Dog Bloat: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Remember the movie Marley and Me? Bloat is what did poor Marley in. According to experts, stomach bloat is second only to cancer as the leading canine killer, with a death rate as high as 60 percent, even including dogs that are treated by a veterinarian. Most untreated dogs will die, so bloat should be taken very seriously. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from bloat, get it to your vet as soon as possible.
What Is Bloat?
Stomach bloat, or gastric torsion, are common terms for gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV. This condition starts when the stomach becomes distended with gas, causing it to twist. Once this happens, the esophagus is closed, so the dog has no way to relieve the pressure. If the esophagus were open, the dog would be able to vomit or burp. If the stomach weren’t twisted at the other end, the dog would be able to pass gas to relieve the pressure.
When the stomach is twisted, its blood supply is shut off and the cells in the stomach lining begin to die. As this necrosis occurs, dangerous toxins that could cause blood poisoning are released. Occasionally, bloating will cause the stomach to rupture. If that happens, the dog could die from peritonitis, or inflammation of the peritoneum.
The gastric distention also puts pressure on veins and organs other than the stomach, including the pancreas, the spleen, and the liver. The compromised veins are not able to do their job, so an inadequate supply of blood reaches the heart, often causing heart arrhythmias and dangerously low blood pressure. Death can occur from cardiac arrest or shock.
Although any dog can suffer from stomach bloat, breeds with deep chests are the most susceptible. These include the Great Dane, Alaskan Malamute, Doberman Pinscher, Borzoi, Irish Setter, German Shepherd, Kuvasz, Rottweiler, Boxer, Gordon Setter, Akita, Irish Wolfhound, St. Bernard, Great Pyrenees, Weimaraner, Golden Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, Basset Hound, Labrador Retriever, Afghan Hound, Standard Poodle, Newfoundland, and Bloodhound.
What Causes It?
Scientists and veterinarians aren’t always sure what causes stomach bloat, but the following seem to be among the culprits:
- dry dog food high in grains
- fdog food high in citric acid
- dog food and treats high in fat
- exercising right before or after a meal
- “high strung” temperament
- drinking large amounts of water quickly
- hereditary factors
Signs of Bloat
- frequent attempts to vomit
- rapid heart rate
- absence of normal sounds of digestion
- abdomen might appear inflated
- whining, pacing, or other signs of pain
- rapid breathing or panting
- difficulty breathing
- excessive salivating, drooling
- unsuccessful attempts to defecate
- Feed several small meals a day instead of one or two large meals.
- If your dog gulps down its food quickly, buy a special food bowl with “fingers” or “knobs” that forces the dog to eat more slowly.
- Wait an hour after exercise before feeding.
- Keep your dog calm for an hour or two after eating—no rough play, running, jumping, etc.
- Feed a dog food high in meat and bone meal.
- Avoid foods high in fat.
What You Can Do at Home
If your dog has bloat, you have to get it to a vet as soon as possible. Time is of the essence!
If you have to wait on the vet, you can do things at home that might buy you some extra time. For one thing, keep the dog as quiet and calm as possible. Don’t allow it to eat or drink. Relieve gas pressure by giving the dog an over-the-counter product that relieves gas. You can use Gas-X or other products that contain simethicone. We keep some Gas-X handy just for the dogs.
How Bloat Is Treated and Can Be Prevented
Veterinary treatment for dog bloat includes IV fluids and methods that relieve the pressure of gas. A stomach tube is usually inserted first. If the tube can’t be inserted successfully, sharp pointed valves called “trocars” are used. Once the stomach has been decompressed, the dog will have surgery to return the stomach back to its correct position.
If your dog has had an episode of bloat, the chances the condition will strike again are almost 80%. There’s a surgical procedure, however, that might get rid of bloating once and for all. This procedure is called “right side gastropexy.”
This procedure attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall with sutures, preventing the stomach’s ability to become twisted. This surgery shows great promise to get rid of bloat, with initial studies revealing only a 4% recurrence. The gastropexy can be performed on dogs during the treatment of bloat, or it can be done as a preventive measure in dogs with certain risk factors.
Great Danes and Bloat
I love Great Danes and have owned several. Right now, I have two neutered males. Of all dog breeds, Danes are the most susceptible to dog bloat. In fact, most veterinarians agree that more than one-third of all Danes will experience at least one bout with bloat in their lives. This startling fact is why I became interested in learning more about the condition. It’s a shame that such a beautiful, gentle, noble breed would be at risk of such a terrible condition.
Of all the Great Danes I’ve owned, not a single one has ever experienced bloating. I’m not sure if I’ve just been lucky, or whether that’s because I’m careful. We feed our dogs numerous small meals every day and encourage them to rest before and after eating. We don’t allow them to drink a lot of water with meals either. Our dogs live a pretty stress-free life, too. Their biggest stressor at home is having to get a bath. Outside the home their largest stressor is having to go to the vet. Other than these two examples, our pooches are super laid back and happy.
There is some debate about whether raised feeding dishes can help. Some dog experts think that they can help prevent bloat, while others say it actually encourages the condition. I’m not a vet, but from my personal experience with Great Danes, using raised feeding seems to help with digestion. I’ve had a couple of Danes that would often regurgitate their food when they ate from a floor-level dish. When we switched to raised food bowls, the dogs stopped throwing up.
If my boys ever do suffer from dog bloat, I’ll have the vet perform the gastropexy to get rid of bloat, hopefully forever. I’m not sure how much it costs, but if it will save the lives of my two beloved companions, it will be well worth the price!
Questions & Answers
Can a dog with bloat survive without going to see a vet?
It's doubtful. Bloat, however, isn't as serious as gastric torsion, which often accompanies bloat.
Why does my dog have bloating in his stomach?
The bloat is caused by excess gas or liquid, which can put dangerous pressure on nearby organs, including the heart.