What Is Bloat in Dogs and How Can You Prevent It?

Updated on July 11, 2019
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob's been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife for a period spanning three decades.

Emmett died at age 10 from GDV
Emmett died at age 10 from GDV | Source

Large, Deep-Chested Dogs Are Most at Risk

You and I call it bloat, but to veterinarians it’s gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). There are other terms associated with the condition, including torsion, gastric torsion, and gastric dilation, but they all mean that the dog is in extreme danger.

How Bloat Occurs in Dogs

Bloat occurs when the stomach fills with air (dilatation), rotates on itself (torsion), and (in volvulus) cuts off its own blood supply, in effect causing the stomach to die. Dilatation doesn't automatically mean volvulus will occur, but if it does, 35% of dogs that get to that level die. O.K., let’s go back and do this in slow motion. The stomach, at the top, is connected to the esophagus (the tube leading from the back of the throat to the stomach.

At the bottom, it’s connected to the duodenum (the section of the small intestine through which food exits the stomach). In bloat, the stomach fills with air and begins to twist. This causes the esophagus and duodenum to crimp (this is what vets call torsion), much like when you turn a balloon into two sections by twisting it in the middle.

Once the stomach completely twists (volvulus) it cuts off its own blood flow, increasing the swelling (like when the lab tech applies a tourniquet to draw blood).

The stomach is now a sealed bag that continues to inflate with gas and digestive juices. As the stomach distends, it presses against other organs, causing contact damage and compression that cuts off the blood supply to those other organs. Total elapsed time: probably less than three hours.


Statistically, large, deep-chested dogs are more susceptible to the condition. The Top-10 breeds at risk, according to a Purdue University study, are as follows.

Top 10 At-Risk Dogs

  1. Great Dane
  2. St. Bernard
  3. Weimaraner
  4. Irish Setter
  5. Gordon Setter
  6. Standard Poodle
  7. Basset Hound
  8. Doberman Pinscher
  9. Old English Sheep Dog
  10. German Shorthaired Pointer

Interestingly enough, German Shepherds are 12th, Boxers are 16th, Labs are 18th, Goldens are 22nd, and Rotties are 23rd.

This order is based on risk compared to that of a mixed breed. The Miniature Poodle is the only breed with a lower risk factor than the mixed breed.

Various studies have produced a variety of factors that appear consistently, though not all inclusively, in episodes of bloat.

Consistent Factors of Bloat in Dogs

  • Male
  • Deep-chested
  • Underweight
  • Fearful or high-strung
  • Dry food, fed once a day
  • Consumed rapidly
  • Followed by lots of water
  • Followed by heavy activity

The Purdue study reported some interesting new factors they found consistent with bloat.

More Factors Consistent With Bloat

  • Food with fat among the first four ingredients
  • Dry food containing citric acid that was moistened by the owner
  • Having a raised food bowl
  • Having an immediate relative with GDV

Remember when a raised food bowl used to be recommended to help prevent bloat? I guess they finally figured out that a raised food bowl extends rather than flexes the esophagus, allowing for the even faster consumption of food.


Shock May Occur

Shock is the major life-threatening abnormality in bloat, and it results when volvulus occurs and two major veins are compressed due to the expansion and rotation of the stomach. Organs and tissue die when the blood supply is cut off.

A dog that is going into GDV will wretch, try unsuccessfully to vomit, and perhaps appear restless, anxious, and to be having difficulty breathing.

The stomach will be distended, he may drool profusely, and ultimately may collapse. At this stage, surgery is probably the only option.

Immediate veterinary intervention begins with the vet working to stabilize the dog's cardiovascular system.

After that, the vet may insert a gastric tube or a needle into the stomach in an attempt to decompress the organ.

They may go right into X-ray to see if volvulus has occurred, and if so, prepare the dog for surgery.

In surgery they'll rotate the stomach to its normal position and sew the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting again in the future.

Time Is of the Essence

The experts can't say exactly what causes bloat, but the factors listed above appear consistently enough to be suspected as causative.

If you're aware of these, you may be able to prevent an episode of bloat.

Even if your dog isn't high on the risk list, it's valuable for family members to be able to recognize the symptoms of bloat, and to be able to act quickly if they suspect it may be happening.

In bloat, time is of the essence; you usually only have a few hours.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Bob Bamberg


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      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Patty, you're the gift that keeps on giving. Every comment offers something new and interesting. I'll bet there's never a dull moment for a fly on the wall at your place!

        Thanks for the hub ideas. They're interesting topics that a lot of folks will find useful. Thanks for making the comment stream so interesting. Regards, Bob

      • Pages-By-Patty profile image


        6 years ago from Midwest

        Thank you, Bob. We had no idea what was happening but knew within the first 5 minutes that something horrific was taking place. Luckily, this was at midnight and the ER is 3 miles away. I had also called enroute (ER is on speed dial!) and asked them to get ready for us.

        Casper was purchased (he was a breeder reject) by a couple who later didn't want him and took him to be euthanized when he was 8 months old because he had grown too big. Dr. R refused so they took him home, tied him up and left him to rot. An elderly neighbor threw peanut butter sandwiches to him so he would have food. We saw him on Xmas day '04 and freed him 3 days later after tracking down his owners who had moved to FL! It took 2 hours to load this 130# unsocialized scared and sick pup into the car. And you're right, from that moment on we all had a helluva ride! Just wish it had been longer...

        Off the subject a little here, but if you have time or the inclination, how 'bout a hub on feline anorexia and/or fatty liver? I dealt with that a few years ago and it's so puzzling. Elliott is still with us though so we did overcome it but the doc was not optimistic due to it's advanced stage.

        And, I've got two cats with metal body parts...

        So, if you ever draw a blank on animal maladies, just drop me a line! :)

      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Hi Patty, I'm sorry that Casper, and your family, went through such an ordeal. Even your quick action, and that was quick, couldn't save him; which illustrates my point that time is of the essence.

        Thirteen years is still terrific success for such a large breed mix, especially when you consider that more than half his life was spent in a state of neglect. I'll bet his last 5 years were one helluva ride, though.

        Boiler Up and GO #36! Regards, Bob

      • Pages-By-Patty profile image


        6 years ago from Midwest

        Oh, this hub really hits home as I've witnessed firsthand the horror of gastric torsion. Casper was an Akita/Mastiff mix and there are no words to describe the suffering we witnessed. We got him to the ER within 15 minutes of onset but the damage was done. At first, they thought he could be saved and we opted for surgery but after testing the doc said his stomach was too damaged. He had endured so much before rescue living his entire life as a chained outdoor-only dog with little food and no shelter. At 8 years old, we freed him and he lived his last 5 years as he should have lived his entire 13.

        And Kudos for referencing good ol' PU! Such a great school. My nephew plays football there (#36)....Boiler Up!

        Thanks for getting the word out on this little known but highly fatal condition.


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