Bloat: The Silent Canine Killer

Bloat is the second most common killer of dogs after cancer. 

Written for Good Pet and Vet Guide by Sarah Deadman

In bloat (dilatation), the stomach fills up with air and puts pressure on the other organs and diaphragm. The pressure on the diaphragm makes it difficult for your dog to breathe. The air-filled stomach also compresses large veins in the abdomen preventing blood flow.

Filled with air, the stomach can easily rotate on itself from 90° to 360° which cuts off blood supply. Once this rotation (volvulus) occurs and the blood supply is cut off, the stomach begins to die. From this point your dog's condition will begin to deteriorate rapidly.

There are no home remedies for bloat and any size dog is susceptible. If you suspect your dog is showing signs of bloat a veterinarian must be contacted immediately.

Here are the symptoms of bloat:

  •   Your dog attempts to vomit (usually unsuccessful); this may occur every 5-30 minutes - unsuccessful vomiting can sound like a repeated cough
  • Doesn't act like usual self
  • Exhibits significant anxiety and restlessness
  • "Hunched up" appearance - hanging head
  • Pacing in a stiff legged gait
  • Bloated abdomen that may feel tight (like a drum) - in some cases the swollen abdomen is not apparent
  • Pale or off-color gums - Dark red in early stages; white or blue in later stages
  • Heavy salivating or dribbling
  • Unproductive attempts to defecate
  • May refuse to lie down or even sit down
  • Whining
  • Drinking excessively
  • Heavy or rapid panting
  • Apparent weakness; unable to stand or has a spread-legged stance
  • Collapse

Digestive system of the dog vector illustration

Here are some potential causes of bloat:

  • Stress - Dog shows, mating, whelping, boarding, change in routine, new dog in household.
  • Feeding habits - If your dog is a fast eater you should invest in a 'slow' bowl which is a food bowl with raised areas specifically designed to slow your dog down whilst it eats thus inhibiting the air intake.
  • Exercise taken before and especially after eating.

Owners of susceptible breeds in particular should be aware of the early signs of bloat but the condition is not restricted to just large breeds. If GDV is suspected, you need to contact your vet as soon as possible.

Here are a few tips on how to reduce the risk of your dog developing GDV, although other factors such as age, hereditary predisposition and personality can all contribute significantly. The tips below will not guarantee that your dog will remain unaffected.

- Do not exercise for at least an hour (longer if possible) before and especially after eating

- Do not permit rapid eating

- Feed 2 or 3 meals daily, instead of just one

- Promote "friendly" bacteria in the intestine, e.g. from "probiotics" which is said to avoid fermentation of carbohydrates, which can cause gas to develop quickly. This is especially a concern when antibiotics are given since antibiotics tend to reduce levels of "friendly" bacteria.  (Note: Probiotics should be given at least 2-4 hours apart from antibiotics so they won't be destroyed.)

- Do not permit excessive, rapid drinking

Hungry dog eating food from bowl

There are surgical options to prevent bloat in your dog.

Gastropexy is a surgical operation in which the stomach is sutured to the abdominal wall or the diaphragm to prevent the stomach from moving up into the chest.

Know in advance what to do if your dog exhibits signs of bloating.

If your own veterinarian does not provide their own Out Of Hours emergency service then find out:

  • Who provides their out-of-hours cover
  • Where they are
  • How long it will take you to get there in traffic
  • Keep the phone number handy.  
  • Program their address into your navigation system

Bloat is a dangerous health risk for all breeds of dogs.

Understanding the signs and the need for prompt treatment will help reduce the risk of mortality if your dog develops this problem.

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Bloat: The Silent Canine Killer