Dog bloat is one of those conditions that sounds minor but is actually extremely serious. Whereas bloat in humans is a relatively common occurrence and, for the most part, nothing to worry about, dog bloat is a life or death situation. If you notice any dog bloat signs in your pet, you need to seek immediate medical attention for your dog.
What Is Dog Bloat?
The medical name for dog bloat is gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). It happens when a twist in the dog’s stomach stops gas and fluids from being able to escape. It is unclear if the stomach first fills with gas and then twists or if it occurs the other way around.
Whatever the case, the torsion in the stomach means that blood flow is restricted, making it difficult for blood to move to and from the heart and stomach. This can also lead to rips in the stomach lining. In addition, it puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it hard for the dog to breathe. The dog’s spleen may also become twisted and suffer damage.
Another complication is that the pancreas is starved of blood, leading to metabolic issues. Most significantly, a hormone is released that can stop the heart. This hormone can stay in the body and stop the heart even shortly after surgery.
Dog Bloat Symptoms
As well as a swollen or hard abdomen, you can identify dog bloat by your pet’s behavior. Dogs often become anxious, which is expressed by pacing. They may also try to vomit without success, and instead spit up a large amount of saliva or drooling. You should also look out for pale gums and nose.
Your dog will likely be unable to lie down. Instead, he may stand with his elbows pointing out and his neck pushed forward. He will do this because his extended stomach is pushing on his lungs, making it hard for him to breathe, and this position helps more air reach the lungs. You’ll also notice that his breathing is labored, heavy, or fast. It is also common for dogs to show signs of pain, such as by panting, whimpering, or pawing at the belly.
If the bloat is allowed to progress, your dog could go into shock, collapse, and become less responsive. At the point of shock, his pulse will drop. It is a good idea to know your dog’s normal resting pulse rate. This will enable you to confirm if it has sped up or slowed down — useful for both GDV and other medical conditions.
To avoid GDV reaching this stage, it is essential that you reach a vet within two hours of the onset of dog bloat.
Dog Bloat Causes
The reason for dog bloat is unknown, although some possible causes include overeating, exercise immediately after a meal, and lack of access to water. All of these factors may lead to too much gas, liquid, or foam building up in the stomach.
What is known is that dog bloat is most common in large breeds, especially those with deep, narrow chests. This includes:
- Basset hounds
- Doberman pinschers
- German shepherds
- Gordon setters
- Great Danes
- Irish setters
- St. Bernards
- Standard poodles
Males are more likely to suffer from dog bloat than females and the condition is most common in middle-aged dogs. Nonetheless, whatever the breed, age, and sex of your dog, he is not immune.
How to Treat Dog Bloat
Your vet will first treat your dog for shock. This involves using an IV to give your dog fluids and providing him with steroids and antibiotics. These medications will correct his blood flow at the same time slowing down his heartbeat to prevent heart failure.
Next, your vet will confirm that bloat is indeed the problem, using X-rays, bloodwork, or an EKG. In the case it is bloat, the vet will release gas from your dog’s stomach using a tube and stomach pump.
Unless the bloat is mild (which is rare), the only effective treatment is surgery. Your vet will need to perform the surgery immediately to deflate your dog’s stomach completely and remove the torsion. Some of the stomach may need to be removed if it is severely damaged. In the case the spleen is also twisted, your vet will remove it, too.
After this, the vet will suture your dog’s stomach to the body wall in a procedure called gastropexy. This prevents bloat occurring in the future. Without a gastropexy, 90 percent of dogs would suffer from bloat again.
The success rate for surgery to treat dog bloat has increased from about 50 percent just 30 years ago to around 70 percent today. However, without medical attention, it is unlikely that your dog will recover from GDV.
Caring for Your Dog After Treatment
Once your dog returns from surgery, you’ll need to take extra precautions to prevent injury or further health problems. This will involve giving him plenty of time to rest and limiting his movement — no jumping or running. Your vet will likely prescribe medications including analgesics and antibiotics that you will have to give your dog two or three times a day. Your dog will also need to stick to a special diet and may need to wear a cone until his stitches are removed.
You should monitor your dog closely during the weeks following treatment. If he exhibits symptoms like a lack of appetite, vomiting, or pain or if you notice any inflammation or signs of infection, return to the veterinary clinic for a checkup.
Dog Bloat Prevention Tips
Many people claim to have the answer to prevent dog bloat, but few of these methods are backed up by scientific evidence. Having said that, there are some measures you should take.
As susceptibility to dog bloat is hereditary, one thing you can do is not breed a dog that has suffered from GDV. In fact, if your dog is a high-risk breed, you may like him to receive a gastropexy (the suturing of the stomach to the body wall) at the time of sterilization.
Another thing you can do is focus on your dog’s diet. Avoid soybean meal as well as kibble that lists oils or fats as one of the first four ingredients. Feed your dog twice a day instead of just once to cut meal sizes. If necessary, reduce the speed at which your dog eats. If he consumes his food fast due to anxiety about eating around other dogs, separate your pets at meal times. Otherwise, switch to a slow feeder bowl. Finally, don’t allow him to run or play straight after eating.
It is important to realize that your pet can suffer from dog bloat at any time. To an extent, the condition affects all breeds and sizes of dogs at all ages. You can save your dog’s life by knowing what to look out for. If you notice any signs for concern, take your dog to a veterinary professional immediately, even if it means heading to an emergency clinic.
Never try to treat dog bloat yourself — relying on over-the-counter medications and natural remedies are dangerous. They could make bloating worse and will reduce the likelihood of your dog’s survival.