Audrey has owned and trained Malamutes for over 15 years from puppyhood into adulthood. She has also rescued many other dog breeds.
Bloat or GDV in dogs is quite simply when their stomach becomes too filled with gas, causing them to go into distress. On the surface, that does not sound too critical, but don't be fooled! GDV or bloat is the most common cause of death in dogs other than cancer. It is a serious and life-threatening condition, and emergency treatment should be sought immediately because about 10–27% of dogs who get bloat will die.
We lost a dog to bloat, and it is a terrible way for a dog to die. Sadly, no breed is exempt from getting bloat, but large-chested dogs such as my malamutes in the picture are higher at risk, as are certain other breeds.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why you should do everything you can to keep your pup from getting bloated.
Stages of Bloat in Canines
We have personally experienced two stages of bloat in our dogs over the years; unfortunately, the last time was fatal for our black lab Molly. It is a terrible thing to have happen to a good and faithful friend and I urge anyone who suspects their dog is suffering from bloat or GDV to get emergency help from their vet right away.
In Molly's case, it was too late and she had other comorbid conditions. She was almost 14 and had grade IV hip dysplasia. She also had had two bouts of neurological problems she somehow overcame. Even though she was in great health for a dog so battered by life, she never would have survived the operation at her age. A younger dog would have perhaps been able to be saved.
Stage I: Gastric Dilation
The first stage of bloat is when the stomach fills with air, food and liquid and becomes distended. This is a basic gastric dilatation and the dog will become very uncomfortable. I believe Molly had at least the first stage once before when she was several years younger. She was at a kennel and the caretaker caught the signs and symptoms. She was on her way to the emergency vet hospital with Molly when it 'released.' She got lucky that time.
Stage II: Stomach Torsion
The first stage symptoms occur but in addition, now the stomach flips around or twists and almost cuts off entry and exit of anything to the stomach. This results in torsion of the stomach, which is obviously life-threatening. It can happen extremely quickly—moving from just dilatation to strangulation is a matter of degrees.
Stage III: Volvulus
This is the final stage and the most deadly—when the stomach has twisted or flipped over as above but now it is completely cutting off entry or exit of anything into or out of the stomach. This is the stage of the disease called the volvulus.
Each of these stages is a medical emergency for an animal. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from this malady, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. In most cases, if not treated, the dog will experience a very quick and painful death. They say that in most cases, you have probably an hour at most before it progresses to end-stage.
Symptoms of Bloat or GDV in Dogs
Again, stressing the importance of getting immediate medical attention, please be aware that if your dog begins to display any of these symptoms, you may have minutes or a few hours—it is all about how each dog reacts to the torsion, impending or existing so please seek emergency help at once.
- Attempts to vomit with little to no success, as often as every 5–30 minutes (the 'hallmark symptom' of bloat)
- Gagging and not producing anything
- The dog seems 'hunched up' in appearance (you will know he/she is uncomfortable)
- Dog is just not acting like himself/herself
- Bloated abdomen (feeling 'tight as a drum')
- Whining or pacing repeatedly and/or nonstop
- Refusing to lie down or even sit down
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Weak pulse
- Significant anxiety or restlessness
- Licking the air
- Drinking excessively
- Apparent weakness
- Standing with a spread-legged stance (due to abdominal pains)
- Pale or off-color gums
- Salivating or drooling excessively
- Trying to poop but can't
- Heavy or rapid breathing/panting
- Lack of normal gurgling sounds in the abdomen on listening
- Dog looking at its own abdomen
- Groaning if you press on the abdomen
- The ultimate symptom is total collapse as the dog eventually goes into shock
Is Bloat/GDV Treatable?
Yes, but the salient point to make here is you may have under one hour in severe cases.
If the dog has advanced to the third stage of bloat, surgery will be necessary to correct the torsion or twisting. The chance of a recurrence is about 15%, but if the dog is young and healthy, lifestyle changes may reduce that risk. It is important to note that even with proper treatment, as many as 10–27% of dogs with GDV still die.
A qualified emergency vet will need to x-ray the dog and assess its status. If shock is present (as in Molly's case), it may be too late for any treatment. Usually, IV fluids and pain medicines are administered, sometimes along with antibiotics. If the dog has developed a coagulation problem, they will have to correct that before operating.
Once they have stabilized the dog, and if operating seems a viable alternative, they then have to look at the viability of the organs. If the stomach or spleen, for instance, have been too severely damaged by the strangulation or if the prognosis for recovery is poor, it may be that surgery is not possible and euthanasia is the only alternative.
If the stomach and spleen, as well as other organs, are still healthy and viable, and the dog has not experienced any problems with arrhythmia of the heart due to the event, then the vet will reposition the stomach and untwist it.
They can do a suturing of the stomach in such a way as to prevent it from retwisting at a later date; this is called a gastropexy. Note that if this procedure is not performed, 75–80% of the dogs will develop the twisting of the stomach again.
Do not attempt to use an emergency 'bloat kit'. This is highly dangerous, and the minutes you may waste trying this 'at home remedy' could cost your dog its life. As always, get the animal to emergency veterinary services for relief.
Ways to Keep Your Dog From Bloating
Here are some of the most important facts and statistics about minimizing the chances that your dog will suffer bloat.
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- Some breeds are structurally/anatomically built to just be more susceptible. Prevention is truly the best approach here at minimizing their risk.
- Make sure you always have access to 24-hour emergency veterinary care and know the numbers/have access to them at any time.
- Exercising dogs at least one hour before meals or two hours after meals will greatly reduce the risk.
- Reduce stress if your dog is already a stressed dog. Stresses of several different kinds can bring on an attack of bloat.
- Dogs that have survived bloat are of course at highly increased risk. Be alert to any warning signs and act immediately.
- Large dogs should be fed 2–3 times per day rather than once per day.
- Teach your dog to take his or her time eating—it is a training exercise—or invest in bloat bowls, as wolfing down food is a common cause of bloat in dogs.
- Do not give the dog access to water right before or after eating. Free water access is important, but you should limit the dog's intake of water for an hour before and an hour after eating.
- Do a kibble test to see how expansile your dog food is. That same expansion will be happening in your dog's stomach, so be aware of that. Some vets recommend feeding a diet that does not only consist of dry food. We put a wee bit of canned food into our dogs' food and stir it in.
- Some say that kibble size, fat content, moistening of food containing citric acid promote the occurrence of bloat but there are no hard facts as of yet.
- Dogs in foster or rescue situations are more prone to bloat. They probably do not receive high-quality food and as well, the stress that they are under probably contributes to this statistic.
Most importantly, know your dog; if he/she exhibits any unusual behavior or just 'does not seem right', get help!
Further Reading and Resources
- Bloat in Dogs
Ask a vet online for free. Chat live with veterinarians and other pet experts. Find answers to health, behavior and nutrition questions about dogs and cats.
- How to Prevent and Treat Dog Bloat or GDV
Dog bloat is a serious condition that can kill dogs. Learn how to recognize the symptoms and also to prevent it.
- Dog Breeds: The Akita
An American Akita. The Akita is Japans national dog and is protected by law as a National Monument. The breed was developed in the Akita prefecture, on the island of Honshu, and according to DNA...
- Alaskan Malamute- Is This The Right Dog For You?
Rescue - that means that there are a whole lot of folks out there who do not know what they are getting into and turn these dogs over to someone else. As a lover of malamutes - PLEASE take your time and...
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
Question: Is it possible for a dog to have bloat for two weeks?
Answer: I don't think that is possible, but I would certainly get him/her to the vet to see what might be wrong.
© 2009 Audrey Kirchner
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 16, 2011:
Thank you Cool Dogs.
Cool Dogs on November 15, 2011:
i am really happy to read your blog you specify many general thing which are noticed by us but dont know about them.I hope that every reader will get benefit and also to protect my dogs from bloat.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 28, 2009:
I know the laws are improving quality and what they can say is in the food and then what is really in there...but hope it will get better and better!
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on December 28, 2009:
I'm sorry about Molly. You are right, we really don't know what's in the food anymore.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 27, 2009:
I wish I had known about different diets although poor old Molly lasted SO much longer than anyone thought she would. It was just so unfair that she died that way but then there is no 'good way' to lose one of your best friends. We have found a lot of info though over the years as then our malamute was diagnosed with Addison's - so it is all a learning experience. Much like with kids. Our malamute was on sweet potato and rice and that was what turned him around too. I think there are so many things in dog foods that we just do not know about and that is the problem - probably making from scratch is the only way to go after all! Thanks for your info....greatly appreciated. Audrey
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on December 27, 2009:
I had a close call with my 11 year old black lab, Tanya. I immediately switched her (and her brother) to a rice, chicken and either pumpkin or sweet potato diet and gave her probiotics. It worked well, thank God, and the new diet has them both slimmer and healthier. They get very little kibbles anymore. I come home and cook supper for the dogs. Great Hub.