Ever heard of bloat? If you’ve got a large or giant breed dog then I certainly hope you have. In fact, if you’ve got any kind of dog, you, too, should know the basics.
Bloat, otherwise known as "gastric dilatation volvulus" or "GDV" for short, happens when the stomach twists then fills with gas ... or is it vice versa?
Either way, the emergency comes in when the vessels that supply the stomach are pinched off. That’s when it starts to die, shock sets in and deadly cardiac rhythms can occur. Dogs MUST get to the ER within 5 to 6 hours if they’re to have a better than average chance at survival.
That means you have to know what to look for: nausea, retching (usually non-productive), abdominal distension (not always visible), restlessness (in the early stages) and depression (in the later stages).
Immediate transport to a veterinarian for decompression of the gas, fluid therapy to counteract all the shock, medications for dangerous heart rhythm abnormalities and––almost always––surgery to reposition the stomach and "tack" it to the body wall to prevent future events.
Looking at the research, it seems that up to 20% of dogs weighing 99 pounds or more are likely to bloat in their lifetimes––usually as they get older––but any dog of any breed can bloat at any time. It’s almost impossible to predict which dogs will bloat and which will live their lives GDV-free.
Sure, we know that very big dogs are more likely to bloat. That St. Bernards, Great Danes and Weimeraners are the top three most affected breeds. We also know that rapid eating, raised food bowls and having a history of first-degree family members who are bloated increases the risk. But all our research has not given us the means to prevent bloating.
That’s especially troublesome because only about 67% to 85% of bloat sufferers will survive...IF they receive treatment. Dogs with no treatment almost invariably die.
And treatment is EXPENSIVE. Anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, on average, but significantly more if the process is complicated by other problems (uncontrolled cardiac rhythm abnormalities, the need for partial stomach removal, involvement of the spleen in the twist, etc.).
The good news is that bloat can be prevented to a large extent. A surgical procedure called a gastropexy may be employed to tack the stomach to the body wall in advance of a bloat scenario (to keep it from twisting). It doesn’t always work 100%, but it does a lot of good in the vast majority of cases.
Dogs of predisposed breeds or with relatives who have bloated should be "tacked." Steps should be taken to reduce eating speed (lots of bowls are made for such a purpose). Food should not be fed from a height (none of those raised dog bowls). And here are some other risk factors that have not ncessarily been proven yet, but that should probably be avoided for now:
- Exercise immediately after feeding
- Decreased food particle size
- Once daily feeding
Ultimately, however, knowing what bloat looks like and getting a dog to the vet FAST is the key. It can make all the difference.
Dr. Patty Khuly