The ultimate guide to bloat in dogs

Bloat in dogs is pretty uncommon, but can quickly become serious if not spotted and treated urgently. Petplan vet Brian Faulkner shares the early signs to watch out for, plus how to treat and prevent this condition

Bloat is the common name for gastric dilatation-volvulus, also sometimes called gastric torsion or a twisted stomach. You might also see it called gastric dilation-volvulus, which is a common misspelling.

Bloat is a medical emergency and needs urgent vet care. If you’re concerned your dog may have bloat, it’s essential that you take them to the vet as soon as possible.

What is bloat in dogs?

Bloat is an extremely serious condition that happens when a dog’s stomach expands and then twists around itself. As the stomach begins to grow, the pressure inside it starts to increase. This can cause potentially fatal problems, including:

  • Prevention of blood returning to the heart from the abdomen
  • Loss of blood flow to the lining of the stomach
  • Rupture of the stomach
  • Pressure on the diaphragm, which prevents the lungs from functioning as normal and can result in abnormal breathing

What causes bloat in dogs?

Bloat typically happens after your dog eats a large meal, which causes the stomach to expand with food and gas. A twisted stomach in dogs can also be triggered by too much exercise shortly after eating. The dilation and expansion of the stomach causes too much pressure in the stomach.

Are some breeds at higher risk of bloat than others?

Gastric torsion in dogs is more commonly seen in breeds with large, deep chests, including German Shepherds, Boxers, Great Danes and Standard Poodles.

Other factors also increase a dog’s risk of developing bloat, including their age, weight, eating habits and temperament.

What are the symptoms of bloat in dogs?

Bloat can happen very quickly, so it’s important to know the signs of bloat in dogs to watch out for, including:

  • Trying to vomit without anything coming up
  • A swollen and hard belly
  • Excessive drooling and salivation
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Signs of pain, including ‘praying’ with the front legs and belly stretched along the floor and the back legs standing
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • Laboured breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Collapse

How is gastric-dilatation volvulus treated?

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) in dogs requires urgent treatment. If your dog is showing signs – such as an enlarged abdomen, rapid or shallow breathing, excessive saliva and a pale nose or gums – take them to the vet immediately. You can ease their discomfort by keeping them comfortable during the journey, such as with blankets and affection, and by making the journey as quick as possible.

Early intervention, usually with oxygen, IV fluids and often surgery, reduces the risk of fatality. If your vet diagnoses GDV, their first step will be to decompress the stomach via a tube or needle to release built-up gas and fluid, along with stomach flushing to remove residual food particles.

Surgery often follows, typically involving repositioning and securing the stomach to prevent future GDV occurrences and, sometimes, spleen removal. After surgery, most dogs will be kept in the hospital so the vet can monitor for complications and administer IV fluids.

Postoperative home care involves restrictions on exercise for a few weeks to allow for wound healing, as well as diet modifications, such as feeding your dog small but frequent meals.

Bloat surgery can be a significant expense, and having the right dog insurance is vital to ensuring your dog is covered for emergencies like bloat.

How to prevent bloat in dogs

It’s not possible to avoid gastric torsion in dogs entirely, but there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of it affecting your dog.

High-risk breeds may be offered a preventative surgery called gastropexy. This is the same procedure offered to dogs undergoing emergency surgery for bloat and involves attaching the stomach to the inner abdominal wall. In younger dogs, this might be offered at the same time your dog is spayed or neutered.

Other steps you can take include:

Bloat can be scary, but fast treatment increases the chances of your dog making a full recovery. Knowing the signs to look out for, plus how important it is to seek urgent treatment, means you’re prepared if your dog does develop gastric dilatation-volvulus.

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