What is Bloat in Dogs?
Maybe you have heard about bloat in dogs or know it under its more scientific name: Gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV). In dogs, bloat, or GDV, occurs when the stomach dilates and then twists into an abnormal position called gastric volvulus. The stomach’s twisting closes the sphincter muscle leading to and from the stomach.
This twist and closure cause gas to be unable to be evacuated from the space within the stomach – causing the painful bloat. No matter what you know about bloat, it is imperative that you as a dog owner know how to recognize the signs of bloat in dogs as gas bloat in dogs isn’t just painful; it can even be a life-threatening condition and an emergency.
But how to recognize bloat in dogs? Keep reading and find out!
Signs of Bloat in Dogs
The initial bloat symptoms in dogs can be pretty subtle for the owner to spot. In the beginning, the first symptoms seen may be pretty similar to what you would expect in a dog with abdominal pain. A hard and bloated stomach, where your dog may vocalize or try and get away when you attempt to press on it.
Other early signs of bloat in dogs can include, but are not limited to:
- Restlessness and perhaps pacing.
- Excessive standing and stretching.
- Hypersalivation (excessive drooling).
- Unproductive retching.
- Attention towards the abdomen, looking or licking it.
- Increased motility (sounds) from the abdomen.
Bloat in dogs is a progressive disease, meaning it will worsen – even over a very short period. Worsening symptoms include:
- Abdominal distension (bloating).
The dilation and expansion of the stomach will lead to increased pressure within the abdomen. The increased pressure can lead to secondary conditions and symptoms:
- Lack of blood flow to the heart.
- Loss of blood to the stomach lining.
- Rupture of the stomach.
- Inhibiting breathing due to pressure on the diaphragm.
The increased pressure and effect on the blood flow will mean that the whole organism will start suffering. Especially organs that are highly dependent on a stable and sufficient blood flow, like the liver and kidneys, could be affected quickly.
Even death can occur relatively fast if the condition is not assessed and treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. This is why it is essential if your dog is experiencing any of the above-mentioned first signs of bloat in dogs or similar symptoms to contact your emergency veterinary care as soon as possible.
What Causes Bloat in Dogs?
Veterinarians and scientists do not know precisely what causes stomach bloat in dogs. It occurs most commonly a couple of hours after eating a meal and seems to happen when a dog drinks a considerable amount of water or exercises after the meal. There is, however, no evidence that backs this theory up – it is just anecdotal evidence from veterinarians worldwide.
Another theory suggests that bloat in dogs, or GDV, happens due to a sudden change in the motility (movement) of the stomach after eating a large meal, with this leading to trapped air and an expanding stomach.
How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs
Bloat symptoms in dogs can happen to any breed, and as it is a complex condition where many factors play a role, it can be challenging to prevent bloat in dogs. But it might be very well worth noting that it is more common in some breeds, especially deep-chested, large dogs and dogs with broad shoulders. Breeds like:
- Saint Bernard.
- German Shepherds.
- Great Danes.
- Basset hounds.
When a dog suffers from bloat, the stomach becomes distended and twists, but we do not know for sure whether the gas distension of the twist happens first or why. Maybe these dogs are more likely to suffer from bloat due to a larger chest cavity or because they are more likely to move around a lot after eating? There’s no sure way to know!
No matter what, we recommend that if you choose to feed your dog one large meal of dry kibble to try and keep the dog calm for a while after eating, to try and prevent the condition from occurring in the first place.
How Common is Bloat in Dogs?
Bloat in small dogs may be rarer than in large dogs, but it can still happen, and bloat is one of the most common emergency conditions seen in dogs worldwide. Some statistic even suggests that dogs weighing over 100 pounds (50 kilograms) have a roughly 20% chance of developing bloat throughout their lives!
Therefore, all dog owners must know how to recognize the signs of stomach bloat in dogs to ensure they receive the correct care sooner rather than later.
Bloat in Dogs Prevention
We’ve already talked about keeping your dog calm after eating a large meal, but other things can also help prevent bloat in dogs.
- Feed several meals a day.
- Use a slow feeder.
- Keep the stress low around feeding time.
- Adding wet food to the diet.
Being a dog older than seven years and being male also seem to increase the risk of developing bloat, but these are things you can’t do much about as an owner.
However, you can attempt to keep your dog in a calm environment when it is eating, feed it several small meals instead of one large meal, and keep it from running around right after eating.
There are, unfortunately, no strict rules on how long you should wait after a meal to let your dog run around. The best thing to do is either exercise your dog before eating or wait at least an hour before doing any strenuous exercise to help prevent bloat in dogs.
How Fast Does Bloat Happen in Dogs?
How fast the condition will occur and then progress from bloating to volvulus (twisting) and then affect the dog systemically can vary a lot. In some very severe cases bloating can kill a dog within minutes – although this is rare.
The conditions will likely start developing straight after a meal, with an accumulation of gas within the ventricle (stomach). In most cases, the first bloat signs in dogs will then occur two to three hours after the meal. This is when the stomach becomes so distended the dog is beginning to feel some discomfort.
The more severe symptoms will then start showing shortly after the stomach twists around its axis, effectively locking the gas within the stomach and causing it to distend further, leading to severe pain within the dog’s abdomen.
How fast the disease progresses is unique to each dog, but know that bloat in dogs is a true emergency no matter what. By the time you notice the symptoms, your dog may very well have been in discomfort for a while, and the disease can worsen rapidly. Quick intervention by a veterinarian is the best chance of your dog recovering.
How to Get Rid of Bloat in Dogs
The most important thing first: There are no natural ways to cure bloat in dogs. Do not attempt to solve the issue at home. The best thing you can do for your dog is to contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog is suffering from bloat.
The first step when you reach a veterinarian is to stabilize your dog to ensure it can survive surgery to correct the volvulus of the stomach. Stabilization will often include intravenous fluid and oxygen to prevent hypoxia (a condition where there is a lack of oxygen within the body’s tissues).
Your veterinarian will most likely also recommend bloodwork to determine whether any metabolic disturbances are present and to evaluate your dog’s current condition and prognosis.
Sometimes, the dog’s symptoms are definitive enough to make a final diagnosis, but, if necessary, x-rays will be able to confirm the gastric dilation and volvulus. On x-rays a very large and distended stomach is seen and the diagnosis is clear.
Once your vet gets a precise diagnosis, some may attempt to decompress the stomach. Decompression is possible by forcing a tube into the stomach through the esophagus or by placing a catheter from the outside of the body and into the abdomen.
Decompression is rarely enough, but it may help stabilize your dog before surgery. When your dog is determined stable enough for general anesthesia, the final corrective treatment will be surgery.
The veterinarian will during surgery first explore and evaluate the abdomen and the organs within. The evaluation of the abdomen happens during the surgery to assess any long-lasting damage to the stomach and other organs.
A volvolus/rotation can significantly decrease blood flow to the stomach and other organs, which can cause tissue death. Other issues your surgeon will look for can include a rupture of the stomach wall and other secondary issues, like peritonitis—something that will be necessary to address during and after the surgery if present.
If the surgeon finds no other issues, the stomach will be rotated back to its original position and decompressed further, if necessary.
Your veterinary surgeon will also choose to perform a gastropexy in most cases. A gastropexy is a procedure where the surgeon will suture (stitch) the stomach onto the abdominal wall, essentially preventing it from rotating again in the future.
As with all symptoms, complications can occur. Bloat in dogs is a severe and dangerous condition, and issues can arise before, during and after surgery. Some of the most common complications are:
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat): Occurs due to decreased blood flow to the heart for a prolonged time.
- Intermittent vomiting.
- Post-operative gastric ulceration (stomach ulcers).
Death is also a real possibility throughout treatment, but early intervention will reduce the risks significantly.
The Prognosis of Canine Bloat
Without medical intervention, bloat in dogs will most likely be fatal. Even with quick intervention, the prognosis is dependent on several factors:
- Duration of the condition.
- Whether the dog has gone into shock.
- Underlying conditions.
- Extend of necrosis (tissue death) within the abdomen.
- Length of surgery.
Even in relatively uncomplicated cases, there is a mortality rate (death rate) of 15 to 20%. That can, of course, seem like many dogs do not make it through. But, on the other hand, it also means that the vast majority of dogs recover just fine, to go on and live long and happy lives afterwards.
Once the risk of arrhythmias and other complications, like wound infections etc., has passed, the most significant risk for dogs is recidivism – the chance of the condition returning. Recurrency happens in up to 80% of dogs that have suffered from bloat before. However, this is primarily relevant for dogs that have not had gastropexy.
All in all, the prognosis is good if your dog has made it through surgery and the first recovery part and the stomach is now attached to the abdominal wall. Hopefully, your best friend will be home with you once again, sooner rather than later.
That’s a Wrap
Bloat in dogs is a severe and dangerous condition; there’s no getting around it, so it is vital to recognize the early symptoms – especially if you have an older, large, male dog that likes to eat its dry food; too fast!
However, even more important is to know how to act once you spot the symptoms. Give your emergency veterinarian a call immediately if you suspect your dog may be suffering from bloat.
In the best-case scenario, it’s something very benign, but in the worst-case scenario, it may be fatal. Quick intervention by you and your veterinarian is the best way to ensure your friend will make a speedy and complete recovery!
Catharina is a Veterinary Medicine student from Uni of Copenhagen. When she isn’t making camp in the library, stuck to the books, she’s also a writer and avid photographer. Capturing everything from buildings to dogs – especially her poodle Bailey is a frequent subject.