By Darlene Stott
Published: 08/04/2017, edited: 09/07/2022
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The term ‘bloat’ refers to a serious medical condition that can be life-threatening for your dog. Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) is the medical term for bloat. When the stomach fills with gas, it is described as gastric dilation, which affects 25% of dogs with bloat. The gas cannot escape because of the increased pressure which is compressing the escape route.
Gastric volvulus, which affects 75% of canines with bloat, occurs when the stomach rotates, twisting off both entrance and exit points of the stomach. Stomach contents and gas have no way of escaping, so they 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 decreased blood flow to associated organs like the spleen occurs.
The condition is fatal if emergency veterinary intervention is not received immediately. There are no dog bloat at-home treatments. If you suspect your dog is unwell and see a distended, hard abdomen and obvious discomfort, getting to the clinic as soon as possible is key. 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, and shock. These symptoms can lead to 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 the steps they can take to prevent the condition.
Understanding bloat: what is it?
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. Lean dogs are more likely to experience bloat than dogs that are overweight. For example, Great Danes are extremely at risk due to their build and their deep and narrow chests, with up to 40% of these dogs experiencing bloat at some time in their life.
Aggressive and fearful dogs are found to suffer from bloat more often than happier canines, and stress is an aggravation, too. Breeds that are susceptible are:
German Shorthaired Pointer
Old English Sheepdog
Bernese Mountain Dog
How to prevent bloat in dogs
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.
What are the types of feeding methods I can do with my dog who has bloat?
- Feed several small meals instead of 1 or 2 large ones daily
- Avoid exercise before or immediately after mealtime
- Do not allow your dog to drink large quantities of water quickly, especially at mealtime
- Avoid allowing your dog to gulp in air when eating by encouraging them to eat slowly and giving them a calm environment in which to eat
If you are particularly concerned because your dog is a fast eater and belongs to one of the at-risk breeds, using a commercially available “slow feeding bowl” or spreading the food out on a cookie sheet may help to keep your dog from quickly bolting the meal. Also, raised food bowls have been associated with an increased incidence of GDV and should be avoided if there is a concern.
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Does food quality matter for bloat in dogs?
The type of food your dog eats can also increase 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 more easily. 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. In addition, a study of dogs who had bloat revealed that a diet of kibble with high citric acid content, moistened and then eaten, led to a 320% increased risk. Dry food with fat as a top-four ingredient led to a 170% increased risk.
What stressors produce bloat in dogs?
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. In multi-dog households, feed them in separate rooms to avoid competition and nervousness.
Stress adversely affects gastrointestinal functioning, and an impaired digestive system should be avoided to reduce GDV incidents. Records of dogs with bloat show that stressors such as kenneling or long car rides may be a contributing factor.
Can I fix bloat with surgery?
Another preventive method, although an 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 minimising 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.
How can I prevent bloat in my dog?
If you have a dog that may be prone to GDV, taking simple precautions when feeding and maintaining digestive health may prevent the incidence of GDV resulting in the need for emergency surgical intervention and a possibly fatal outcome.
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 the 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.
Speak to your vet for their opinion on preventative surgery for your dog. If you are not prepared to take this serious step, there are other ways to work on prevention. Studies show that mixing healthy table food (unseasoned, dog-friendly vegetables, for example) or canned food into the dry kibble can reduce the incidence of bloat. Avoid brewer's yeast and soy products, and choose a food that has rendered meat meal as one of the first four ingredients, as this type of food is thought to reduce bloat.
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 the risk. 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.