What Is Bloat in Dogs?
Bloat is a condition in which food or gas stretches your dog’s stomach, causing abdominal pain. While it is more common in large breed or deep-chested dogs, any breed can develop bloat. Depending on the severity, bloat can be fatal if not treated within an hour or two.
The stomach is located in the upper abdomen and normally contains a small amount of gas, food, liquid, and mucus. When a dog eats, food enters the stomach from the esophagus, then is broken down by digestive enzymes. From the stomach, the food moves into the small intestine and down the gastrointestinal tract.
When bloat occurs, your dog’s stomach begins to expand, or distend, and cuts off blood flow to the abdomen as well as the stomach itself. This may cause injury (even death) of the stomach wall and, without treatment, eventually other organs. Bloat can also put pressure on the diaphragm, a thin muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, leading to trouble breathing.
In severe cases of bloat, a dog’s stomach twists and fills with gas. This is called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) and is considered one of the most painful, severe emergencies in veterinary medicine. This degree of bloat cuts off blood flow to the stomach and the lower half of the body, making it impossible for food to pass into the intestine. In extreme cases of GDV, a dog’s stomach can rupture, and the spleen can also be injured.
This is a very serious health emergency and, if untreated, a dog with GDV will die within hours.
Is Bloat in Dogs Curable?
All cases of bloat require immediate medical attention to determine the severity. If bloat is treated immediately, it is often curable.
Simple bloat, where the dog’s stomach has not twisted, can sometimes be managed without medication, but may require fluids or other treatments.
Other degrees of bloat, including GDV, can also be curable if diagnosed in the early stages. These conditions are usually treated with immediate surgery.
Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs
Bloat is a very uncomfortable, often painful, health crisis for dogs. As a result, a dog with bloat may:
Dry-heave (also called retching) without vomiting any food. Sometimes a dog might spit out white foam when trying to vomit, which is usually mucus from the esophagus or stomach.
Have abdominal distention (this might not be visible in the early stages of bloat)
Experience sudden anxiety, pacing, an inability to get comfortable or constantly moving around the room/house.
Be guarding their belly or looking back at their belly
Position themselves in downward facing dog pose, where the dog’s back half is up and upper half is down
Pant and drool
Have a racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
Have pale gums
Causes of Bloat in Dogs
It’s unknown why bloat and GDV occur in dogs, but there are suspected risk factors that can increase the chance of bloat.
While bloat can occur in any dog, risks factors that increase the chances of bloat in dogs are:
Ingesting large amounts of food or water too quickly
Weighing more than 99 pounds increases the risk by about 20%
Age (Older dogs are at a higher risk)
Being deep chested
Exercise immediately after eating.
Eating from an elevated food bowl
Having a close relative that was diagnosed with bloat
Eating dry food with fat or oil listed in the first 4 ingredients
How Vets Diagnose Bloat in Dogs
A veterinarian may suspect bloat and/or GDV by simply seeing a dog’s distressed behavior and physical appearance, but they typically also perform tests to confirm the diagnosis.
The vet may perform a blood test to get a picture of your dog’s overall health.
These are taken to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the severity of bloat. An x-ray can indicate if a dog has simple bloat, where the stomach appears very distended and round and is usually full of food or gas. X-rays also show if bloat has progressed to GDV and the stomach appears very distended and has what looks like a bubble on top of the already swollen stomach.
Treatment for Bloat in Dogs
Treatment of simple bloat can be quite straightforward. Dogs are usually hospitalized to receive large amounts of intravenous fluids and sometimes medicine. They’re also walked often to stimulate movement of the gastrointestinal tract to help move the gas and food quickly through the body.
A dog with GDV requires more intense care that typically includes:
Intravenous fluids with electrolytes to aggressively treat shock and improve circulation to vital organs.
Pain medications and often antibiotics to treat discomfort, shock and any death of tissues from the loss of circulation.
A procedure to decompress the stomach by removing gas from the stomach to allow blood flow to the lower half of the body. In some instances, this helps untwist the stomach.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor for any heart abnormalities which frequently due to toxins from decreased circulation.
Surgery is performed as soon as the dog is as stable as possible. Depending on the severity of bloat, a vet may have to untwist the dog’s stomach and/or spleen, and remove any part of the stomach wall that may have died due to loss of blood flow. The vet will also stitch the stomach to the body wall in a procedure called a gastropexy. This significantly reduces the risk of rotation of the stomach in the future.
Recovery and Management of Bloat in Dogs
After proper diagnosis, dogs with simple bloat tend to bounce back into their normal lives and routines 1 to 2 days after receiving fluids and taking frequent walks.
Following GDV surgery, a dog will remain in the hospital until pain is controlled, blood tests indicate normal enzyme levels, and the dog is eating and drinking well on their own. Length of time in the hospital depends on the dog’s health history and severity of bloat, and may be anywhere from 1 to 2 days, to up to 7 or more.
Regardless of the type of bloat or treatment a dog experienced, vets suggest the same steps to lower the risk of bloat in the future:
Never leave large bags or bins of food accessible to your dog to avoid overeating.
Do not use raised food bowls unless advised by your veterinarian (some pets require a raised food bowl due to a medical condition)
Wait at least 1 hour after a meal or drinking a large amount of water for any exercise or playtime.
Feed small meals a few times throughout the day instead of 1 or 2 large meals
Avoid gorging on water when drinking
Discuss preventative surgery with your veterinarian for breeds at higher risk of bloat. This can often be performed during your pet’s spay or neuter procedure.
Bloat in Dogs FAQs
What foods cause bloat in dogs?
There are no proven diets that cause food bloat in dogs. It is believed that diets where fat or oils are listed in the top 4 ingredients put dogs at a higher risk of food bloat. More importantly, large amounts of food or water in one sitting have been shown to substantially increase bloat risk.
What are the first signs of bloat in a dog?
Symptoms of bloat usually occur without warning and progress quickly. A dog may pant, pace or drool or appear to be dry-heaving (attempting to vomit) without being able to be throw up. Anxiety and abdominal distention are also common symptoms. In severe cases, dogs may collapse or have an elevated heart rate and/or pale gums.
How do vets treat bloat in dogs?
Dogs with simple bloat are generally hospitalized to receive intravenous fluids, medicine to help the stomach empty and frequent walks to stimulate bowel movements. Dogs with GDV require surgery to untwist the stomach.
Does dry food cause bloat in dogs?
Dry food can cause bloat in dogs especially if eaten in large amounts at one time or if a dog exercises quickly after eating. However, a canned or human food can also cause bloat and rotation of the stomach.
How do you treat bloat in dogs at home?
If a vet determines a dog with simple mild bloat can be treated at home, the owner will be advised to withhold food for 12 to 24 hours, take the dog on frequent walks, and limit water intake to small amounts several times daily.
Can drinking too much water cause bloat in dogs?
Drinking large amounts of water at one time, especially if followed by exercise, is a risk factor of bloat and GDV. It is best to offer small to moderate amounts of water and limit drinking 30 minutes prior to any heavy exercise. Small bowls of water around the house can curb a dog from guzzling too much water at once.