Recognizing the Signs of Bloat in Your Dog

What Is Bloat?

Bloat is a life-threatening condition that acts rapidly and can lead to death within hours if not recognized and treated immediately. Unfortunately, the cause of bloat remains unknown at this time.

The scientific term for bloat is gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV. Bloat is characterized by rapid and abnormal expansion of the stomach with gas (dilatation). This can be followed by rotation of the stomach (volvulus). This rotation closes both the entry to and exit from the stomach. The blood vessels also are closed down, and blood flow is restricted.

What follows is an increase in pressure inside the stomach and compression of the surrounding organs. Eventually, shock will occur as a result of the restricted blood flow. Here are a few key facts about bloat:

  • Bloat should always be treated as a medical emergency.
  • Bloat can kill a dog within hours after onset.
  • The cause of bloat is unknown.
  • Bloat affects 36,000 dogs in the United States each year; 30% die as a result of this condition.
  • Bloat can occur in dogs of any age.
  • Certain breeds are more susceptible to bloat, particularly deep-chested dogs.
  • The stomach rapidly expands with gas then rotates on the long axis. Entry to and exit from the stomach is prohibited, causing blood vessels to close and restriction of blood flow.
 

Signs of Bloat

Bloat is a true medical emergency, and early identification and treatment is critical to survival.

In the early stages of bloat, the dog will be very uncomfortable. You might see him pacing and whining or trying unsuccessfully to get into a comfortable position. He might seem anxious, might lick or keep staring at his stomach, and might attempt to vomit, without success.

Other indications of bloat can include weakness, swelling of the abdomen, and even signs of shock. Signs of shock are increased heart rate and abnormally rapid breathing.

If you notice these signs, call your veterinarian immediately!

  • Whining
  • Inability to get comfortable
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Pale gums
  • Unproductive attempts to vomit
  • Abnormally rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Pain, weakness
  • Swelling of the abdomen (particularly the left side)
 

Helping Prevent Bloat

These suggestions could help you prevent bloat in your dog. However, they are based on suspected risk factors and are not guaranteed to prevent the onset of bloat.

  • Feed small amounts of food frequently, two to three times daily.
  • Avoid exercise for one hour before and two hours after meals.
  • Don't let your dog drink large amounts of water just before or after eating or exercise.
  • If you have two or more dogs, feed them separately to avoid rapid, stressful eating.
  • If possible, feed at times when after-feeding behavior can be observed.
  • Avoid abrupt diet changes.
  • If you see signs of bloat, call your veterinarian immediately.
 

Digestible Foods

Another way you might help prevent bloat is to feed a high-quality, highly digestible food with normal fiber levels.

Feeding management offers the best method available for reducing risk until the exact cause of bloat can be identified. Although not 100% effective, these measures can reduce the number of dogs that face this serious, life-threatening condition.

 

High-Risk Breeds

  • German Shepherd
  • Bouvier de Flandres
  • Great Dane
  • Boxer
  • St. Bernard
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Bloodhound
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Irish Setter
  • Gordon Setter
  • Borzoi
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Dachshund
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Basset Hound