Canine bloat is a common and uncomfortable condition. Often, it can become severe and lead to a serious and deadly condition that requires immediate medical intervention. Every dog owner should know what bloat is, how to spot it, and what to do about it.
What is Canine Bloat?
Gastric dilatation, or bloat, happens when gas or large amounts of food fills and expands the stomach. Often when bloat severely distends the stomach, the stomach will twist on itself. Called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), this condition is life threatening and always requires immediate emergency medical treatment.
When the stomach distends and twists, it puts immense pressure on blood vessels, blocks the escape route for food and gas, and cuts off the blood supply to the stomach lining, spleen, and the heart. This causes extreme pain, shock, organ failure and necrosis, and eventually death.
What Causes Bloat?
We still have much to learn about the exact causes of gastric dilatation; but we know of several factors that are common in cases of bloat. Feeding dogs one large meal per day or feeding poor quality food that is high in fat content can contribute to bloat. Dogs that eat or drink rapidly and exercise after eating or drinking can also develop the condition.
While any dog can suffer from gastric dilatation, occurrence is more likely in some dogs than it is in others. Large and giant breed dogs and those with deep chests, such as Great Danes, setters, Saint Bernards, basset hounds, Doberman pinschers, and German shepherd dogs are more predisposed to bloat than others are. Bloat is also more common in older dogs and in those with a family history of it.
What are the symptoms?
Several symptoms point to GDV in a dog:
- Distended/hard abdomen
- Retching/failed attempts at vomiting
- Foamy saliva/drooling
Once the stomach twists, shock can occur within minutes and death within as little as an hour. This condition will not get better on its own and is always a medical emergency.
What is the Treatment?
Successful treatment of GDV begins with a timely diagnosis. Increasing a dog’s change of survival means releasing trapped gas, untwisting the stomach, and reversing shock as quickly as possible. Usually surgery is the best course of action in order to assess damage, remove any necrotic tissue, remove the spleen if necessary, and perform a gastropexy.
A gastropexy procedure involves suturing the stomach in place to prevent future torsion. This doesn’t prevent bloat, but it does mean that when bloat occurs, the stomach won’t twist. Studies have shown that without this surgery, the likelihood that GDV will reoccur is around 76%.
Additional treatment includes administering IV fluids, pain medications, and antibiotics, stabilizing and monitoring the heart rhythm.
Is it Preventable?
You can help prevent bloat in your dog and decrease the severity of complications with the following guidelines:
- Talk to your veterinarian about risk factors that may predispose your dog to GDV.
- If your dog has a high risk of developing GDV, ask your veterinarian if preventative gastropexy makes sense for your dog.
- If you have an at-risk dog, know the signs of GDV and keep emergency veterinary information easily accessible.
- Feed your dog two or more small meals a day rather than one large meal.
- For dogs that eat too rapidly, use a slow feed bowl.
- If you have a naturally anxious dog, talk to your veterinarian about ways to reduce stress.
- Do not engage in or allow exercise immediately following meals.
- Feed high quality food.
Gastric dilatation is common and can turn deadly when stomach rotation occurs. With education, prevention, and preparedness we can decrease incidents and complications and increase survival rates. Know the symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if you notice any. If you have a dog with predisposing factors, talk to your vet about it.
Meyer-Lindenberg A, Harder A, Fehr M, LUerssen D, Brunnberg L. Treatment of gastric dilatation-volvulus and a rapid method for prevention of relapse in dogs: 134 cases (1988-1991). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1993;203(9):1303-7.
Eggertsd Ottir AV, Moe L. A retrospective study of conservative treatment of gastric dilatation-volvulus in the dog. Acta Veterinaire Scandinavica 1995;36(2):175-84.