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The One About Bloat

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, commonly referred to as bloat, is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgical intervention. The stomach twists on itself, fills with air, and rapidly builds pressure. This stops blood from properly circulating, keeping it from properly returning to the heart. Blood pools at the hind end of the animal, reducing the able-to-be-utilized blood volume and sending the dog into shock.

Great Danes are among the breeds most impacted by bloat

If this isn’t bad enough, there is another devastating thing that happens during bloat. As the stomach flips, it often drags the spleen and pancreas along with it, cutting off the blood flow there as well. The oxygen-starved pancreas then produces very toxic hormones; one in particular targets the heart and can stop it from beating. In fact, a dog can go through successful treatment and seem to be out of danger, and then the heart stops. This is why quick treatment is absolutely imperative.

Even in the mildest case of bloat dogs die without treatment.

What Are the Signs of Bloat in Dogs?

According to Dr. Jeff Grognet who wrote about bloat in AKC Family Dog Magazine, the symptoms of bloat are primarily:

  • An enlargement of the dog’s abdomen

  • Retching

  • Salivation

  • Restlessness

  • An affected dog will feel pain and might whine if you press on his belly

Without treatment, in only an hour or two, your dog will likely go into shock. The heart rate will rise and the pulse will get weaker, leading to death.

How Can This Be Prevented?

For years, veterinarians have been looking for ways to prevent bloat. If you search on the Internet, you will find a host of suggestions, but much of it is folklore. We have to look at what is scientifically proven and implement those strategies.

Risk of bloat is correlated to chest conformation. Dogs with a deep, narrow chest — very tall, rather than wide — suffer the most often from bloat. Great Danes, who have a high height-to-width ratio, are five-to-eight times more likely to bloat than dogs with a low height-to-width ratio.

In addition to Great Danes, large or giant-breed dogs at greatest risk include St. Bernards, Weimaraners, Irish Setters and Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, and Doberman Pinschers. Males are twice as likely to bloat than females. Neutering or spaying has no effect on risk.

If a dog has relatives (parents, siblings, or offspring) who have suffered from bloat, there is a higher chance he will develop bloat. These dogs should not be used for breeding.

Certain dietary ingredients have been blamed over the years, but the data is inconclusive. This is because most large-breed dogs are fed a cereal-based diet, so making a statement that those diets are to blame is difficult. However, we do know that foods containing soybean meal or having oils or fats in the first four ingredients increase the risk by fourfold.

Over the years, I have seen studies that show that food bowls on the floor cause more cases of bloat, but a few years later this was debunked, and elevated food bowls are now known to be just as much of a risk. With these conflicting results, a solid recommendation can’t be made.

Dogs fed one meal a day are twice as likely to bloat as those fed two meals a day. Rate of eating is also a contributor. Fast eaters have five times the risk than dogs that are slow eaters. Using slow feeder bowls with fingers (or center posts) or putting large rocks in the bowl slows dogs down physically, but it’s also important to address the anxiety that comes with feeding around other dogs, because that can be a risk factor. Stressed dogs and those that are hyperactive are more likely to bloat. Separating dogs at feeding times may help reduce anxiety and stress surrounding food. Unhappy or fearful dogs are twice as likely to bloat as those that are happy.

A recent trend is to perform a preventive surgical gastropexy on an at-risk dog. Often performed when a dog is sterilized, some veterinarians now do this procedure laparoscopically to reduce the invasiveness. Unfortunately, the hardest part is determining which dogs are at a high enough risk to warrant this surgery. It could be said that all the above-mentioned breeds should have this surgery performed. We just don’t know if it is cost-effective. Consult with your veterinarian about this option.

We can’t prevent all cases of bloat, but by implementing some of the above techniques, you may be able to reduce your dog’s risk. If your dog shows signs of bloat, take him to a veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic immediately.

The "How Can This Be Prevented" section of this article originally appeared verbatim in the award-winning AKC Family Dog magazine and was written by Dr. Jeff Grognet.


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