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What Is Bloat In Dogs?

Written by Ella White

Updated

Great Dane chilling on dog bed
  • Bloat is a potentially life threatening condition that occurs in dogs 
  • It’s when the stomach fills with air and flips 
  • This can stop blood flowing to the heart and pancreas which can result in the production of toxic hormones and causing the heart to stop 
  • If you think your dog is suffering from bloat, contact your vet immediately 

In this blog we’ll explain why bloat is so serious, what causes bloat in dogs, and how it can be prevented.

Bloat, scientifically known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, occurs in dogs when their stomach fills with air, building pressure that eventually prevents the blood from flowing from the back legs and abdomen back to the heart. This causes blood to pool in the back of the body, ultimately sending the dog into shock due to reduced blood volume. 

This sounds traumatizing enough. But as the bloat develops, the dog’s stomach is flipped, pulling the spleen and pancreas and cutting off blood flow even further. When the blood flow is cut off from the pancreas, it produces toxic hormones which attack the heart causing it to stop.

This all happens very quickly, is incredibly painful for the dog, and can result in sudden death and life-threatening shock which has the potential to kill within hours. Even with speedy treatment, and even in mild cases, toxic hormones could still be triggered and result in death.

The good news is, bloat is very rare and affects less than 6% of dogs. Although this number increases in dogs weighing over 100lbs.

One of the first signs that a dog has developed bloat will be that they’re in pain – particularly when their belly is touched. Of course, pain could be triggered by any number of illnesses or injuries, so there are further symptoms that owners should know to look out for.

  • Enlargement in the abdomen
  • Hard, swollen belly
  • Retching without vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Restlessness, panting, and other signs of distress
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weak pulse
  • Shock

These symptoms tend to appear very quickly once bloat has developed, and should be treated within 1 to 2 hours to increase chances of survival.

Though vets know that bloat happens when air builds up in the stomach causing it to twist, there is no clear answer as to what causes these two life-threatening occurrences to happen. Some have blamed unhealthy diets; dogs eating foods containing oils, fats, and soybean meal as key ingredients are four times more likely to develop bloat.

The rate at which a dog eats can also be considered a contributing factor, as the faster the dog eats the more likely they are to develop bloat. In fact, fast-eating dogs are 5 times more likely to suffer from bloat than dogs that eat slowly. 

Similarly, dogs that are only fed once a day are twice more likely to develop bloat than dogs who are fed twice a day. This could be linked to hunger and therefore the speed at which they ingest their food. Stressed, anxious, or scared dogs are also more likely to eat quickly. So using slow feeding bowls can help reduce the risk if you know your dog has a habit of eating too quickly.

Another factor is that certain dog breeds with certain builds and body shapes tend to be more susceptible.

Though any dog can develop bloat, there are some breeds that are more susceptible. Dogs with deep chests like Great Danes, Dobermans and Greyhounds are more likely to suffer from bloat due to their height-to-width ratio. 

Large and giant dogs like St Bernards, German Shepherds, Setters, Weimaraners, and Labradors are also at greater risk, with male dogs being twice as likely to get bloat compared to females. 

Though spaying and neutering is found to have no effect, particularly-susceptible breeds like Great Danes might be recommended a gastropexy – where the stomach is attached to the abdominal wall – at a young age to prevent bloat risk.

Older and overweight dogs, and very underweight dogs are more susceptible. Similarly, dogs with close relatives that have suffered from bloat are more likely to be genetically predisposed to the condition, and should not be bred. 

If you’re worried your dog is more likely to develop bloat, feeding them small meals throughout the day with a slow feed bowl could put your mind at ease – especially if they are a fast eater.

Though vets are technically able to treat bloat and its symptoms, the condition often comes on so quickly that attempts to treat it are unsuccessful. If your dog is in shock as a result of the condition, your vet will need to treat this before they are able to go into surgery. This is usually done with intravenous fluids to reduce heart rate.

Once they’re stable, the dog’s stomach will be deflated by releasing the gas build-up to take pressure off surrounding organs. Then it will be flipped back into its correct position and any damaged stomach wall will be removed. They will then perform a gastropexy to prevent it from occurring again. 90% of dogs that develop bloat will get it again if a gastropexy is not performed as a preventative measure.

After surgery, dogs will require strong painkillers and antibiotics to help them recover from the lack of blood flow to their heart.

Because nobody really understands the true cause of bloat, it’s equally difficult to know how to prevent it. However, dogs that are fed low-fat diets and that eat little and often rather than in one large portion could be less susceptible. It’s also advisable to not let your dog drink too much too quickly right after eating. If they’re in the habit of wolfing down their dinner then draining their entire water bowl, it would be safer to pick their water bowl up until they’ve had time to start digesting their meal. It’s also advisable to avoid exercise straight after eating.

Opting for a gastropexy in young dogs that are known to be susceptible is a good preventative measure, as is ensuring that your dog maintains a healthy weight – especially in old age.

If you think your dog might have bloat, seek medical attention immediately as the first hour or two are vital for their survival.

If you’re looking for a healthy way to feed your dog, look no further than Front of the Pack’s air dried food. Packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, it contains everything your dog needs to remain healthy. Free from allergens, fillers, and unnatural ingredients, it’s low in fat and high in nutrition. So you won’t have to worry about them getting all the goodness they need: a scoop takes seconds to serve and delivers all the essential nutrients to keep their tails wagging.