Bloat is a serious, often fatal condition in dogs that happens extremely quickly. Learn how to reduce the risk of bloat and recognise the symptoms of bloat in dogs.
Bloat is a condition in which the stomach becomes distended by excessive gas content. It is also commonly referred to as torsion, gastric torsion, and gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) when there is also stomach torsion i.e. the stomach is twisted, preventing the gas from escaping. People often use 'bloat' as a general term to describe excessive gas in the stomach whether or not the stomach is actually twisted.
As mentioned, bloat is a serious, often fatal condition that progresses very quickly. It is more likely to affect older dogs and larger breeds due to their deep chests.
Commonly affected breeds include:
However, it is important to point out that this is not a breed issue. These are simply examples of deep-chested breeds. Any deep-chested dog can be affected.
Why does bloat occur?
Bloat can occur when a dog takes in a lot of air when eating and gas is produced from fermenting food within the stomach. The stomach becomes overstretched by excessive gas content. As the gas accumulates, the dog’s stomach can swell and then twist. Gas that might otherwise have been belched out is now trapped. The entrance to the stomach is closed by the twisting, thereby preventing the animal from relieving the condition by belching or vomiting.
At this point, letting the gas out of the stomach is the absolute priority. If the gas continues to build up then the blood supply to the stomach, spleen and other organs can become damaged and cut off, resulting in the body going into shock, the release of bacterial toxins, collapse and death of the dog.
A dog who suffers from bloat once is likely to suffer again and it is thought that some dogs have a predisposition to it. Sometimes the dog can be stabilised after an attack of bloat and surgery to fix the stomach in place has some success, but if bloat does reoccur then it can get more and more difficult to treat.
Common symptoms of bloat in dogs
Repeated attempts to vomit or produce a stool without success.
Distended stomach with abdomen feeling hard
Evidence of abdominal pain
Excessive salivation and drooling
Stiff legged stance with arched back
Pale/cold lips and gums (indicates the onset of shock)
What can you do?
A dog with bloat will need to see a vet immediately. Gastric Torsion is an extremely dangerous and urgent situation. All you can do is get your dog to the vet straight away and try to keep your dog as warm and comfortable as possible in the mean time.
What can the vet do?
As mentioned, releasing the air from the stomach is the priority. In emergencies, the dog’s stomach will be decompressed. Large needles will be inserted into the dog’s side, penetrating the stomach and letting the gas out directly. Further surgery will then be performed in an attempt to untwist the stomach. If the stomach is successfully untwisted and the dog survives the surgery then the vet is likely to fix the stomach in place in an attempt to stop it twisting again in the future. Know as gastropexy, this procedure does not prevent future bloating. The stomach can still fill up with gas but the idea is that it will be less likely to twist.
The jury is still out with regards exactly what causes dog bloat and gastric torsion. However, a number of preventative measures can be followed:
Feed small frequent meals rather than one or two large meals a day. A special diet may even be recommended by your vet. Special diets are more easily digestible and ferment less in the stomach. Medication might also be suggested that helps the movement of the gut and helps reduce gas build up.
Do not exercise your dog or play games during the hour before a meal and especially the hour after a meal. Some even suggest that two hours should be observed after a meal before activity can commence.
Do not give water 30 minutes before or after food.
Many dogs have an unhealthy habit of eating too fast. They love to lap up all the food in a swift, sweeping motion and gobble down or "inhale" their food like a vacuum cleaner. This way, they end up swallowing everything without much chewing.
Encourage the dog to eat their meal slowly by putting a ball or other toy in their bowl. This will stop them gulping down their dinner. Or try any of the ergonomic slow down dog bowls that are specially designed to slow down your dogs eating. The Green Slow Feeder (pictured) even makes meal times a fun challenge whilst also making your dog eat slower.
If you have a household of more than one dog then try separating them at meal times. This cuts down on competition for food and means that the meal is more likely to be eaten at a leisurely pace.
If you feed a home cooked diet, avoid potatoes as they are not so easily digested. All other root vegetables and green leafy vegetables are fine but some suggest that vegetables should be cooked first as this makes them easier to digest.
Avoid cereal-based food as it can be particularly bad at causing fermentation, resulting in excessive gas.
The issue of raised feeding bowls is still one of contention. Research and theories are ongoing regarding whether raised dog bowls and feeders really help bloat or may actually aggravate the condition. Via Dogs Today magazine's Think Tank we asked vet Alison Logan what her view is on the issue of dog bloat and raised feeders:
"Bloat is one of many conditions where advice varies with time, reflecting the results of ongoing research. Yes, raising the feeding bowl was advised at one time and current thinking is that it is best to feed from the ground once more. That advice may well change in the future, if it has not already. It may be a matter of by how much the feeding bowl is raised, so perhaps feeding off the lowest back-door step rather than raising it by twelve inches, for example? There are so many factors potentially at play in the development of bloat that the height of the feeding bowl may be insignificant or a relatively minor feature in comparison with another factor, which may not have even been identified yet."