Bloat in Dogs

Bloat in dogs is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary care. Also known as gastric dilatation, gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), gastric torsion and twisted stomach, bloat can cause rapid clinical signs and death in several hours. Even with immediate treatment, approximately 25% to 40% of dogs die from this medical emergency.

When bloat occurs, the dog's stomach fills with air, fluid and food. The enlarged stomach puts pressure on other organs and can cause difficulty breathing, and eventually may decrease blood supply to a dog's vital organs.

What Are the General Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs?

  • Distended abdomen
  • Unsuccessful attempts to belch or vomit
  • Retching without producing anything
  • Weakness
  • Excessive salivation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold body temperature
  • Pale gums
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Collapse

What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

The exact cause is currently unknown. Bloat results from the accumulation of gases, air or food in the stomach, causing it to first dilate and then possibly twist.

Certain risk factors include: breed, genetic predisposition, rapid eating, eating one large meal daily, dry food-only diet, overeating, overdrinking, heavy exercise after eating, fearful temperament, stress, trauma and abnormal gastric motility or hormone secretion.

What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has Bloat?

Bring your dog to a veterinarian immediately. Timeliness of treatment is paramount, since bloat is often fatal.

How Is Bloat Treated?

Depending on your dog's condition, a veterinarian may take a radiograph of the abdomen to assess the stomach's position. Because bloat can quickly cause life-threatening shock, metabolic and cardiac abnormalities, many things may be done very quickly to stabilize your dog. Intravenous fluids may be started to reduce shock; bloodwork may be done to check for abnormalities, and a heart monitor may be set up. The vet may try to decompress the stomach and relieve gas and fluid by inserting a tube down the esophagus. Most vets will still recommend surgery to permanently attach the stomach to the side of the abdomen in an attempt to prevent future episodes.

If the stomach has already rotated, emergency surgery is necessary to correct torsion. There are many complications that can occur both during and after surgery, including heart damage, infection and shock; intensive post-operative monitoring for several days is routine.