A lot of information has been put forward about the correlation between deep-chested dog breeds and the incidence of a deadly condition known as bloat. Bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening condition in which gas builds up in the dog's stomach to such a degree that the stomach flips on itself, causing both the entrance and exit of the stomach to become blocked off. Gas and food can not pass through the digestive system, and circulation is quickly cut off to digestive organs. Symptoms such as retching (inability to vomit), pain, distention of the abdomen, rapid heart rate, shock, and death can progress rapidly. Without emergency veterinary treatment, usually including surgery, to correct the condition, the condition is fatal. Even with emergency intervention, the death rate is extremely high, with up to half of gastric-dilatation volvulus cases resulting in fatality.
But why are deep-chested dogs thought to be more susceptible to bloat, and what does ‘deep-chested’ even mean? For more on the correlation between this deadly disorder and your dog's body structure, read on.
What is a Deep Chest in Dogs?
First, it is important to understand what exactly is meant and what is not meant by deep-chestedness in your dog. The chest is the area between your dog's neck and abdomen, also referred to as the thoracic cavity. Dogs can have wide, round chests, known as a barrel-chested confirmation, and is NOT the same as deep-chested. Deep-chestedness refers to the length of the chest from the back to the sternum, or bottom of the chest, and is usually associated with a proportionately narrower chest. A deep-chested dog usually has a chest that extends to or below their elbows, making them proportionately deeper and narrower than normal or barrel-chested dogs. Deep-chestedness is proportionate, and although many large breeds are represented, small and medium dog breeds can be deep-chested also.
Examples of breeds known for having a deep chest are:
■ German Shepherds
■ Irish Wolfhounds and other sighthounds
■ Great Danes
■ St. Bernards
■ Standard Poodles
What Does Deep-Chestedness Have to Do with Bloat?
Although any dog breed can develop deadly bloat, and other factors such as bolting food and stress are associated with the condition, deep-chested dogs are more frequently prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus. This is thought to be because when the stomach builds up gas in a deep-chested dog, the large chest cavity allows for more expansion of the stomach than in shallower chested breeds. This allows a more exaggerated condition that contributes to the stomach flipping on itself. In addition, the space afforded by the deeper cavity may also allow the stomach more room to rotate.
Preventative Steps You Can Take
If you have a dog that is susceptible to bloat due to the size and proportion of their chest cavity, what can a pet owner do to mitigate the chances of their dog getting bloat? There are several steps you can take.
■ Slow your dog’s eating down. Use puzzle feeders, put an obstacle in their feeding dish, and spread food out so that your dog cannot eat as quickly and inadvertently take in excess air when feeding, which contributes to gas build up and bloat.
■ Feed several small meals instead of one or two large ones so your companion is not as hungry and is less likely to bolt food or develop blockages and gas.
■ Separate dogs, and other pets, at feeding time if competitive eating is contributing to them gulping down their meals.
■ Avoid strenuous exercise before and after meals.
The risks of bloat and gas buildup in a deep-chested dog are increased compared to the non-deep-chested dog population and, as this is such a serious and sometimes fatal situation, steps to prevent contributing causes of bloat in deep-chested dogs is recommended.
Slowing your dog's eating and reducing the amount of air they swallow during feeding can decrease gas buildup in the stomach, which reduces the chance your dog will experience bloat and is especially important in deep-chested dogs. If your dog shows signs of life-threatening bloat, get veterinary attention immediately, as emergency intervention to support and untwist the stomach is critical to your dog's chances of recovery. Owners of deep-chested dogs should be aware of the risk of this serious disorder and take steps necessary to decrease the risk and get medical attention if it occurs.