Bloat in dogs is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition that affects the stomach. It can cause severe pain, shock, organ damage, and even death if not treated promptly. In this article, we will explain what bloat is, what causes it, how to recognize it, and how to prevent it.
What Is Bloat in Dogs?
Bloat is a term that refers to two different but related conditions: gastric dilatation and gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV).
Gastric dilatation is when the stomach fills up with gas, food, or fluid and becomes enlarged. This can happen for various reasons, such as eating too fast, swallowing air, eating dry food, or having a digestive disorder. Gastric dilatation can cause discomfort and pressure on the abdominal wall and other organs.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is when the stomach twists on itself and traps the gas, food, or fluid inside. This situation is very dangerous, as it cuts off the blood supply to the stomach and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. GDV can also affect the blood flow to the heart and lungs, leading to shock and respiratory distress. GDV is a surgical emergency that requires immediate intervention.
What Causes Bloat in Dogs?
The exact cause of bloat in dogs is not fully understood, but there are some factors that may increase the risk of developing it. These include:
- Breed: Bloat is more common in large breeds and deep-chested dogs, such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Irish Setters, and others. These dogs have more space in their abdomen for the stomach to expand and twist.
- Age: Bloat is more likely to occur in older dogs than younger ones.
- Gender: Male dogs are more prone to bloat than female dogs.
- Diet: Feeding dry food, especially if it contains fat or citric acid as preservatives, may increase the risk of bloat. Feeding one large meal a day or allowing access to food at all times may also contribute to bloat. Some foods that may cause gas production, such as beans, dairy products, or spoiled food, may also trigger bloat.
- Activity: Exercising before or after eating may increase the chance of bloat. Running or playing may cause the stomach to bounce and twist.
- Stress: Stressful situations, such as traveling, boarding, or changing environment, may cause a dog to eat faster or swallow more air, leading to bloat.
- Family history: Bloat may have a genetic component, as some dogs may inherit a predisposition to it.
What Are the Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs?
Bloat in dogs is a very painful and distressing condition that can quickly become fatal if not treated. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of bloat and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Some of the symptoms of bloat include:
- Abdominal distension: A swollen and hard belly that may feel like a drum when tapped is the most obvious sign of bloat.
- Retching: A dog with bloat may try to vomit but nothing comes out. This is because the stomach is twisted and blocked.
- Salivation: A dog with bloat may drool excessively due to nausea and pain.
- Restlessness: A dog with bloat may pace around, lie down, and get up repeatedly or act anxious and uncomfortable.
- Pain: A dog with bloat may whine or groan when touched or pressed on the abdomen. They may also adopt a hunched posture or stretch their legs out.
- Shock: As bloat progresses, a dog may show signs of shock, such as pale gums, weak pulse, rapid breathing, collapse, or loss of consciousness.
How Is Bloat in Dogs Diagnosed?
If you suspect your dog has bloat, you should immediately take them to an emergency vet. The vet will perform a physical exam and look for signs of abdominal distension, pain, shock, and organ damage. They will also use diagnostic tests such as X-rays or ultrasounds to confirm the diagnosis of bloat and determine if there is any twisting of the stomach.
How Is Bloat in Dogs Treated?
Bloat in dogs is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. The treatment depends on the severity of the condition and whether there is any twisting of the stomach.
The first step is to stabilize the dog by giving them fluids, oxygen, pain relief, and antibiotics. The vet will also try to decompress the stomach by inserting a tube through the mouth or by using a needle through the abdomen. This will help release some of the gas and pressure from the stomach.
The next step is surgery. The vet will perform an operation called gastropexy to untwist the stomach and fix it to the body wall. This will prevent it from twisting again in the future. The vet will also check for any damage to the stomach wall or other organs and remove any necrotic tissue if necessary.
The recovery from bloat surgery depends on several factors, such as the extent of organ damage, the presence of infection or complications, and the dog’s overall health. Depending on these factors, the survival rate for dogs with bloat ranges from 60% to 80%.
How Can Bloat in Dogs Be Prevented?
While there is no foolproof way to prevent bloat in dogs, some measures may reduce the risk of developing it. These include:
- Feeding small meals throughout the day instead of one large meal
- Avoiding dry food that contains fat or citric acid as preservatives
- Soaking dry food in water before feeding
- Using slow feeders or food puzzles to make your dog eat slower
- Avoiding exercise before or after eating
- Raising food bowls slightly off the ground
- Limiting access to water immediately after eating
- Avoiding foods that cause gas, such as beans, dairy products, or spoiled food
- Reducing stress by providing a calm and comfortable environment
- Consulting your vet about preventive gastropexy surgery if your dog belongs to a high-risk breed or has a family history of bloat
Bloat in dogs is a serious condition that can be fatal without prompt treatment. Knowing what causes it, how to recognize it, and how to prevent it can help your dog avoid this dangerous situation and live a long and healthy life.
Dog Breeds at the Highest Risk for Bloat
While bloat can affect any dog, some breeds are more prone to it than others. These are usually large breeds and deep-chested dogs that have more space in their abdomen for the stomach to expand and twist. According to various sources, some of the dog breeds at the highest risk for bloat are:
- Great Danes: These gentle giants are the most likely to suffer from bloat, with a five to eight times higher risk than other breeds. They have a high height-to-width ratio and narrow chests, making them vulnerable to stomach distension and volvulus.
- St. Bernards: These fluffy dogs are also at a very high risk for bloat due to their large size and deep chest. They may also have a genetic predisposition to the condition.
- Weimaraners: These athletic dogs are another breed that has a high incidence of bloat, especially if they exercise before or after eating. They have a deep, narrow chest that can easily twist when filled with gas or food.
- Doberman Pinschers: These loyal and intelligent dogs are also prone to bloat, as they have a deep chest and a fast metabolism that may cause them to eat too quickly or swallow air.
- German Shepherds: These highly trainable dogs also have been known to suffer from bloat due to their deep chest and their tendency to gulp down food or water.
- Irish Setters: These elegant dogs are another breed with a high risk of bloat, as they have a deep chest and a fast metabolism that may cause them to eat too fast or swallow air.
- Basset Hounds: These low-slung dogs may not look like they have a deep chest, but they do. Their long body and short legs make them susceptible to bloat, especially if they eat too much or too fast.
If you own one of these breeds or any other large or deep-chested dog, you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of bloat and take preventive measures to reduce the risk of this serious condition.