Bloat in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, First Aid

Stretching and twisting of a German Shepherd's stomach due to bloat.  The dark area is gas trapped in the stomach.
Stretching and twisting of a German Shepherd's stomach due to bloat. The dark area is gas trapped in the stomach. | Source

Bloat, in dogs, is a dangerous condition where minutes really count. Owners suspecting bloat in their dogs should rush their dog to the closest animal emergency center.

As scary as bloat is, there is some good news: by understanding potential causes of bloat, owners may be able to prevent it from occurring in some cases, and by recognizing the symptoms, owners will be able to take their dog to the vet immediately, without wasting any precious minutes.

Bloat typically affects large, deep-chested dog breeds, though it could affect virtually any dog. Bloat is like a very grave case of indigestion, where the dog's stomach swells up with too much trapped air or fluids, causing harmful pressure on the surrounding organs, arteries, and veins. It can cut off blood flow, and can set off a condition of stomach torsion known as ''gastric volvulus." This torsion will eventually cut off blood supply to the stomach and other organs such as the spleen. Soon, tissues will start to die, and the dog may succumb from shock.

Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs

Dogs affected by bloat typically develop the following symptoms:

  • A painful distended abdomen full of gas
  • Retching: frequent, unproductive attempts to vomit
  • Attempts to pass stool
  • Lack of gurgling sounds in the stomach
  • Drooling from nausea
  • Pacing, restlessness, anxiety
  • Dark red gums at first, then pale, cold gums signaling lack of oxygen

Causes of Bloat

The causes of bloat can be a medical myster. Sometimes bloat may occur for no known reason (idiopathic). The following, however, are thought to be aggravating factors.

  • Breed. Breeds that have a tendency to develop bloat include the following; Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodles, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Malamutes, Labradors, Saint Bernards, Wolfhounds, Irish Setters, and Akitas. However, any dog may develop bloat, regardless of size and conformation.
  • Hereditary factors. A tendency to bloat may run in the dog's family. Having a first-degree relative (a sibling, parent or offspring) suffer from bloat may be a predisposing factor for bloat.
  • Age/sex. According to PetEducation, dogs over the age of seven are twice as likely to develop bloat than a dog of 2-4 years of age. Also male dogs are more likely to develop bloat than females.
  • Eating fast. Some dogs do not eat their meals; they swallow them without chewing. This can often be seen in multi-dog households where dogs compete over food. Any dog that is afraid that another dog may take away its food will be a naturally fast eater. It helps, therefore, to separate dogs during meals or invest in special dog bowls made to slow down fast eaters.
  • Large meals. Some dogs eat too fast because they are fed a big meal once a day, and they are hungry. Dividing food into smaller portions, ideally two meals per day, may be helpful.
  • High-fiber diets. Dogs that eat high-fiber foods develop a tendency to gas, because high-fiber food tends to ferment and release gas once in the stomach. Beet pulp, soybeans, and brewer's yeast have a history of being linked to gas.
  • Elevated food dishes. At one time, many dog food bowls were elevated to help the dog reach the food easier. However, this caused many dogs to gulp down more air than needed, making them prone to bloat.
  • Stress. Dogs that are under stress may develop a predisposition to ingest air and be prone to bloat. The same applies to dogs that are particularly anxious and fearful. Allowing the dog to lead a stress-free and happy life, therefore, lowers the incidence of bloat.
  • Strenuous exercise. There is a belief that strenuous exercise and excessive excitement should be avoided for an hour before eating and two hours following a meal (especially of dry food), because it may cause bloat in some dogs.
  • Water consumption. There is also a belief than drinking large amounts of water after eating may cause bloat in some dogs. Dry food can expand greatly in water, creating a large blob of food that the stomach was not meant to contain.

What Can I Do if I Suspect Bloat?

The only answer, unfortunately, remains to take the dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Any time a dog owner suspects bloat in their dog, they should consult a veterinarian at once, regardless if it is nighttime, a weekend, or a holiday. Bloat and gastric torsion are medical emergencies which may cause death in as little as an hour or two after symptoms begin.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is meant to substitute for a veterinarian's advice.

For educational purposes, here are some emergency first aid ideas; but remember, these are to be employed on the way to the vet, not instead of going to the vet.

If the dog is starting to exhibit signs of shock with pale gums, keeping the dog warm is ideal, and a little bit of honey or Karo syrup rubbed on the dog's gums may be helpful.

1. Gas-X. According to Walker Valley Vet, quoted:

Gas-X (Simethicone): Simethicone is used in dogs to help with unusual flatulence or gas discomfort. Any dog suspected of bloat should get two doses immediately before transport to the Emergency Clinic.

GAS-X Dosage for Dogs:

small: ¼ adult dose

medium: ½ adult dose

large: 1 adult dose

It is important to note that GasX will not cure the bloat, though it may buy some time as you take the dog to the vet.

2. Intubation. If your vet is not within a 20-minute reach, the Kifka Borzoi website shows how to administer first aid by tubing the dog. This desperate measure should be done only if the vet is more than 20 minutes away and there are no other options. Again, this is not treatment; it is just first aid as you head towards the vet.

Dog with Symptoms of Bloat: Retching and Pacing

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Comments 5 comments

kk 4 years ago

love this article. thanks so much for the advice. i hope i never have to do this. wow. that's all i can say.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

Awareness is key to preventing this condition, owning two large deep-chested dogs I always try to avoid triggers for bloat.

Mk 4 years ago

I lost my 13 1/2 year old Dalmatian to bloat last week. He only had symptoms of dry-reaching, nothing else then he died in his sleep. Very sad.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

So sorry to hear that, bloat in dogs is very serious and potentially deadly. At least he died in his sleep.

Glinda Berks 2 years ago

I need to say it's been fun so far being a a part of this forum

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