Written by Vet Evidence Based

Dog Bloat: What Causes It And How Is It Treated?

Margarita Boyd
Written by: Dr. Margarita Boyd, BVSc MRCVS
Dog bloat is a serious condition that can result in a deadly outcome. Every dog owner should know the symptoms of this fast-killing condition. Read on and discover how to prevent this condition in your dog.

The words Dog Bloatfill both dog owners and veterinarians with fear, it’s an emergency situation and also a leading cause of canine death. This condition is also known as stomach bloat or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). During bloat, the dog’s stomach fills up with lots of gas and then twists on itself. It is important that you can recognize the signs and symptoms of this serious condition, by spotting it early you could help save your dog’s life.

It’s a painful condition, as the expanding stomach puts pressure on the other organs and cuts off the blood circulation too. If you think your dog has bloat, then you should take him to a veterinary clinic as quickly as possible.

In this article, we will take a look at what causes dog bloat, how it is diagnosed and what the treatment options are. We will also show you how to recognize this serious condition and how to help prevent it too, so you can potentially save your dog’s life!

What Is Dog Bloat?

Dog bloat is when a dog’s stomach fills with gas or fluid, causing it to dilate up like a balloon and twist on itself. When the stomach expands, it makes breathing more difficult and puts pressure on other organs and some major blood vessels.

Is Dog Bloat An Emergency?

Yes, dog bloat is an emergency! The stomach bloat can quickly lead to lots of other problems such as a reduced blood supply, reduced oxygen delivery and damage to the stomach and other organs.

If the stomach twists, then the gas and fluid inside the stomach becomes trapped but continues to build up as it ferments, causing further painful expansion. The twisting motion causes the blood supply to be cut off to the stomach and often the spleen too. Therefore, oxygen cannot be delivered to the stomach tissue, and waste products cannot be taken away, causing the tissue to die. The severely damaged stomach tissue can’t function normally and after a while leaks gastric fluid and bacteria into the abdomen. This causes peritonitis, a severe condition caused by inflammation and usually infection of the lining of the dog’s tummy.

It is not surprising that after a while the dog’s body goes into shock. Dogs with bloat struggle to cope with the difficulty breathing, poor circulation, and the damaged stomach lining. It’s pretty obvious that it is a true emergency!

Is Dog Bloat The Same As GDV?

Yes, GDV is often commonly referred to as dog bloat. This condition is known by many different names, including stomach bloat, gastric torsion or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). The different names used to describe dog bloat are often used interchangeably and it can get pretty confusing! Most dog owners just use the term bloat, as it describes the most common and obvious symptom, the bloated, dilated tummy. Let’s look at the difference between the different names used with this condition. (1)

  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV)

    Gastric means the stomach, dilation means it has expanded, and volvulus means a twisting motion. Therefore, GDV describes when the stomach expands with gas and twists on itself. Once the stomach has twisted, the food or fluid cannot leave the stomach and it starts to ferment, producing gas and causing the stomach to expand even further. GDV really is an often fatal emergency situation.

  • Gastric Torsion

    The word torsion describes a twisting action, and gastric refers to the stomach. Therefore, gastric torsion means the stomach has twisted. The stomach can twist with or without bloat, however, it is much more likely to twist if it is filled with gas. Therefore, if bloat happens first, then the gas-filled stomach is much more likely to twist inside the abdomen. (2)

    You may have heard some of the different names used to describe dog bloat before, but it’s important to realize they are all emergency situations. Below we will discuss the symptoms of dog bloat.

What Are The Signs Of Dog Bloat?

Usually, the symptoms of dog bloat come on very quickly. The most common symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting/retching
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Painful when the tummy is touched
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Pale gums
  • Collapse

Some dogs that are suffering from bloat may show all of these signs and others may show just a few.

What Causes Bloat?

The underlying cause of bloat in dogs is still a bit of a mystery. The development of this condition is thought to be a combination of a few factors, with some breeds at a much higher risk of developing bloat than others.

The actual cause of bloat or GDV in dogs is not known, but most vets report that it is commonly seen in large breed dogs two to three hours after eating a large meal very quickly, drank a lot of water or did some heavy exercise. The risk of bloat increases as the dog gets older, and dogs weighing more than 40kg are much more likely to develop this condition.

What Increases My Dog’s Risk Of Developing Bloat?

There are some known factors that can significantly increase the risk of your dog developing bloat/GDV:

  • Dog breeds weighing over 40kg
  • Underweight
  • Deep/narrow chest
  • If a dog’s relative has a history of GDV/bloat
  • Feeding dry food with high levels of oils/fat
  • Eating only once per day
  • Eating meals very fast
  • Stress behavior
  • Nervous/fearful behavior
  • Previous splenic disease

These factors are really important to consider if you want to try to reduce your dog’s risk of developing bloat, especially if you have a large breed dog. (3)

Are Some Breeds More Prone To Bloat?

Yes, some dog breeds are more prone to developing bloat/GDV than others. Realistically any dog can develop bloat, but studies have shown that large and giant breed dogs, with a deep and narrow chest, are at a much higher risk. Pure breed dogs are also five times more likely to develop this condition than crossbreed dogs.

Dog breeds that are at the highest risk of developing bloat/GDV include the Great Dane, German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, Irish Setter, Saint Bernard, Weimaraner, Doberman, and the Basset Hound.

Good to know: Knowing how big your dog will be can help you provide better health care for your dog.

Can You Treat Bloat At Home?

No, bloat/GDV cannot be treated at home. There are no simple home remedies or supplements to make your dog feel better. If your dog is showing signs of bloat, it needs immediate veterinary treatment in order to save its life.

How Is Bloat Diagnosed?

A veterinarian can quickly suspect bloat/GDVbased on a dog’s history and physical examination. The physical examination will consist of checking things like the color of the dog’s gums, dehydration, heart rate, breathing rate, abdominal palpation, and temperature.

Usually, x-rays are needed to confirm a diagnosis of bloat/GDV. These images will allow the veterinarian to assess the position of the stomach if there is dilation (bloat) and if the stomach is twisted (GDV).

Blood tests are usually carried out too, as these allow the veterinarian to check changes in the body such as level of dehydration, white blood cell levels, and the acid-base balance, as these can all be life-threatening if not quickly corrected.

How Is Bloat Treated?

The dog needs to be given intravenous fluids to help treat the shock, dehydration and improve his weakened circulation. This helps to stabilize him before he has surgery. Normally, the dog is also given pain relief (to make him feel more comfortable) and antibiotics (due to the high risk of infection).

The surgery is risky but the best option to untwist the stomach and save the dog’s life. (4)
The surgery consists of two main parts:

  • Firstly, the stomach is deflated, untwisted and returned to its normal position. If the stomach wall or spleen has been damaged due to a lack of blood supply, then that piece may need to be removed.
  • A gastropexy procedure is performed. This procedure involves tacking the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting again in the future.

Dogs with bloat/GDV require intensive treatment including intravenous fluids, medications, pain relief, and regular blood tests. This might also involve repeat x-rays or ultrasound to check the stomach after the surgery.

What Is The Prognosis For A Dog With Bloat/GDV?

Unfortunately, many dogs with bloat/GDVmay die before treatment can be given or are euthanized due to a lack of owner funds.
Intensive veterinary treatment is required to treat and save the dog’s life and the quicker the dog receives emergency veterinary care, the better the chance of survival. The surgery is risky, but many dogs continue to live perfectly normal lives after it. The survival rates for GDV surgery vary widely, but with intensive medical and surgical treatment, mortality rates can be as low as 15 to 24%.

Can Dog Bloat Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no 100%reliable method to prevent your dog from getting bloat.
However, there are some proven ways to help reduce your dog’s risk of developing this serious condition:

  • Feed 2-3 smaller meals
    Dogs that are fed one large meal a day are more likely to bloat than those who are fed numerous smaller feeds a day. Check here how much and how often you should feed your dog.
  • Eat slowly
    Some dogs can impressively wolf down their food in a matter of seconds, but this increases their risk of developing bloat. Encourage your dog to eat slowly by using a puzzle feeder or bowls with fingers or a center post. Feed your dog alone if he is competitive or anxious with other dogs around.
  • Check the level of oils/fats in the diet
    Research has shown that feeding a dry dog food that lists oils or fats (e.g. sunflower oil, animal fat) in the first four label ingredients increase a dog’s risk of developing GDV. Check the ingredient list on your dog’s diet.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
    Stressed or fearful dogs are at higher risk of developing bloat. If your dog is nervous or fearful, try to figure out what is causing his anxiety. Take measures to reduce his stress levels and seek advice from a certified canine behaviorist or veterinarian.
  • Don’t feed straight after exercise
    Make it a rule that you don’t feed your dog when he is panting excessively, such as after exercise or if he is too nervous or excited.
  • Healthy weight
    Dogs that are underweight or a low body condition score are more likely to develop bloat. Keep your dog at a healthy weight for his breed, and seek help from your veterinarian if necessary.
  • Gastropexy surgery
    Talk to your vet about a gastropexy procedure, especially if you have a larger breed dog or he has suffered from a previous episode of bloat. A gastropexy procedure tacks the stomach to the abdominal wall, and although it doesn’t prevent the stomach from bloating, it prevents it from twisting. Some veterinarians offer this procedure when a dog is sterilized, and complete it laparoscopically (a minimally invasive approach through small incisions).

Dog Bloat – Conclusion

Understandably, dog bloat is one of those conditions that dog owners dread, as many dogs are euthanized or die from this terrible condition. You should seek veterinary help immediately if you are concerned that your dog might be showing any of the tell-tale signs.

Every minute counts, as the sooner a dog with bloat receives veterinary attention it improves its chance of survival. However, intensive treatment, surgery, and hospitalization can be expensive, therefore, it is a good idea to have your dog insured. The best thing you can do is to learn the common signs of this life-threatening condition and also take some measures to help prevent it, especially if your dog is a larger breed.