Bloat in dogs is a swift, life-threatening condition that can kill a dog within hours if left untreated. Even when an owner does suspect a case a bloat and contacts a vet immediately, the prognosis is often grim. Treatment for canine bloat, which usually consist of emergency surgery to untwist the stomach, must be performed right away. Learn more about bloat, how it is treated, and which measures you can take to try to prevent it from happening to your pet.
What Is Bloat in Dogs?
The medical term for bloat in dogs is gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), but most dog owners and vets simply refer to this condition as "bloat," " torsion," or "twisted stomach." In a case of bloat, a dog's stomach will suddenly begin to fill up with gas and fluid. As the stomach inflates, it begins to twist. This puts a great deal of pressure on the veins in the region, which, in turn, interferes with the flow of blood to the heart as well as to the stomach organ itself.
Not only does the twisting cut off the blood supply to the organ, but it also closes off the stomach's entrance and exit points. The gastric juices, as well as any partially digested food present, are all trapped in the stomach, and this leads to further fermentation and gassy buildup. Organ failure sets in within a matter of a few short hours after onset, and the dog's death is not far off once that happens.
Since bloat in dogs is so deadly, it pays to have a good understanding of the symptoms dogs display when they're suffering from this condition. However, it's still not easy for the average dog owner to determine whether a dog has bloat or just a bad case of indigestion until the situation nears the crisis point.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, symptoms of bloat include:
- Noticeable abdominal swelling
- Obvious signs of being in pain
- Initial restlessness followed by eventual lethargy
- Difficulty breathing due to pressure on the diaphragm
- Excessive burping or belching
- Attempting to vomit without expelling any stomach contents
- Racing heart rate, which you may be able to feel if you hold your hand to the dog's chest
- Pale gums, which are usually a sign of shock
Time is against a dog suffering from bloat, so it's crucial to recognize the symptoms and seek veterinary help immediately. Call your vet or your local emergency vet if it's after regular office hours and let the receptionist know you suspect your dog has bloat. Drive your pet to the vet as quickly yet safely as you possibly can. If your area has an animal ambulance, you may wish to have them transport your pet, so they can begin treatment en route.
Treating bloat can be difficult even under the best circumstances. An x-ray is always the first step to determine the extent of the air buildup. If the condition hasn't progressed too far, the vet may be able to pass a tube down the dog's throat to release some of the pressure in the stomach.
This can restore some of the blood flow, which helps the stomach as well as the heart. Although this can allow your vet to stabilize your dog enough for surgery, it's generally won't resolve the bloat entirely. Your dog will need surgery to untwist the stomach and secure it, so it won't flip again.
During the surgical procedure, the vet will get a closer look and evaluate the extent of damage to the tissues of the stomach. Unfortunately, in some cases, the damage may be too great. However, if the vet feels the dog can recover, they will gently untwist the stomach and remove any dead tissue that is evident.
Once this is accomplished, the vet will use stitches to tack the stomach to the abdominal wall in an attempt to keep it from twisting again in the future. In most cases, the dog will remain in intensive care for several days so the vet can monitor the dog's progress and watch for post surgical infections, cardiac arrhythmias, and other complications.
Risk Factors for Bloat in Dogs
Vets don't yet know exactly what causes bloat, but there appears to be a genetic predisposition for bloat, as well as some physical factors that may create the ideal conditions for bloat to occur. The condition seems to develop most often when dogs either eat a large meal, eat very quickly, or drink a large volume of water, then follow up with a lot of exercise. It could be that dogs gulp more air under these circumstances, and that air becomes trapped in the stomach and sets the torsion process in motion.
As far as genetic factors are concerned, certain breeds are affected more often than others, although it's possible for a dog of any breed to develop bloat under the right conditions. It appears that dogs with deep but narrow chests are more likely to experience torsion, and some of the breeds most often affected include:
- Great Danes
- German Shepherd Dogs
- Standard Poodles
- Saint Bernards
- Doberman Pinschers
- Irish Setters
- Basset Hounds
- Old English Sheepdogs
Since bloat can develop so quickly and leave an owner with little time to seek help, prevention becomes even more important. Here are a few things you can do to lower your dog's risk:
- If you have a deep-chested dog, have their stomach tacked (known as a gastropexy surgery) during their spay or neuter surgery.
- Instead of feeding one large meal a day, break that serving into two or three smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day. This reduces strain on the digestive system that could play a role in developing bloat.
- Slow down your dog's rate of eating with a slow feeder bowl or snuffle mat.
- Don't feed your dog when they seem anxious or overly excited because stress may play a role in bloat's development.
- Give your dog a couple hours of rest after a meal before you allow them to run around, play, or exercise again.
- Never switch your dog's food abruptly. All dietary changes should be made gradually as you observe your dog for any signs of distress.
- Keep fresh water available at all times and prevent your dog from drinking large amounts of water immediately after a meal.
Prognosis for a Dog With Bloat
It can be difficult to save a dog once bloat sets in, but some dogs do recover if they receive prompt treatment before too much damage is done. Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that a dog that has bloated once is likely to do so again at some point in the future. Anchoring the stomach to the abdominal wall is an important step in preventing a recurrence, but there's no guarantee that the stomach won't break free and twist again. Be sure to implement all preventive measures to keep your dog safe from the dangers of bloat.