Bloat in Dogs

Picture just coming in from playing fetch with your dog in the hard and you notice that their abdomen seems bloated. When they try and go drink water they nearly immediately spit it all back up. That ignites a fury of subsequent events of retching and regurgitation of foam.   Your dog continues to appear that they are in pain with every episode and begins to pace frantically around the house.

This scenario unfortunately is the classic presentation of gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) in dogs, a life threatening condition.   GDV is commonly observed in large, deep-chested dogs, frequently after ingesting a meal.   Early in the process the stomach fills with gas, causing bloat or gastric dilation. In some cases nothing more than bloat develop but in others the condition progresses into bloating and twisting. When he stomach twists it closes off the opening and exit drastically increasing the amount of gas being produced. This condition is life-threatening and requires urgent surgical attention.   The time from development and receiving medical attention is crucial and can have a window of just 60 minutes.

There is no specific documented cause however there are a number of hypothesis as to what causes the condition. GDV is much more commonly observed in large deep chested dog as well as hyper or anxious dogs. The most commonly observed breeds include Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaranders, Irish Setters, Standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, Doberman Pinschers, Old English Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers.   The condition has also been documented in Daschunds and Chihuahuas.

Factors Increasing the Risk of Bloat

  • Feeding only one meal a day
  • Having a family history of bloat (i.e. a parent or sibling that has suffered from this condition)
  • Eating rapidly
  • Being thin or underweight
  • Having a fearful, anxious or nervous temperament
  • Having a history of aggression toward people or other animals
  • Male dogs are more likely to bloat than females
  • Older dogs (7 – 12 years of age) were the highest risk group in a recent study
  • Moistening dry food particularly if citric acid is listed as a preservative

Factors Decreasing the Risk of Bloat

  • Eating two or more meals per day
  • Adding canned dog food to the diet
  • Having a relaxed, contented or easy-going temperament
  • Feeding a dry food containing a calcium-rich meat meal (such as meat/lamb meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal, meat meal, or bone meal) listed in the first four ingredients of the ingredient list

Urgent medical attention is crucial when you even have the slightest suspicion that your pet may be bloated or even progress to having a GDV. Surgical intervention is best if done as early as possible. However, even with the quickest presentation to a veterinarian there is a 15-20% complication rate. If a heart arrhythmia develops, which it commonly is seen, studies have documented a mortality rate as high as 38%.

Bloat can be prevented if owners follow through with some of the precautions such as feed smaller more frequent meals and do not allow for any activity for 30-60 minutes following feeding. There is also a procedure called prophylactic gastropexy that can be done at the time when your pet is spayed or neutered. This is where the stomach is stitched to the side of the chest/abdominal all so that it cannot twist.

Remember prompt identification and presentation to a veterinarian can be the difference between a positive or heartbreaking outcome.