How to Prevent Bloat in Your Dog

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Who hasn't felt bloated after a big meal? One would assume that the term bloat in dogs refers to the same feeling of being stuffed--no big deal right, it will pass?

Wrong.

Although a “bloated” dog can refer to a dog who has just bolted a lot of food and is having a siesta to sleep off the effects of overindulging, in dogs, the term ‘bloat’ usually refers to a serious medical condition that can be life-threatening. Bloat, or gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), occurs when the stomach rotates, twisting off both entrance and exit points of the stomach. Stomach contents and gas have no way of escaping and begin to ferment and build up extreme pressure in your dog's stomach. Blood supply may be cut off as well, resulting in rapid decline as blood supply to associated organs like the spleen occur.

The condition is fatal if emergency veterinary intervention is not received immediately. Even with emergency intervention, between 30% and 50% of GDV cases in dogs result in death. Symptoms are severe and include distended stomach, failed attempts to vomit, (retching), drooling, abdominal pain, agitation followed by lethargy, labored breathing, rapid heart rate, shock, collapse, and death. To resolve bloat, your veterinarian must perform emergency surgery to restore an entrance and exit point.

Recurrence of the condition in a dog who has experienced it once is common, and a subsequent procedure, called gastropexy, may need to be performed, to pin the stomach to the dog’s abdominal wall and prevent twisting. GDV is an extremely serious and distressing concern for dog owners, and as some breeds are more predisposed than others, those with breeds prone to GDV should be aware of steps they can take to prevent the condition.

Understanding Bloat

Unfortunately, the cause of this very serious medical condition is not entirely understood. Some breeds are more prone to the condition, indicating that a genetic risk factor exists.

Bloat tends to occur in middle aged or older dogs with certain breeds being more likely to exhibit it. Great Danes are extremely at risk, with up to 40% of these dogs experiencing bloat at some time in their life. Other breed that are susceptible are:

  • Standard poodles

  • German shepherds

  • Irish wolfhounds

  • Weimaraners

  • Doberman pinschers

  • Rottweilers

  • Bloodhounds

  • German shorthaired setters

  • Irish setters

  • Old English sheepdogs

  • Rhodesian ridgebacks

  • Labrador retrievers

  • Boxers

  • Basset hounds

  • Dachshunds

  • Shar Peis

  • St, Bernards

  • Great Pyrenees

  • Collies

  • Akitas

  • Alaskan malamutes

  • Bernes mountain dogs

  • Briards

  • Bulldogs

  • Chows

  • Greyhounds

  • Newfoundlands

  • Mastiffs

  • Leonbergers

  • Cane Corsos

  • Komondors

  • Samoyeds

Preventing Bloat

All dogs, especially those who are members of a breed susceptible to bloat, can benefit from some precautionary changes in feeding to reduce the incidence of GDV.

Feeding Methods

  • Feed several small meals instead of 1 or 2 large ones daily

  • Avoid exercise before or immediately after meal time

  • Do not allow your dog to drink large quantities of water quickly, at meal time

  • Avoid allowing your dog to gulp in air when eating, by encouraging him to eat slowly. If you have a multi dog household, competition can cause dogs to bolt their food. Separating dogs during feeding may help prevent this.

If you are particularly concerned because your dog is a fast eater and belongs to one of the “at-risk” breeds, a commercially available “slow feeding bowl”, or spreading feed out on a cookie sheet may help to keep your dog from quickly bolting his meal. Also, raised food bowls have been associated with an increased incidence of GDV, and should be avoided if there is a concern.

Food Quality

The type of food your dog eats can also increase or decrease their chances of experiencing bloat. Human food that is rich can cause excess gas and should be avoided. Dry food can cause blockages, resulting in buildup of gas. Moistening dry food can help it pass through your dog's digestive system easier. Good quality dog food, low in carbohydrates and high in protein as is appropriate to dogs, is recommended to improve gastrointestinal health and reduce the chance of your dog experiencing bloat. Carbohydrate digestion can result in excess gas being produced that contributes to bloat.

Stressors

Reducing your dog's stress, especially at meal times, may be important. If your dog is upset or agitated, wait until they are calm before feeding. Stress adversely affects gastrointestinal functioning, and an impaired digestive system should be avoided to reduce GDV incidents.

Surgical Intervention

Another preventive method, although a invasive step, is a surgical procedure called gastropexy. This preventative surgery involves having your veterinarian suture your dog’s stomach to their abdominal wall to hold the stomach in place and prevent it from rotating and twisting. The procedure used to be quite invasive, but is now available laparoscopically, making it less invasive. Dogs that are at very high risk for this deadly condition, such as Great Danes, dogs that have litter mates that have experienced GDV, or dogs that have previously had GDV incidents, may be candidates for this procedure. Although, surgical options are associated with their own risks, pet owners may feel that the risks of the preventative surgical procedure are much less than the risks of their dog experiencing GDV. Preventative gastropexy can be conducted at the same time as a spay or neuter, further minimizing the effects of the surgical procedure, as your dog will already be undergoing general anesthesia. Gastropexy does not guarantee your dog's stomach will not experience bloat, however, it will prevent the stomach from completely twisting, allowing some passage of fluids and gas, and buying more time to receive veterinary attention.

Importance of Prevention

If you have a dog that may be prone to GDV, taking simple precautions when feeding and maintaining food digestive health may prevent incidence of GDV resulting in the need for emergency surgical intervention and a possibly fatal condition. The risk of losing a dog to this disease, especially one from a susceptible breed, or a dog who has close relatives who have been affected by GDV, warrants feeding precautions and possibly preventative surgical steps, as incidence of GDV in some dog families can be extremely high. GDV is traumatic for pet owners, treatment is expensive, and the condition can be fatal for your dog and should be avoided at all costs.

Be Prepared

GDV from a twisted stomach, resulting in a fatal buildup of gas, is a serious problem in dogs. Certain breeds are more prone to experiencing this condition than others, although all dogs can develop this life-threatening condition at some point in their lives. Changing feeding habits and diet can reduce incidence. Low carbohydrate diets to reduce gas production, slowing down eating, and ensuring your dog does not experience exercise or stress around eating time are all steps that pet owners can take to prevent GDV. In some cases, surgical prevention of GDV may be warranted. If you have concerns about this disorder you should discuss your dog's risk factors and options for preventing GDV with your vet.