Canine Bloat and Your Dog

Bloat, or gastric dilation volvulus, as veterinarians refer to it, is a serious emergency and can kill your dog.  The mortality rate for bloat approaches fifty percent.  Early diagnosis and treatment increase the likelihood your dog will survive.

Bloat actually refers to two problems.  In the first, the stomach fills with gas and fluids and becomes distended.  The second problem is when the stomach, and the attached spleen, rotate on its long axis, closing off any avenue of escape for the fluids and gases.  The rotation and the high load of gas and fluids in the stomach pinch off the bloodflow, so the stomach starts to die.  At this point, other problems pile on, including acute dehydrations, bacterial septicemia, circulatory shock, cardiac arrhythmias, gastric perforation, peritonitis, and death.  This is a very painful way for a dog to die.

Bloat typically occurs in a middle to old age active, healthy dog.  The dog may have just exercised vigourously, eaten a big meal, or drunk a large volume of water.

Big chested dogs are more at risk.  Some breeds seem more at risk, too.  These include the Great Dane, German Shepherd Dog, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Irish Wolfhound, Great Pyrenees, Boxer, Weimaraner, Old English Sheepdog, Irish Setter, Collie, Bloodhound, and Standard Poodle. Chinese Shar-Pei and Basset Hounds have the highest incidence among midsize dogs. Small dogs are rarely affected, with the exception of Dachshunds, who are also deep-chested.

The classic signs of bloat are restlessness, pacing, salivation, retching, attempts to vomit that are unproductive, and swelling of the abdomen.  The dog may show discomfort when you press on his belly, and whine or groan.  The abdomen sounds hollow when thumped, like a ripe watermelon.

Later signs include the classic signs of shock:  white gums and tongue, rapid heart rate, rapid and labored breathing, weakness, and collapse.  This is usually followed shortly by death.

Fortunately, not all dogs die.  If rushed to the veterinarian in time, surgery can be performed to unrotate the stomach and save it from dying.  The veterinarian usually tacks the stomach to one wall of the abdomen, making it impossible for the stomach to rotate again.  If the dog survives surgery, he has a chance of recovery.

Sometimes, the dog displays gastric dilatation without the vulvulus, or rotation.  To fix this, the veterinarian passes a large tube through the dog’s mouth into his stomach, letting the contents escape.  The stomach is then washed out.  The dog is not allowed to eat or drink for 36 hours following this, so is probably going to be in the hospital on an IV.  After 36 hours, the dog is fed small amounts of food and water and gradually allowed to eat normal amounts if there is no further trouble.  However, dogs who respond to this treatment have a seventy percent higher chance of having bloat than dogs that have never had such an episode.

Prevention of bloat is much easier than treating it.  To prevent it, you can do several things.  Divide the day’s dog food into two or three equal meals, spaced well apart.  Do not feed your dog from a raised bowl, avoid feeding dry dog food with fat among the first four ingredients on the label, avoid foods that contain citric acid, do not let your dog drink one hour before or one hour after eating, do not let a dog drink a large amount of water at once, and avoid strenuous exercise on a full stomach.  While these things do not guarantee the dog will not get bloat, they can help prevent it if followed regularly.