If you're familiar with canine bloat, you know it's a very rapid and life-threatening condition. However, puppies are at higher risk for a different type of bloat: food bloat. Food bloat in puppies occurs after they eat a large volume of food at once and their stomach becomes overfilled. A bloated puppy belly is usually just uncomfortable, but without treatment, it could lead to complications, such as obstruction, pancreatitis, and even true canine bloat. If your puppy shows any signs of bloat, contact your veterinarian right away.
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus vs. Food Bloat
When people mention "bloat" in dogs, they're usually referring to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), which is a life-threatening condition where the stomach bloats and then twists onto itself. It's most likely to affect large or giant breed dogs over 3 years old, but it can happen to dogs of any breed or age. One of the youngest known cases of GDV involved a 5-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy.
However, GDV is much less common in younger dogs. Dogs older than 5 years are at highest risk, and puppies are far more likely to experience food bloat. This is usually the result of a mischievous puppy getting into a bag of dog or cat food and gorging, though they could ransack the garbage, pantry, or litter box. With food bloat, the stomach stretches due to overfilling, and the puppy's belly becomes noticeably distended.
Signs of Food Bloat in Puppies
The signs of food bloat are very similar to the symptoms of GDV.
- Firm, bloated belly
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive panting
- Racing heart rate
- Low energy
- Belly pain
When to See a Vet
Food bloat on its own is usually not life-threatening, though it can certainly be painful for the puppy. However, it's critical you contact your vet if you are worried your puppy is bloated, because food bloat can lead to life-threatening problems.
Possible Complications of Food Bloat
Will puppy bloat go away on its own? It's possible, but without treatment, your puppy could develop harmful complications.
- Bloat: When the stomach bloats with food, it's more likely to rotate and turn into GDV. Deep-chested and large breed puppies, such as Great Danes, Standard Poodles, and Weimaraners, are at a greater risk of developing life-threatening bloat. If not treated within an hour or two, GDV can be fatal.
- Dehydration: It's possible for a puppy to become dehydrated from food bloat, particularly if the food they ingested was dry kibble. Having them drink water can only further fill their stomach, so IV fluids are often necessary.
- Pain: Imagine how your belly feels after a large Thanksgiving dinner. Your puppy is probably experiencing an amplified version of that feeling with food bloat. Pain medication may be necessary to make your pup comfortable.
- Obstruction: An intestinal blockage could occur if the puppy ate something other than just food. This is usually the case if they ate some of the food packings, got into the trash and ate bones, or ingested large amounts of kitty litter. When an object blocks the intestines, surgery is usually necessary.
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas can happen when a dog eats high-fat foods. Pancreatitis is very painful and usually requires ongoing care to prevent flare-ups.
- Gastric upset: Probably the mildest symptom of food bloat is gastric upset, such as diarrhea or vomiting.
Prevent Bloat in Puppies
Food bloat in puppies can easily be prevented. Puppy-proof your house by keeping pet food and treats in secure containers, securing your trash cans, and safeguarding all pantries. If you have a large or giant breed puppy, this is particularly imperative because episodes of food bloat can put your puppy at risk for developing full-blown GDV in the future. If your puppy shows signs of food bloat or you worry they ingested non-food items, such as packaging or garbage, see your veterinarian right away to give your pup the best chance at a positive outcome.