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
- Excessive salivation
- Shortness of breath
- Cold body temperature
- Pale gums
- Rapid heartbeat
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.
Are Certain Breeds Prone to Bloat?
Large, deep-chested breeds such as Saint Bernards, akitas, Irish setters, boxers, basset hounds, Great Danes, Weimaraners and German shepherds are especially susceptible to bloat. This condition most often afflicts those dogs whose chests present a higher depth-to-width ratio. In other words, their chests are long (from backbone to sternum) rather than wide.
Although bloat is most often seen in middle age to older dogs and those who weigh more than 99 pounds, it can affect a dog of any age or size, from a greyhound to a Chihuahua.
How Can I Prevent Bloat?
- Feed your dog several small meals, rather than one or two larger ones, throughout the day to avoid eating too much or too fast.
- If appropriate (check with your vet), include canned food in your dog's diet.
- Maintain your dog's appropriate weight.
- Avoid feeding your dog from a raised bowl unless advised to do so by your vet.
- Encourage normal water consumption.
- Limit rigorous exercise before and after meals.
- Consider a prophylactic gastropexy surgery if you have a high-risk breed.
The ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist specializes in the resolution and management of pet behavior problems only. Please do not submit questions about medical problems here. Only licensed veterinarians can diagnose medical conditions. If you think that your pet is sick, injured or experiencing any kind of physical distress, please contact his veterinarian immediately. A delay in seeking proper veterinary care may worsen your pet's condition and put his life at risk.
If you are concerned about the cost of veterinary care, please read our resources on finding financial help.
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