Like all of my Health related articles please check with your Veterinarian for specific and more detailed advice for your dog.
Just imagine – your dog wakes up from a peaceful nap with some sudden, strange symptoms – pacing, drooling, and trying to vomit unsuccessfully. You run him out to the car and rush to the vet, only to be told that it’s too late to save him, and the best option is to have your four-legged best friend euthanized. As heartbreaking as it seems, this story describes a condition called bloat, or gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV), and it is, sadly, too commonly seen by owners of large and giant breed dogs. It can happen to any type of dog, however, no matter how large or small, so if your family includes a cherished canine companion, you might want to read on.
What is Bloat, exactly?
Bloat happens when a large amount of gas builds up in a dog’s stomach. This can be dangerous enough, but this accumulation of gas can also cause the stomach to twist, which is called torsion or volvulus. A dog can go into shock from bloat because the stomach expands, which puts dangerous pressure on several large arteries and veins. Blood supply gets cut off to the stomach, causing the stomach tissue to die and toxins to build up inside the body.
While some less serious cases of bloat can resolve on their own, in many cases it’s a life-threatening event that can become dangerous within minutes. Knowing the difference takes an experienced veterinarian to know just how serious the problem may be, and whether surgical intervention is required to save the dog’s life.
What about my dog? Should I be worried?
Well, if your beloved pup belongs to a certain group of breeds or body types, then you definitely may want to be extra vigilant for the signs of bloat. Large and giant breed dogs that are deep- chested, like Collies, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, Malamutes, Rottweilers, Standard Poodles and Weimaraners tend to be at the top of the list for risk factors for bloat. It’s been noted in some studies that dogs who tend to have a more anxious personality or who are underweight are also more apt to be at risk
What should I look for?
The signs of bloat can appear suddenly – your pup may be acting normally in the morning, and then an hour or two later may be showing symptoms. The signs of bloat to watch for are:
- Excessive or abnormal drooling
- Restlessness or pacing
- Distension (swelling) of the abdomen
- Pain of the abdomen
- Vomiting, especially retching that produces nothing
- Weakness or collapse
If you notice these behaviours, this is a life-threatening emergency for your dog, and it’s best to rush him to a veterinarian as soon as possible! Call ahead, if you can, to let your vet know that you’re on the way so they can prepare to help your four-legged friend. Also, keep in mind that although this may be scary experience for both you and your pup, the veterinary staff may ask you to leave the room so that they can work on stabilizing your dog quickly. Treatment for your pet will likely include fluids for shock, medications for pain, and surgery to untwist the stomach and release the trapped gas.
How Can I Prevent Bloat?
Since no single specific reason has been found be the cause of bloat, it’s tough to list one guaranteed way to actually prevent it, unfortunately! There are some risk factors that contribute to your pup’s risk, however, so it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your pet’s lifestyle and body condition. To help lower your pet’s risk of bloating, you can:
- Keep your pup at an ideal weight. Underweight dogs have been found to be at higher risk, perhaps because fat takes up space in the abdomen, allowing less space for the stomach to twist or move around.
- Monitor your older pup more closely – the risk of developing bloat goes up 20 percent each year after the age of 5 in large breed dogs, and 20 percent each year after the age of 3 in giant breed dogs.
- Keep in touch with your pup’s breeder. Dogs with parents or siblings that have experienced bloat are at 60% higher risk for developing bloat themselves!
- Slow your pup down – if your dog gulps food, feed them by hand, or buy a special bowl that slows down their feeding rate. This stops them from swallowing a large amount of air as they eat.
- Speaking of mealtime, recent studies have shown that there doesn’t appear to be an actual link between the timing of feeding and exercise for pets when considering risk for bloat (contrary to popular theory, personally though, I do wait at least one hour or more between exercise/exertion and feeding). What does seem to make a difference, however, is getting your canine companion to eat several smaller meals during the day. Feeding only one or two larger meals increases their risk!
- Feed on the floor! Years ago, it was thought that giving your dog food in elevated bowls could stop bloat – studies have now shown that this isn’t the case.
- De-stress! The rate of bloat is higher for pets that are anxious, fearful or placed in stressful situations like boarding. Consider a trusted home dog sitter instead, and keep on top of your dog’s anxiety issues by removing triggers for stress and fear at home and on outings.
- Re-think your dog’s diet – foods in which an oil or fat ingredient, (such as sunflower oil or animal fat) were listed among the first four ingredients have been linked to an increased risk of bloat
- Keep an eye on the clock – most cases of bloat occur after 6 pm.
- Finally, if one of these high risk breeds is part of your family, you might want to talk to your veterinarian about a preventive surgery called gastropexy, where your dog’s stomach is secured to their body wall with sutures, which prevents the stomach from twisting during bloat. It’s a procedure that can often be done at the same time as your pup is spayed or neutered.
While there is an abundance of information on how to prevent and treat bloat, the best thing that you can do for your dog is to be familiar with the symptoms, and know your emergency care options. Our dogs are wonderful companions and cherished family members, and by taking good care of their bodies and minds, we’ll be able to keep them healthy and comfortable into their golden years!