagus to try to decompress the bloated stomach
- clip a small patch of skin on the left flank and puncture the abdominal wall with a catheter to release excess gas, which immediately decompresses the bloated stomach and restores normal breathing patterns and blood flow
Why is it important to act fast?
Time is very important in bloat cases because a twisted stomach can reduce blood flow, causing death of the dog’s stomach wall (necrosis). This can lead to perforation and fatal peritonitis. Once the stomach has been partially decompressed and intravenous fluids are flowing and breathing is improved, the next step is invasive surgery. Sometimes the vet may reposition the stomach and fasten it to the inner abdominal wall to help prevent GDV happening again.
How long is my dog likely to be at the vet?
Patients are usually hospitalised for at least 48 hours as post-operative effects such as toxins released by traumatised tissues can cause major complications including heart attacks, peritonitis and sudden death.
Help raise awareness
Gill Arney & Derek Hamilton set up the canine bloat awareness campaign after Beau, their Dobermann, survived gastric torsion in 2008. They produced the above flyer (in conjunction with several vets) detailing the signs to look out for and a very simple message – if you see these signs then get your dog to the vet.
- Gill will send packs of flyers (free of charge) to any UK address, or you can email to request a PDF copy
- There is also a Facebook group: canine bloat awareness
This article was written by Marc Abraham , a vet based in Brighton who regularly appears on UK television.
Think your dog may be affected?
If you’re worried about your dog’s health, always contact your vet immediately!
We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can’t give veterinary advice, but if you’re worried about any of the issues raised in this article then please contact your local vet practice for further information.
Find a vet near you
If you’re looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Find a Vet page.
Bloat is a generic term for distention of the abdomen. This is sometimes used interchangeably with a disease called “Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus,” but a bloated abdomen does not always indicate this condition. It’s important to be able to distinguish between the types and causes of bloat, so be sure to contact a vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s condition. Here we’ll discuss a few common symptoms and causes for the appearance of a bloated stomach in dogs.
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What is Bloat?
In a simple “bloat” situation, a pet has often ingested a large volume of food or other material (such as dog food, bread dough, foreign material, etc), or has a stomach full of air. When this happens, it causes the stomach to stretch like a balloon and can become very uncomfortable for the pet. Although this is quite uncomfortable, it’s not typically a life-threatening condition at this stage. However, due to the stomach enlarging, it can twist on itself inside the abdomen which cuts off the blood supply to numerous organs. When this happens, it is then called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). Because of the loss of oxygen to numerous organs and the damage that is done when the stomach enlarges and twists, this condition is often fatal and requires immediate medical attention.
What breeds are at risk for bloat?
Many people with pets have heard of the dreaded “bloat” in dogs. Bloat most commonly affects large breeds like Great Danes, German Shepherds, Mastiffs, and other deep-chested dogs. However, any dog can become bloated.
Top Causes of Bloat in Dogs
1. Intestinal Parasites
Have you ever heard someone refer to a puppy’s appearance as having a “wormy” belly? That’s because many intestinal parasites cause a bloated appearance to the abdomen of young puppies. These parasites commonly include hookworms and roundworms and are often found by vets on a fecal screening test.
Some symptoms you may encounter are round long worms in the stool or vomiting worms up. You may also notice a poor haircoat, pale gums, or diarrhea (with or without blood). Generally, intestinal parasites are a treatable condition with proper deworming and can be corrected easily if diagnosed early.
2. Dietary Indiscretion and Overeating
Did your puppy get into a large bag of dog food? Did they swallow a ridiculous amount of dirt or ingest your toddler’s Play-Doh? Dogs really do eat some weird things. And if eaten in large enough volume, can cause a significant and very uncomfortable distention of the stomach.
In most cases, the food will be digested (sometimes very slowly). Your puppy may still need supportive care, including hospitalization and IV fluids. In more serious cases, especially in the case of swallowing things like stuffing from a dog bed, or mulch in the yard, surgery may be needed to remove the foreign material.
Other possible causes of an enlarged stomach may include decreased gastrointestinal motility (slow intestinal movement), or even constipation. Your vet will need to examine your dog to determine if additional testing, like blood work or x-rays, are needed to uncover the cause of her bloated stomach.
3. Abdominal Fluid
Another reason why a dog’s abdomen will swell up is ascites, also known as abdominal effusion. This is described as the accumulation of fluid inside the abdominal cavity. Depending on the volume, the dog’s abdomen can increase in size mildly or to the extent where they start to look pot-bellied.
Although less common than the first two causes, fluid in the abdomen can certainly lead to a distended or “bloated” appearance. This can be from a variety of problems including heart failure, low body protein (sometimes due to problems with the liver or kidneys), cancer, and even bleeding from other organs. Free abdominal fluid occurs more commonly in older dogs and is often associated with more severe disease.
Treatment options depend on the underlying cause. Identifying the type of fluid as well as making sure the dog is stable is the first step in diagnosing most underlying conditions.
4. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)
Known as “The mother of all emergencies” in veterinary medicine, GDV is an extremely dangerous condition in which the stomach fills with air, and then twists on itself inside the abdomen. This leads to a distended appearance of the dog’s torso and is often accompanied by a distressed appearance, heavy breathing, and attempts to vomit. In some cases, the stomach is filled with air but hasn’t twisted yet (Gastric Dilatation) and imaging is required for further evaluation (like x-rays).
Read more about GDV, here!
5. Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease)
Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing’s disease is commonly triggered by hormone-producing tumors in the adrenal glands or pituitary glands. This results in a wide range of clinical signs which can be tricky to detect. Dog’s with Cushing’s disease typically have a pot-bellied appearance due to weakened abdominal muscles that result from the body’s overproduction of cortisol.
What should I do if my dog’s stomach looks bloated?
Due to the wide variation in conditions causing a bloated stomach appearance, it’s recommended that medical care be sought early. Your vet will perform an exam and discuss further tests or treatments based on their findings. Early intervention can be lifesaving, and your pet will thank you for it!
Contact your vet or take your dog to an emergency clinic if she is showing any of these signs:
- Distended, hard abdomen
- Sudden onset of frequent vomiting, gagging, or retching (nonproductive vomiting)
- Drooling excessively (hypersalivation)
- Signs of distress including heavy panting, pacing, or inability to rest
- Weakness, decreased ability to walk or stand
- Pale or purple gums
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Bloat in dogs is an extremely serious and dangerous medical condition that should be treated as a medical emergency. Even mild cases of bloat can turn fatal. Although the causes of bloat are still not clear, the symptoms that occur are fairly consistent and are a sign that you should seek immediate medical attention. Educating yourself on this terrible condition is the best way to help prevent it and reduce the risks to your dog, should they ever get it.
What is Bloat?
Bloat, also called gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV, is a condition where the stomach expands, filling with gas and fluids, and also twists on itself. It’s not clear whether the twisting occurs first and then the bloating or the other way around, but either way, this process creates a very bad situation for the dog. Once the stomach becomes distended and twisted, it puts pressure on the diaphragm, which causes problems with breathing. It also compresses the blood vessels, restricting blood flow to the stomach and return flow to the heart. Even mild cases of bloat should be regarded as an emergency situation, and you should seek treatment immediately.
Bloat most commonly affects large or giant breed dogs, especially those with a deep chest or who are tall and narrow. Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Standard Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, and Irish Setters are all at greater risk. Although these breeds are at a higher risk, no dog is completely safe, as bloat has been reported in almost every breed. Dogs with immediate relatives (parents, siblings, offspring) that have a history of bloat are at greater risk as well.
What Happens if My Dog Gets Bloat?
Signs and Symptoms
Since it’s unknown why bloat happens, it’s very important to know the signs and symptoms should it occur. The most common signs of bloat are an abdomen that appears swollen, excessive drooling, panting, fatigue without being able to sleep, and trying to vomit without actually being able to produce any vomit. Some dogs will actually make sounds to let you know they are in pain as well.
If your dog shows any of these signs and you suspect bloat, you should bring them to the emergency room immediately. Bloat can progress very quickly, and death can occur within hours of the first symptoms. There is no treatment you can do at home, and the only course of action is an emergency medical procedure by a professional veterinarian.
Once at the emergency room, tests such as x-rays and bloodwork will be done to determine if your dog does have bloat. If confirmed, the only treatment is surgery. A surgical procedure will be done to first untwist the stomach, and then a procedure called gastropexy is done where the stomach is sutured to the wall of the abdomen to prevent it from twisting again.
Depending on the severity of the condition, there may be further procedures done to take out the spleen or part of the stomach if damaged.
It’s important to be aware that even with treatment, this condition may still be fatal. That’s why time is of the essence. The longer a dog is bloated, the worse prognosis they have. Dogs will usually remain in the hospital for a couple of days to ensure all organs return to normal functionality and the dog’s general health improves.
If you think your dog is at risk for bloat, there are steps you can take that may help to prevent this condition.
Feeding your dog at least two meals a day or several small meals throughout the day, as opposed to one larger meal per day, greatly reduces the chances of bloat.
Fast eaters are at greater risk for bloat, so serving food in bowls with posts that slow eating or using food puzzles can help control your dog’s eating pace. It’s also important to reduce or eliminate the stress and anxiety that may be causing your dog to eat quickly. If there are other dogs in the house, separate them at feeding time. Avoid strenuous exercise and activity immediately after eating.
For diet, avoid food high in oils and fats. You may want to avoid dry kibble; your veterinarian can help you make this determination. Always provide plenty of water, and refrain from giving table scraps.
It was once thought that elevated bowls were beneficial; however, there has been no evidence to confirm this, and in some cases, it is believed to actually worsen risks because the head is forced into a less natural eating position.
In addition to the lifestyle habits to prevent bloat, you may want to consider having a prophylactic gastropexy done on your dog. This is the same procedure discussed earlier for the emergency treatment of bloat where the stomach is attached to the abdomen wall, except this is done preemptively.
This is not recommended for all dogs, but if you have a dog that is at a high risk for bloat, such as a Great Dane, or one that has a history of it in their family, you should discuss this option with your veterinarian. If they are undergoing another abdominal surgery, such as being spayed, this procedure might be combined with it.
Consult With Your Veterinarian
As with any concerns for your pet’s health and wellbeing, please contact your veterinarian with any questions and concerns about bloat and your dog. They can provide answers to any questions and discuss what options may be best for your particular pet and situation.
Bloat is a scary and unpleasant condition. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself and have the necessary tools at your disposal should it become a concern for you and your dog.
Also known as Bloat, Twisted Stomach, Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus or GDV, this condition is one of the most serious emergencies in small animal practice, and it can make all the difference to the outcome if it is recognised immediately.
There are two parts to this condition, the bloat and the torsion. Bloat is when the dog’s stomach fills up with gas, fluid, froth or a mixture of all of these, to a far greater size than normal. Torsion (volvulus) is when the whole stomach twists inside the abdomen so that it is closed off at both its entrance and its exit, just like a sausage which is twisted closed at both ends.
They may both occur together, or one may lead to the other. If bloat occurs first, the enlarged stomach is at greater risk of torsion. If torsion occurs first, bloating will definitely result. No food can leave the stomach, so it ferments, and no gas can be belched up.
Annie, a Gordon Setter, suffered with bloat but survived thanks to her owner spotting the signs
The effect of the swollen stomach is that it presses on all of the other vital organs close to it. The breathing will become difficult and if the large blood vessels within the abdomen get squeezed so much that they cannot allow blood flow, then other organs will begin to shut down. The stomach wall and the spleen can become necrotic or dead due to loss of blood flow, and this releases toxins into the bloodstream. It is very painful, and if not corrected, the dog will die.
The reasons for this condition occurring are not fully understood, but there are some well known and definite risk factors. The condition happens mainly in larger breeds, particularly those with a deep-chested shape like Great Danes, German Shepherds, Setters, Wolfhounds and Boxers, but these are not the only breeds affected. It also happens more (but not exclusively) in dogs over 7 years of age, and it is more common in males than in females. The risks increase if the stomach is very full, either with food or with water, so a dog which is fed once daily and eats very quickly, or gets access to the food store and gorges itself, would be at higher risk. Exercising after eating or after a big drink also increases the risk.
The onset of a gastric torsion is usually very rapid. The dog can appear quite normal one minute but once symptoms start they very quickly get worse. The most common symptoms are some or all of:
- Restlessness, anxiety
- Discomfort, followed by worsening pain
- Arched back, reluctance to lie down
- Drooling saliva or froth
- Attempts to vomit (retching) with little being brought up
- Swollen abdomen, often feels hard and if tapped feels like a balloon
- Rapid breathing
- Pale coloured gums and tongue
- Shock, possible death
It is vital to get veterinary attention as soon as possible if you suspect bloat or torsion. Always phone your surgery or your emergency service first as it will save valuable time if you go to the right place where the staff are prepared for your arrival.
Occasionally, there can be a slower onset. This may mean that the stomach has bloated without twisting, but there is still a high risk of torsion occurring so advice should be sought from your surgery.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Diagnosing the condition can be very straightforward if a dog is showing all of the classic symptoms. X-rays may be needed to confirm it. Blood tests will probably be taken to find out how serious the changes in the blood are, because changes in the circulating levels of salts in the blood can be life-threatening. These will be treated with intravenous fluids given quickly and at high volumes. A stomach tube may be passed, but this will not be successful if the stomach has twisted because the tube will not be able to get through the obstructed entrance. The vet may decide to decompress the stomach (let some gas out) by inserting a needle into the dog’s side. The order in which these procedures may be carried out will depend on just how ill the dog is.
A surgical operation will be needed to untwist the stomach, to check for damage to the organs and to try to prevent it from happening again. Some will need immediate surgery and others will need to be stabilised first to improve their chances of survival. Some dogs have to have part of the stomach or the spleen removed if the damage has been severe. The surgery is very high risk especially if the dog is already in shock because of the effects on the circulation and breathing.
When successful surgery is carried out, with the stomach and spleen returned to their normal position or repaired if damaged, it is common to perform a procedure to try to stop the condition occurring again, known as a gastropexy. There are different ways of doing this, but the aim is to anchor the stomach to the abdominal wall so that it is unable to twist. It could still bloat, but hopefully the consequences would not be so serious.
The survival rate following this condition varies a lot, but sadly, many dogs die each year from gastric torsion. The survival rate is better in younger dogs and if immediate treatment is given.
- Be aware of the signs to look out for
- Feed larger dogs two or three smaller meals a day
- Do not allow your dog to exercise after eating or after a big drink
- Try to discourage rapid eating by separating competitive dogs at feeding time
- Try a specially shaped feeding bowl designed to slow eating down
- The effects of type of food and feeding from a raised bowl are under constant review and more research will show whether these are significant or not
Martha with her young friend Tilly
I suspect that most vets never forget the first case of gastric torsion that they see. Mine was in a Great Dane, which I worked on all night with the help of two nurses. That one was fortunate and survived. It was a great moment for all of us when it left the surgery mid-morning the next day. The nurses jokingly told me that there was another one on the way in but I didn’t believe them, at least, not until I saw it walk in, arriving just as the first one left. Since then I have treated many dogs with gastric torsion and it is always memorable and always a challenge.
My own boxer Martha died of this condition last year despite very prompt attention and all preventative measures being in place. Sadly, her age was against her and our only consolation is that her suffering was very short-lived.
If you are concerned about your dog’s health, talk to your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.
What is Canine Bloat?
Gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat, occurs when a dog’s stomach becomes
blocked, and gas and fluid accumulate, causing the stomach to stretch to many times its normal
size. The bloated stomach causes severe pain, and it is prone to twist. When the stomach
twists, all of its contents become trapped and the blood supply is cut off. Without blood flow,
the stomach quickly deteriorates, and, because it is so distended, it can compress the large
vessels that return the blood back to the heart and cause a shock of the circulatory system.
Without treatment, GDV is a fatal condition. A dog with bloat may only have an hour or two to
Dogs at increased risk for bloat
Large-breed and deep-chested dogs are at the highest risk of developing bloat. Predisposed breeds
● Great Danes (39% of Great Danes will experience bloat during their lifetime)
● Standard poodle
● Irish setter
● Irish wolfhound
● German shepherd
● Saint Bernard
Dogs with direct relatives that have a history of GDV are also at increased risk.
A dog’s eating habits can also increase bloat risk—those who eat quickly, eat from raised bowls,
or eat a single large meal each day are more likely to bloat. Feed your dog at least two smaller
meals per day, and avoid feeding from elevated bowls. Use food puzzles to encourage your pup
to slow down while eating.
Signs of Bloat in Dogs
GDV is extremely painful, and the pain occurs suddenly and without warning. A dog may seem
normal one minute, and then may suddenly exhibit the following signs:
● Frequent, usually unproductive, attempts to vomit
● Distended abdomen (although deep-chested breeds may not show this sign)
What To Do if You Suspect Bloat in Your Dog
If you notice your dog unsuccessfully attempting vomit, contact us or the nearest
emergency veterinary hospital immediately. GDV is a medical emergency, so the veterinary
medical team will immediately begin IV fluids and work to manage your dog’s pain. If X-rays
confirm a GDV diagnosis, the team will need to sedate your dog before passing a tube through
her esophagus to decompress the stomach.
When your pet is stable, surgery will be recommended. During surgery, we’ll assess damage to
her organs and perform a procedure called gastropexy, which attaches the stomach to the
abdominal wall to prevent future twisting, although it will not prevent future episodes of bloat.
Are you interested in learning more about the treatment of bloat? Visit The American Kennel Club’s website for more information.
A team of Michigan State University veterinary medicine scientists will try to figure out what’s causing canine bloat, one of the biggest – and most mysterious – killers of dogs.
Lead researcher Laura Nelson has been awarded a two-year, $233,774 grant from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation to fund research on the causes of bloat, technically known as gastric dilatation-volvulus.
While the cause is unclear, there is a strong predisposition in some dogs and it is generally thought that bloat is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Bloat is one of the leading causes of death in dogs, second only to cancer for some breeds, and the No. 1 killer of Great Danes.
“Not every dog is going to get it,” said Nelson, assistant professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. “But there is a strong predisposition in some dogs. Older, nervous, and large and giant dog breeds – particularly Great Danes (and similar deep-chested dogs) – are most prone to bloat. But we still don’t know what causes it. That’s what we want to know – why some dogs get bloat while others don’t.”
When a dog gets bloat, gas fills the stomach, the stomach twists completely around, the gas has no way to escape, and blood and air supply to the stomach are cut off. As the stomach swells, it presses against the abdominal wall and pushes against large blood vessels. Shock is usually the cause of death. The whole progression can happen in a matter of minutes or hours, and surgery is required to save the dog’s life.
Nelson’s team is investigating the relationship of motility – contractions responsible for the digestion of food – with increased bloat risk, and hopes to define the biochemical and genetic alterations that may be associated with hypomotility, abnormally weak contractions.
A new diagnostic tool, SmartPill, makes possible noninvasive assessment of motility. The pill is an ingestible capsule with an instrument inside that measures acidity and pressure. The team will measure the time it takes the capsule to pass through the dog’s system and the pressure spikes along the way.
In addition to investigating gastric motility as a predictor of bloat, researchers will evaluate the expression of the hormones motilin and ghrelin – regulators of gastrointestinal motility – as a predictor of predisposition to bloat. This information will support an investigation of the disease’s genetic foundations.
“The strong breed and familial tendency to bloat points to a strong genetic predisposition to the disease,” said William Horne, chair of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and co-researcher on the project. “If we can identify a causal gene mutation associated with high risk of GDV, this could lead to developing genetic tests that would allow breeders to make informed breeding decisions.”
In the short term, the research findings may provide clinicians with data that would allow them to make informed decisions about when to use preventative medications or conduct targeted prophylactic surgery – gastropexy – in dogs. This procedure surgically attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall in order to prevent twisting. It is an effective procedure that is well tolerated, but, Nelson notes, is an invasive procedure that may not be necessary in some dogs. There currently is not a good way to determine who to recommend it for.
“There is nothing more frustrating than throwing treatments at something when you don’t understand why it happens,” Nelson said. “With bloat, it happens and you treat it. But it would be so much more satisfying if we really understood why some dogs get bloat and then be able to make more informed treatment decisions and possibly prevent the disease altogether.”
In addition to Nelson and Horne, the research team includes John Fyfe, Joe Hauptman, Kent Refsal, Bryden Stanley, Michele Fritz and James Galligan.
When people hear the word “bloat,” they may think of minor indigestion caused by wheat, dairy products, or spicy food. Indeed, who among us hasn’t felt bloated before? However, bloat in dogs is anything but insignificant. Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is a serious medical condition that causes the stomach to expand with fluid, air, or food, and then twist and flip on itself. If it’s left untreated, bloat in dogs can be fatal.
Signs and Risk Factors
It is unknown why some dogs are more susceptible to GDV, but research suggests that the following factors increase risk:
- Breed/Size – Large and deep-chested dogs, such as Dobermans, Great Danes, standard poodles, and setters, are more prone to bloat. Dogs over 100 pounds have an approximately 20% higher risk of GDV.
- Gender/Age – Statistics show that most bloat cases are represented by male dogs over the age of 7.
- Eating Style – Smaller meals spaced throughout the day may reduce risk. Dogs that enjoy one large daily meal tend to wolf down their food faster, increasing risk of bloat.
- Cause/Effect – Studies suggest that strenuous exercise after eating may increase the risk of bloat.
- Stress – Dogs that eat in a calm, relaxing environment are less likely to develop bloat.
Despite all of the above risk factors, some cases of bloat in dogs occur for none of these reasons. As a result, it is imperative to raise owner awareness of this life threatening condition.
What Is Happening?
While some symptoms of bloat in dogs can slip under the radar, the following red flags of GDV should never be ignored:
- Swollen, hard, or distended abdomen
- Quick, shallow breathing
- Unproductive vomiting
- Panic, anxiety, or obvious restlessness
Bloat in dogs is a medical emergency. The pressure in the abdominal cavity is initially uncomfortable, but as the stomach expands it can quickly impact both breathing and blood flow. Left alone, the stomach can twist, cutting off blood supply to the major organs and vital tissue. This can result in systemic shock.
Seek Help Immediately
Treatment for GDV includes releasing abdominal pressure via a stomach tube. If the stomach is twisted too much, a large bore needle must be inserted through the skin into the stomach. Intravenous fluids and medication can help stabilize the patient, but surgery may be required to untwist the stomach.
Preventing Bloat in Dogs
In order to minimize your dog’s risk, try the following strategies:
- Feed smaller meals throughout the day, or use a slow-feed bowl
- Wait at least 15 minutes after they eat to offer water
- Do not allow them to exercise or run around until 30 minutes after meals
- Separate your pets at meal times if it causes stress or anxiety
Seek help right away if your dog shows any signs of GDV, and let us know if you have any questions about your dog’s possible risk factors. Our staff is always here for you at The Whole Pet Vet Hospital & Wellness Center.
Bloat (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus) is the number one fatal health condition affecting Great Danes. It is estimated that 37% of all Great Danes will experience Bloat during their lifetime. Tragically, 13% of Great Danes will die from this painful condition. It is important that all Great Dane parents understand the symptoms of Bloat and the urgency with which it must be treated.
What Is Bloat – Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus
This is not the excess of gas in the stomach that results from eating too much. Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GVD) is a condition where there is an excess of air in the stomach and the stomach is twisted where it meets the esophagus, essentially trapping the air and allowing for a further build-up of gas. This causes the stomach to become painfully distended, often putting pressure on the diaphragm and making it difficult to breathe. This added pressure can restrict the flow of blood to the heart and cause a rupture. Without proper veterinary care, GVD can kill a dog within hours. If you suspect that your Great Dane is suffering from Bloat/GVD, get to the vet immediately!
Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs
It is important to note that not all dogs with GDV/Bloat will exhibit all of the following signs and symptoms. Even some of the most common symptoms of Bloat aren’t always easy to see.
- Hard, distended stomach: If your Dane’s stomach is visibly distended (enlarged) and hard to the touch, this is a common sign of Bloat. By the same token, because of their size and deep chest, a distended abdomen may not be visibly apparent. Therefore, the absence of visible Bloat does NOT rule out the condition!
- Unproductive retching: Dogs suffering from Bloat will often begin retching or trying to vomit with very little discharge. While your Dane will not be producing vomit, they may produce large volumes of thick, stringy saliva. Unproductive retching like this is almost always an urgent indicator of Bloat in dogs.
- Pacing and restlessness: Bloat will undoubtedly make your Dane uncomfortable. Even if you can not see it, their stomach is likely distended and they are in pain. They may pace restlessly and have a difficult time laying down. These behaviors are a strong indication that your Dane is in distress and they are often an early sign of Bloat. Bear in mind that Bloat can kill your dog quickly, so early signs like this are cause for alarm and you should immediately take them to the vet. This is not a ‘let’s see how they feel in the morning’ thing.
- Excessive saliva: Many Danes are known for their slobbering, but the amount of saliva in dogs suffering from Bloat is often profuse. The excess saliva is due to nausea that is associated with Bloat accompanied by an inability to vomit.
- Heavy or difficult breathing: This isn’t just a result of the decreased space in the chest that’s available for the lungs to expand; it’s also because of the acid/base and other metabolic abnormalities that are occurring in your dog’s body as a result of Bloat. The pain and distress caused by the condition also contribute to these breathing changes.
- Rapid heart and pulse rate: A rapid pulse rate and heartbeat results from both distress and reduced blood flow. Your dog is stressed out with pain and confusion. He is having a difficult time breathing and is fully aware that something is terribly wrong. In addition, the enlarged stomach is restricting blood flow to the heart and his heart is pumping rapidly to try to compensate. You should know how to check your dog’s pulse rate, and know what your dog’s normal resting pulse rate is.
- Pale gums and prolonged capillary refill time (CRT): Capillary Refill Time is the time it takes for the capillaries to fill after being emptied. It is a quick way to evaluate blood flow. If you notice that your dog’s gums have lost their typical pink color and have become pale, or if it takes more than 2 seconds (or less than 1 second) for that pink color to return after applying gentle pressure with your finger, this could be an indication of a circulatory system problem. If this is accompanied by other symptoms listed here, you need to get to the vet – fast.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Bloated
Please Note: Bloat/GDV will not resolve itself. If a dog with GDV is not brought for prompt veterinary care and surgery, the dog will not survive.
- Bring in your dog for immediate veterinary attention. If your regular vet isn’t open, please seek immediate attention at another vet or find a local Animal ER.
- Do not attempt to give your dog any over-the-counter medications or “folk remedies.” This could make matters worse and delay critical treatment.
- If possible, call to inform the vet that you are on the way. This will give them time to prepare for your dog’s arrival.
While Great Danes have the highest risk of Bloat than any other breed, they are not completely alone. German Shepards, Bloodhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Standard Poodles, Boxers, and Akitas all are high risk of suffering from Bloat. The causes of Bloat are not fully understood, but the following factors are thought to increase the risk of Bloat:
- Deep, narrow chests – Additional room allows more space for stomach movement
- Age – Older dogs are more susceptible to the risk increasing by 20% each year after the age of three
- Gender – Males have a slightly higher risk than females
- Pedigree – Those with relatives that have suffered from Bloat may be more susceptible
- Disposition – Dogs that have nervous or aggressive disposition have a higher incidence rate than more docile, friendly animals
- Eating Habits – Fast eaters are far more likely to experience Bloat. It is thought that fast eaters take in more air when gulping their food
While the condition is not fully preventable, there are a number of tips that you can follow to help reduce your Dane’s chances of developing this painful and potentially deadly condition.
- Do Not Use Elevated Food Dishes – In years past it was thought that elevated food dishes reduced the chances of Bloat. Recent research indicates that this is not the case and it is recommended that you do not elevate your Dane’s food dish.
- Slow Down Their Eating – There is reason to believe that dogs that eat too fastare more prone to Bloat. It is thought that this ‘speed-eating’ causes the animal to inhale excess air, a contributing factor to Bloat. If your Dane is a fast eater, you cvan buy food dishes that will slow him down. Talk to your vet for recommendations.
- Do Not Exercise Before Or After Eating – You should not exercise your Great Dane for at least an hour before mealtime In addition, you should not exercise your Dane for at least an hour after they have eaten.
- Feed Smaller Potio ns More Often – Rather than one or two large meals per day, consider feeding your Dane three or four smaller meals per day.
- Talk To Your Vet – Speak with your veterinarian about Bloat/GVD to understand what options are available to you should you be confronted with an emergency situation. Ask them about preventative surgeries and other measures that you can employ to help reduce risk.
Bloat, or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is a serious, life-threatening condition seen in dogs. GDV mainly affects large deep-chested dogs, but it can affect any size of dog. It happens when distention of the stomach with food and/or air together with the momentum of this now heavy organ by movement (walking or running) causes the stomach to “flip” upon itself, closing both the in-flow and out-flow passages. The stomach then becomes more and more distended, causing pressure on the large blood vessels of the abdomen, cardiac irregularities, difficulty breathing, tissue death and toxin release.
What causes bloat in dogs?
Many theories exist about why this scenario develops. An older but still accepted theory involves large dogs eating large quantities of food (particularly dry food), eating fast and ingesting air, then drinking large quantities of water, and then exercising. The theory is that the stomach becomes very heavy and “swings” inside the dog’s abdomen. The pendulous momentum sends the stomach in a twisting motion over and around itself.
Since some dogs with GDV have been found to not have a stomach that is excessively full of food or water, newer theories have been adopted. One of these is that, particularly in older dogs, the stomach’s regular contractions become weaker, and air and food can remain in the stomach longer than normal, causing the stomach to become heavy, which then results in the twisting event. Still another theory proposes that, again, particularly in older dogs, the spleen can become enlarged due to congestion or cancer. Since the spleen is so closely associated anatomically with the stomach, it can be involved in causing the stomach to become heavy and pendulous, and then twist.
Regardless of the cause of the twisting, GDV in a dog is a life-threatening medical emergency. For there to be a chance of a good outcome, aggressive medical care must be obtained without delay.
Symptoms of gastric dilatation and volvulus
A dog whose stomach has twisted shows acute signs of sickness: difficulty moving around, restlessness, and attempts to vomit (the “dry heaves”). Usually, a dog with this condition salivates, pants, and has a rather remarkable distention of the abdomen that is very hard and painful to the touch. Once these signs appear, the dog can decline rapidly, and death can occur in as little as one hour. A “wait and see” attitude is not advisable. For the best outcome, the dog must be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Diagnosis, treatment and prognosis for bloated dog
Diagnosis is made by x-ray. It is sometimes necessary to decompress the stomach; surgery is usually needed to correct the twisting and stabilize the dog. The prognosis for recovery depends upon the condition of the stomach and other organs at the time of surgery. Despite aggressive treatment, though, many of these dogs do not recover. So, monitor your large-breed dog carefully and seek veterinary care at the first sign of a problem.
Early recognition of this life threatening condition is vital.
In the UK 2017 the incidence was 6 in 1,000 dogs.
BloatВ is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air (dilatation) and/or twists upon itself (volvulus). ItвЂ™s also called GDV – gastric dilatation volvulus.
Classically, the bloated dog has recently eaten a large meal and exercised heavily shortly thereafter.
Signs of bloat include:
- Drooling of saliva
- Frequent retching and attempts to vomit (occasionallyВ patients may be able to regurgitate a pool of foamy saliva)В
- Anxiety, restlessness and pacingВ
- Lethargy or agitation
- Abdominal distension
Not every dog will have a classic appearance and some dogs will not have obvious abdominal distension because of their body configuration. If you are not sure, it is best to err on the side of caution and rush your dog to the veterinarianВ immediately.
What NOT to Do
- Do not attempt to relieve the gas from the stomach.В В
- Do not give anything by mouth.
We usually do not know why a given dog bloats on an individual basis. No specific diet or dietary ingredient has been proven to be associated with bloat. Some factors found to increase and decrease the risk of bloat are listed below:
Factors Increasing the Risk Of Bloat
- Increasing age
- Having closely related family members with a history of bloat
- Eating rapidly
- Feeding from an elevated bowl
Factors Decreasing the Risk Of Bloat
- Including canned dog food in the diet
- Including table scraps in the diet
- Happy or easy-going temperament
- Feeding a dry food containing a calcium-rich meat meal (such as meat/lamb meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal, meat meal or bone meal) listed in the first four ingredients of the ingredient list.
- Eating two or more meals per day
Contrary to popular belief, cereal ingredients such as soy,wheat, or corn in the first four ingredients of the ingredient list do not increase the risk of bloat.
Some breeds have a higher risk of bloat, such as Great Dane, Standard Poodle, Huntaways, Weimaraner, German shepherd, (as well as other deep chested dogs). A preventive surgery called a prophylactic gastropexy can often be performed when the dog is being spayed or neutered. This involves surgically attaching the stomach to the inside of the abdomen to prevent rotation. Ask your veterinarian for details and advice if you would like to discuss preventive surgery for bloat. Still, any dog can bloat even Dachshund and Chihuahua. We recommend not breeding animals with a history of GDV in their lineage as this may potentially decrease the risk of GDV for the animal and future generations.
When a suspected dog arrives in the clinic your dog will have a clinical examination and next most likely a radiograph (x-ray) to determine what has happened. The image will shows the enormously distended stomach nearly upside down and shows what is often called the “double bubble” sign where the stomach is divided into two gas-filled sections suggesting the twist (volvulus).
At that time several things need to happen quickly, your dog will need to be put on to IV fluids for shock, the stomach needs to be decompressed. The huge stomach is by now pressing on the major blood vessels carrying blood back to the heart. This stops normal circulation and sends the dog into shock. Making matters worse, the stomach tissue is dying because it is stretched too tightly to allow blood circulation through it.В Medication is also given for pain, electrolyte imbalance and shock.
Once your dog is stable then we can proceed to surgery. This is not always straight forward and results will depend on tissue damage and whether the spleen is involved.
It is crucially important that the owners of big dogs be aware of this condition and prepared for it. Know where to take your dog during overnight or Sunday hours for emergency care. Avoid exercising your dog after a large meal. Know what to watch for. Enjoy the special friendship a large dog provides but at the same time be aware of the large dog’s special needs and concerns.
1. What is bloat in dogs?
Gastric dilatation-volvulus, more commonly known as “GDV” or “bloat,” is a life-threatening emergency seen in dogs. GDV occurs when the stomach becomes initially bloated (due to gas, food, and/or liquid). Once the stomach becomes distended and bloated, it is more likely for it to rotate out of normal position; after rotating (typically 90-360°) the stomach can twist off to become a gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV).
When the stomach rotates, it is anchored down at the esophagus and intestines. A GDV prevents any stomach contents from moving out of the stomach and into the intestines, and is fatal without immediate treatment. That’s because the dilatation of the stomach compresses major blood vessels in the abdomen (e.g., the caudal vena cava) and results in severe signs of shock.
2. What symptoms of shock will my dog show if he has bloat?
Clinically, signs of shock include the following:
- An elevated heart rate
- Pale gums
- Low blood pressure
- Increased respiratory rate
3. What if my dog has bloat but doesn’t have surgery?
GDV is a surgical emergency and dogs must be treated with surgery to survive. Untreated, GDV can result in the following:
- Severe pain
- Decreased blood flow to the stomach and intestinal tract
- Necrosis of the tissue
- Ruptured stomach
- Sepsis (i.e., when bacteria enters the blood stream)
- Complications including aspiration pneumonia, abnormal clotting due to DIC, etc.
- Abnormal heart arrhythmias
- A distended spleen
- Abnormal blood loss into the abdomen (e.g., hemoabdomen)
- Acute death
4. What breeds of dogs are predisposed to bloat?
Unfortunately, certain breeds are at greater risk for GDV including giant breed dogs with deep chests. Pet owners of the following breeds should be especially aware of the risk of GDV in their pet, and monitor them carefully:
- Standard Poodles
- Great Danes
- Irish Wolfhounds
- German Shepherd
- Other breeds with similar body shapes or sizes
5. But I have a small dog, so am I safe from worrying about bloat?
Occasionally, smaller breeds have been reported to also develop bloat:
- Basset Hounds
6. What clinical signs of bloat should I monitor my dog for?
Clinical signs of GDV (bloat) include the following and warrant an immediate visit to your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian. If your dog is showing these signs in the middle of the night, you need to get out of bed and get to an emergency veterinarian; waiting until morning to treat can be fatal for your dog.
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hypersalivating/drooling (this is due to the stomach being twisted and the inability to swallow the saliva)
- A large, distended stomach or sprung ribs
- Retching constantly or attempting to vomit – with nothing coming out
- Constant panting
- Not eating
- Anxiety (e.g., pacing, crying, whining, not being able to sleep)
- Signs of shock (see above)
- Severe pain
- Weakness or inability to move
- Sudden death
7. How do you treat bloat in dogs?
Treatment for GDV includes immediate stabilization by your veterinarian, including aggressive intravenous (IV) fluids, pain medication, electrocardiogram and blood pressure monitoring, anti-vomiting medication, and removal of the air/food from the stomach. Once the patient has been stabilized, immediate surgery is required to correctly position the stomach, untwist it, staple the stomach down (to prevent it from re-occurring and re-twisting), and make sure none of the other organs or tissues (e.g., spleen, esophagus, intestines, etc.) are injured.
8. How much will bloat treatment cost?
In general, treatment for GDV, including surgery, anesthesia, supportive care, and post-operative management typically runs from $2500-5,000, uncomplicated. Unfortunately GDV does require surgical treatment so the other option to consider is humane euthanasia if surgery isn’t an option.
9. Can my dog die from bloat if I don’t treat it?
Unfortunately, GDV is often still a cause for “sudden death.” This is a terribly painful way to die, and is often due to the lack of observance of clinical signs in your dog. Make sure you know what signs to look for, and when in doubt, always take your dog to a veterinarian if you are concerned.
10. What’s the prognosis for bloat if I do take my dog to surgery?
The prognosis to recover from GDV is actually excellent with supportive care and surgery (over 90% survival). Keep in mind that the longer you wait and neglect the signs, the poorer the prognosis.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
By The Farmer’s Dog | February 25, 2022
It can be scary to think about bloat, one of the leading causes of death in pet dogs. But learning the symptoms of this serious condition, and what to do if your dog shows signs of it, could save their life.
What is bloat?
Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach is filled with too much food, liquid, or gas, causing it to expand and put pressure on other organs. This can interfere with blood flow and breathing. It can also lead to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), a potentially fatal condition in which excess gas causes the stomach to twist onto itself. Here’s what every dog person needs to know in order to protect their dog.
Bloat, or GDV, is an emergency
It is vital that any dog owner who notices signs of this condition bring their dog to a veterinarian right away, as any delay could result in death. This is a situation in which minutes make a huge difference.
Signs of GDV in a dog
The two most obvious symptoms of bloat are a distended belly and unproductive belching. A distended belly will present as an obvious change to the shape of your dog’s abdomen. It’s hopefully something you’ve never seen before, and if you do notice it you should get your dog to a vet immediately.
As for unproductive belching or vomiting, think of how a human might “dry heave.” Your dog is trying to expel the cause of gastric discomfort, but the passage is blocked.
The next thing to look for is rapid, shallow breathing and pale gums. Panting can be a perfectly normal way for dogs to cool down – but if your dog’s gums also look pale and he seems distressed or like he’s in pain, it should be a cause for concern.
If you notice a distended abdomen, retching, or signs of pain, contact a veterinarian as soon as you can. The sooner your dog sees the vet, the better the chances that any potential surgical solution will be successful.
What causes GDV, and can you prevent it?
Vets aren’t completely sure about the causes of GDV. There seems to be a genetic component, as certain large, deep-chested dogs are much more likely to suffer from bloat than others. Among them: Great Danes, Doberman pinschers, St. Bernards, Weimaraners, Irish setters, Basset hounds, old English sheepdogs, and standard poodles.
If your dog belongs to a breed that’s predisposed to bloat, it’s advisable to split their food up into multiple meals throughout the day—at least two, and perhaps three if possible. Make sure servings are properly portioned according to your dog’s daily caloric needs to ensure you’re never overfeeding. If your dog tends to scarf food too quickly, try using a slow feeder.
While dogs should always have an available supply of fresh water, consider manually refilling their bowls so you can control their drinking pace. There is research suggesting that adding fresh food to your dog’s diet may help reduce the risk of bloat.
In the past, raised bowls have been recommended to prevent bloat—but research has associated them with a higher incidence of bloat.
And, because stress, nervousness, fear, and aggression can put a dog in more danger of bloat, good training and a contented, interesting life may also reduce their likelihood of facing it. Plus, they’ll be happier.
Some veterinarians perform prophylactic gastropexy, a surgery that tacks a dog’s stomach, in order to prevent GDV. This is most common in breeds that are genetically predisposed to the condition—for example, bloat is the top cause of death among Great Danes. Talk to your vet about the risks and benefits of such a procedure. The procedure won’t stop your dog from bloating, but if it works it will stop their stomach from twisting.
On a day-to-day basis, the best thing you can to protect your dog is to remain alert to the signs of GDV and act quickly if you see them.
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By The Farmer’s Dog
Guarding Against Arthritis In Dogs: Awareness And Weight Are Key
Arthritis is all too common in dogs—about 20% of adult dogs, and up to 90% of senior dogs suffer.
By Teressa Iezzi
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More on Conditions
Why Do Dogs Sneeze—And What Should You Do About It?
Here are some of the most common health-related and behavioral reasons that dogs sneeze.
What You Need to Know About Dogs and Carsickness
There’s nothing quite like hitting the road with your canine companion riding along, excitedly.
Why Does My Dog Eat Poop—and How Can I Stop Them?
Here’s some information about why dogs eat poop, and how to encourage them to.
The Great Dane Guide: History, Personality, Food, Training, Care, and More
With a big body and a personality to match, Great Danes attract attention wherever.