Bloat, or gastric dilation, is when a dog’s stomach becomes filled with air, causing the stomach to bloat. Although this doesn’t sound too scary, as humans can often experience a bloated stomach which isn’t usually a worry, a bloated stomach can be a serious problem for our pets.
Bloat can progress to something called gastric dilation volvulus (GDV) which happens when the air in the stomach builds up and causes the stomach to twist in an unnatural manner. This is incredibly serious and can be deadly if left without treatment.
Bloat and GDV aren’t the most well-known disorders, but it’s one of the most concerning due to how the speed in which it develops and becomes life-threatening. Learning about what bloat is, why it happens and how to spot it is the best thing you can do as an owner so you can get your dog urgent treatment. Read on to find out everything you need to know about bloat and gastric dilation volvulus.
If you’ve got a large, deep-chested dog, such as a Great Dane, Weiramaner or an Irish Setter, you might have been warned by other owners about the severity of bloat, but what actually is it?
Bloat occurs when your dog’s belly is filled to the brim with gas, causing it to bloat. This builds up pressure within the stomach, preventing normal blood flow to and from the vital organs as it starts to pool up at the back end of the body.
This is incredibly dangerous and needs urgent medical attention, however the main problem is when it advances to gastric dilation volvulus, which is when the stomach twists in an unnatural manner. As a result of this, the blood flow is totally obstructed throughout your dog’s entire body, stopping any excess gas or food from leaving. Alongside the flipped stomach, the spleen and pancreas can also be flipped, increasing the obstruction. Without oxygen, the pancreas will begin to release toxic hormones, putting your dog in even more danger.
Your dog will be in extreme pain and extreme danger. If your pet is at all bloated, you need to go to the vet immediately, it’s always an emergency.
Bloat and GDV are strange illnesses, and nobody really knows why they happen. The general idea is that deep-chested dogs experience them the most because they have plenty of room in their abdomen for organs to move around, creating the right environment for the stomach to flip.
It’s believed that a few triggers could include:
Wolfing their food down extremely quickly
A study found that 52% of dogs studied developed GDV due to a raised feeding bowl
Rigorous exercise soon after eating
An inherited disorder passed down from parent to puppy
Studies have found that dog food heavy in oils and fats put dogs at risk of bloat
When a dog is anxious, they naturally swallow more air. Humans are the same too, it’s referred to as aerophagia, which has the literal meaning of ‘eating air’. By constantly inhaling an excessive amount of air, your dog’s belly can swell up, causing bloat.
The most obvious symptom of bloat is, well, a bloated tummy. However, other common symptoms of bloat and GDV include:
Collapse/inability to stand
Failed attempts to be sick
Excessive drool coming from the mouth
Most reported cases of bloat have occurred about 2-3 hours after the dog has finished a large meal. If you notice any signs of your dog bloating, you must contact the vet immediately. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s better to be safe as GDV is deadly serious.
Time is of the essence with this disorder, a twisted stomach reduces blood flow, leading to necrosis. Necrosis is the death of body tissue, occurring when not enough blood flows to the tissue, and it’s irreversible.
As stated, dogs with a deep chest are the most prone to bloat. A dog with a deep chest is one who has a chest that reaches or extends below the elbows. A deep chest is a narrow and tall ribcage that looks to be more oval shaped than round if you were looking at the dog straight on. It’s thought that because deep chested dogs have a lot of room in their chest, the extra room allows for the stomach to expand more.
Breeds such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, Irish Setters, Great Danes and Weimaraners all have deep chests, and are all usually a lot taller than they are wide. However, it’s important to note that it’s not always the large breeds that have deep chests, the dinky Dachshund actually has a surprisingly deep-set chest, which means they can also be prone to bloat.
Dogs who are older and overweight also become more susceptible to the disorder. Although there are some breeds more prone to bloat, any breed of any age and size can experience it.
When you first arrive at the vets with your bloated dog, they may have to initially perform a scan to confirm that it is bloat, as other medical concerns can present themselves through similar symptoms. If your dog is suffering badly from GDV, intravenous fluids may be necessary to sedate and keep your dog pain free.
A stomach tube may be passed through the mouth and down the throat, in an attempt to decrease the build-up of gas in the stomach. Another way to release the air is by clipping a small section of the skin and puncturing a hole in the abdominal wall to release the extra gas and work quickly to restore normal breathing and blood flow. Consequently, this should help to stop bloat and hopefully prevent the onset of gastric dilation volvulus if the bloating hasn’t yet reached that point. After some of the air has been released from the stomach, and fluids are flowing to aid your dog’s breathing, surgery will be the next stage.
Surgery is utilised in the hopes of untwisting the stomach back to its normal position, it’s invasive and can be painful. Your dog will need a lot of painkillers, antibiotics and medicine until they’ve returned back to their normal state, to reduce the pain caused by surgery and ensure your dog is stable after the loss of blood flow.
Dogs who have recovered from GDV once before are sadly susceptible to experiencing it again. To hopefully prevent this from happening again, during the operation the vet might try to attach the stomach to your dog’s body walls, preventing it from twisting around again. This procedure is known as a gastropexy. After the operation, your pet will probably need to remain hospitalised for a couple of days so they can be monitored in the event of any post-operation complications. Without this intense treatment, your dog will not survive GDV.
There is no sure-fire way to prevent this strange phenomenon, but there are a few ways to try and help. It’s highly advised to feed your dog little and often. Rather than giving your dog their dinner as one bulk meal, feed them multiple times during the day. Getting a puzzle or slow feeder also prevents your dog from gobbling up their dinner way too fast, hopefully helping to prevent bloat. Also, avoid any strenuous exercise immediately after your dog has eaten, it’s recommended to wait an hour or so to let their dinner digest and settle.
Overweight dogs are said to be more susceptible to the condition too, so keeping your dog at a healthy weight with an appropriately portioned, nutritious diet will not only keep your dog healthy in all aspects, but it should help to prevent this worrisome disorder too. Avoid diets that have ambiguous oils and fats in the first four ingredients on the label, as studies have suggested that high volumes of oils and fats can increase the risk of bloat.
Gastropexy, where the stomach is pinned to the dog’s body walls, happens during the surgical procedure to treat GDV. However, for some at risk breeds, a preventative gastropexy procedure is sometimes recommended to try and stop the stomach from twisting before it’s even happened once. The issue here is identifying which breeds are the most at risk to warrant having to undergo this painful, invasive surgery.
One of the main things you can do as an owner is know the signs of bloat, if you know you own a breed at risk of the condition you can be aware of the symptoms and what to do if you spot them, so your dog can be treated instantly.
Bloat and gastric dilation volvulus are serious disorders that need urgent action. If you notice the symptoms quick, your dog has the best chance of surviving the condition, as without treatment, your dog will not be able to survive.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.