Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, is a life-threatening condition that affects dogs across the world in the thousands every year. It is more common in certain breeds, but we will discuss this in the section below.
This painful condition involves a dog’s stomach getting filled to the brim with food or water (or both). The pressure put on the local ligaments is so great, in this case, that the stomach twists around its own axis, therefore creating a blood flow blockage.
Additionally, the twist in the stomach causes tissue damage, and sometimes, it can also damage the spleen.
To make matters worse, the stomach essentially turns into a large deadly ball that can even put pressure on the vena cava, a vessel that is in charge of transporting blood from more than 50% of a dog’s body to its heart.
Pet owners should know that volvulus GDV is always an emergency. If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, go to the veterinary emergency clinic as soon as possible and call your vet.
Bloat most often happens after the dog has had a particularly large meal or after they have consumed a large quantity of water after spending a lot of time in the sun.
Dog owners might be tempted to think that the abdomen distention occurs as a result of the quantity of food that their pet had, but the truth is that it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Gastric dilation shows up as a consequence of a lot of blood and gas accumulating inside the stomach without having any other place to go. Depending on your dog’s specific anatomy, they might show this symptom or not.
For example, the distention might be visible between the hips and the rib cage (anywhere in this area) for most breeds, but if your dog is deep-chested, fluffy, or overweight, you might not even notice this sign.
Since the stomach fills with gas and puts pressure on some of the other internal organs, your pet will be in pain if you try to touch their abdomen.
Some dogs might act as if they are generally in pain, so they will whine, pace around, and howl all of a sudden. At one point, the discomfort will become almost unbearable, so they will try to look for a calm and quiet place where they will lie down and change their body position frequently.
In an attempt to soothe themselves, some dogs might show a hunched back.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus can be very painful, so dogs tend to pace around their living space to try to calm down and also tell you that something is very wrong.
Dogs with GDV can experience a variety of behavioral changes in a matter of moments. They could be extremely restless and uneasy right now and then stagger and collapse the next minute.
Since your pet’s stomach twists around its own axis and its contents and gas are being blocked in it, the organ will inevitably push on anything else in your dog’s abdominal cavity, including their diaphragm muscle.
This all makes it very challenging for the pet to breathe normally. Essentially, they aren’t capable of expanding their thoracic cavity as much as they used to before suffering from bloat.
Also, since the animal is in extreme pain, you’ll notice shallow breathing rather than them taking deep breaths. They do this to prevent even more pressure from being put on their abdominal area.
While some very small amounts of saliva might be expelled by some dogs, the truth is that most do not manage to get water or food out of their system.
A dog may also look like they are coughing when in fact, they’re trying to get rid of anything that’s creating that immense pressure on the rest of their organs. Unfortunately, there is no way that a pet with bloat can solve their own gastric dilatation through retching, no matter how much they might try.
One symptom of bloat that mosts dogs are likely to experience is nausea. When a dog is nauseous, it’s normal for them to drool a lot. Giant dog breeds, in particular, can drool profusely. Smacking their lip is another sign of bloat that pet owners can notice.
This life-threatening condition can make a dog go into shock. Additionally, gastric dilatation can severely affect can your dog’s blood circulation.
When there isn’t enough blood going to your dog’s heart, it will try to compensate by contracting faster.
If the heart’s blood supply is abnormal, the dog’s pulse rate will increase to dangerous levels. Without treatment, the pulse frequency will eventually decrease. This is extremely dangerous for your pet.
While this might not be a specific symptom of bloat in dogs, it should be noted here as it does affect some pets. When there’s not enough blood supply going to your dog’s organs and their lungs, they could develop strange colors on their visible mucous membranes (mostly their gums and tongue).
Most dogs’ gums become extremely pale, a clear sign that your pet’s blood flow is not up to par.
You can test the capillary refill time by putting pressure on your dog’s gums and seeing how long it takes for the pink color to come back, but we’d suggest wasting no time if you suspect that your dog is suffering from bloat. Get on the phone with your veterinarian and get to a pet emergency clinic right away.
Unfortunately, these two symptoms can show up quite late in the evolution of gastric dilation in dogs. Normally, if your dog becomes lethargic or collapses on the floor, you would undoubtedly notice and seek out veterinary assistance.
But by the time a dog collapses because of bloat, the condition has probably reached such an advanced stage that it might not be treatable.
As much as veterinary medicine has evolved over the past decades, the exact causes of bloat remain relatively unknown.
However, the location and the ligaments that a dog’s stomach can be equipped with can make the condition progress in a very short amount of time.
Unlike cats, dogs don’t know how to pace themselves when they eat or drink water (especially on a hot day). For this reason, you should always make sure that your dog gets enough food, but not so much that it might hurt them.
Yes. This medical emergency tends to affect certain breeds more than others. Even though it is said that large dog breeds are more likely to be affected, that is not always the case. Here are some examples:
Besides these risk breeds, any dog that has suffered a case of bloat before can develop it again. Some vets agree that consuming food from an elevated bowl can be a predisposing factor as well.
Very anxious dogs that are stressed easily have a higher likelihood of suffering from digestive health problems, including bloat. If you know that your dog isn’t eating properly and there’s been a somewhat traumatic event in their life more or less recently, you should practice scheduled feeding instead of free feeding.
Yes. Bloat in dogs is a life-threatening condition, so it requires immediate veterinary assistance. No matter the causes of bloat or the symptoms that your dog might be showing, you should reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Irrespective of the breed, whether they are German Shepherds or Great Danes, some dogs can experience symptoms that are more severe than others. Their blood flow to and from their stomach might be completely stopped, in which case they could die in under 15 minutes.
A very bloated stomach can be dangerous not just from a blood circulation standpoint — it also causes inflammation, electrolyte imbalances, as well as blood clotting complications.
When a dog’s stomach fills with gas, it can have extremely negative consequences on a dog’s life. Pet owners should know that bloat cannot be treated at home no matter how much they might hope it is.
After getting to the veterinary hospital, your vet will quickly diagnose the condition and then perform a procedure called gastropexy. While emergency surgery is usually necessary, it depends on your dog’s condition.
Ideally, the pet should have x-rays taken so as to establish exactly what they are suffering from and what can be done about it.
Unfortunately, since bloat is a medical emergency, some vets might choose to perform a gastropexy after giving your dog medication for the shock they’re likely to be in and after performing a quick ultrasound.
Most dogs have to receive fluids through an IV and if they can’t breathe on their own, they might even require oxygen therapy.
During the physical examination, the veterinarian might also try to perform a stomach decompression by inserting a narrow tube into your dog’s mouth and through their pharynx and esophagus. This procedure is performed to avoid gastropexy. In some cases, the stomach gas might be eliminated through the tube.
However, if the stomach has twisted completely, there is no way this life-threatening condition can be treated other than through the use of surgery.
If your dog is stable enough, the stomach will be re-positioned in its original location through the operation. The vet might also tack the stomach to several points on the abdominal wall so as to prevent future bloat cases.
If you are fortunate enough to have a veterinary emergency hospital in your neighborhood and you can make it possible for your dog to get treatment for bloat in less than 15 minutes after noticing the first symptoms, the prognosis of this potentially life-threatening health problem can be good.
However, if you can’t get to the vet clinic and you bring your dog in too late, they might lose their life. Their recovery also depends on how quickly they get medical help.
Some dogs might have a portion of their stomach removed as the tissue could have been damaged to such an extent that leaving it in could be dangerous. Other dogs can be left with a heart condition, in which case you’ll have to give your pet medications for the remainder of their life.
Since the stomach twists in such a way that it can change the location and orientation of other organs, a pet might also need to have its spleen removed.
Finally, if your dog has been showing signs of bloat for more than several hours, it’s quite likely that the damage on their internal organs is so severe that the vet might have no way of saving your pet.
No matter how dramatic the signs of bloat might be, you should try to keep your calm and get the dog to the animal hospital as soon as you can. Some dogs can be in extreme pain, which can be quite difficult for their pet owners to bear.
Focusing on what you have to do and staying on the phone with your veterinarian are the two main pieces of advice that we can give you.
Once you get to the veterinary clinic, move fast to get your dog on the examination table as soon as possible. Fill in your paperwork and talk to your veterinarian about what needs to be done keeping in mind that acting fast is the key to saving your dog’s life.
Do not try to give your dog food or water. A pet in such a situation will both be completely uninterested in eating or drinking water, but if they do by any chance ingest anything else, you might make their condition worse.
After the surgery has taken place, prepare a calm and quiet spot where your dog can rest (a large and comfortable crate would be great). We’d like to note that strenuous exercise is forbidden as the veterinarian most likely performed some sutures on the inside of the abdominal walls, which can rupture in case your dog runs or jumps.
Depending on the severity of their signs and how long and complicated the emergency surgery was, some dogs might have to be kept in the hospital for a number of days.
Your veterinarian might also give you a prescription for antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and anti-emetic drugs in case your pet feels like vomiting for a couple of days.
By the way, vomiting and coughing should be prevented as best as possible as they also put pressure on the abdominal walls and the sutures we were mentioning above.
Since bloat in dogs is an emergency and dogs cannot live with GDV, prevention is key. Eliminate risk factors by following these tips:
If your dog was already treated for bloat before, we recommend giving them only small portions of food throughout the day. Instead of one or two large meals, dogs can benefit from three or four. While a healthy young adult dog may recover well from the surgery, avoiding strenuous exercise for a while and making sure they slow down their eating time can minimize the risk of bloat affecting your pet again.
Small meals can also make your pooch less hungry in general, so they will be less likely to scarf down all of their portion in a short amount of time. A slow-feed food bowl might also prove its worth in this situation.
Since stress is a risk factor, dog owners should try to minimize stressful situations as much as possible. If you have recently moved homes or introduced a new puppy to your older dog’s living environment, try to ease them into it as much as you can. If you know that your pet tends to suffer from anxiety, in general, giving them some calming chews every now and then can soothe them.
While water intake is, without a doubt, important, and you should always carry a collapsible bowl with you to ensure that your pup remains comfortable at all times, you should never allow them to drink too much at once.
If your pet spent a lot of time running outside, give them small quantities of water no matter how thirsty they might be. Wait for 5-10 minutes, then give them some more.
Pet bloat can be quite expensive to treat. The surgery and the post-op treatment can set you back anything from $2,500 to $5,000 and more. If you don’t have pet insurance, the veterinary assistance that your dog will require can make you go into debt.
No. Bloat in dogs is a life-threatening condition, so you should not even try to treat your pup at home. As expensive as it might seem, a gastropexy surgery can effectively save your dog’s life, so seeking out immediate treatment from a veterinary professional is of utmost importance.
Bloat in dogs produces a variety of symptoms, and abdominal pain can be one of them. Not only this, but the stomach can put pressure on a range of internal organs, so your dog is less likely to poop or vomit if they have a bloated stomach.
Calling your vet is the best way of helping your dog in this case.
You can place cold compresses or wet towels on their abdomen if they sit still, but many dogs will be restless. Keeping them in a crate or using a car safety seat belt can ensure they are safe during the car ride to the veterinary hospital.
It varies from one dog to the other and also depends on their general health status. Statistically, Great Danes have a much higher likelihood of developing severe bloat very quickly, and without treatment, they can die in less than 30 minutes. Other deep-chested breeds also have a high risk of developing bloat fast. For other dogs, it can take a few hours or just enough to give you time to get veterinary assistance.
Bloat is a very serious health condition, but following a few simple steps can prevent it from happening to our four-legged buddies. The extra time it takes to ensure they won’t experience bloat will go a long ways in the health and happiness of our pets.
The medical, nutritional, or behavioral advice we provide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Our editorial content is not a substitute for formal or personalized medical advice from a veterinary professional. Only board-certified veterinary specialists who have examined your pet should diagnose medical conditions, provide personalized treatment, or prescribe appropriate medication. For questions regarding your pet’s health, or if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.