Gastric dilation, also known as bloat, is a life threatening stomach disorder that fills the stomach with gas. Gastric dilation volvulus is when the stomach actually twists, causing gas build up in the stomach. This condition is most commonly found in deep chested breeds like great danes, german shepherd dogs, and bloodhounds. Deep chested dogs have a higher risk of bloat due to the amount of space in their abdomen that their stomach has to move. Additionally, lean dogs are at a higher risk rather than their overweight counterparts. While this disorder can be scary, it is important for owners to understand prevention and what to do in an emergency situation.
Raising water and food dishes will decrease the risk of bloat.This actually increases the risk by anywhere from 20-52%. It allows your dog to eat faster, which increases risk as well!
Exercising a dog after they eat will increase the risk of bloat.There’s actually no consensus for this one. Studies have recently shown opposing results. One 2003 study found no correlation due to the fact that most dogs bloat in the middle of the night.
Drinking ice water can lead to bloat.There is no evidence that this rings true. However drinking water too quickly may increase the risk of bloat.
Only big dogs can get bloat.All dogs can be affected by bloat, even the smallest of dogs!
A study done in 2003 was able to uncover multiple factors that would increase a dog’s risk of bloat. One of the main factors discovered was diet. The study found that dogs fed only dry food, or one large meal a day increased their risk. He went on to say that a dog eating dry food with fat within the first 4 ingredients increases their risk by 170%. Additionally, dog food with citric acid (preservatives) that was moistened prior to feeding increased risk by 320%. During the past 50 years, bloat cases have increased significantly - this is in sync with the timeline of dry foods being introduced. Having said that, dogs who were fed dry food with real meat in it, as well as canned food mixed in, reduced their risk of bloat by 53%. The evidence appears to suggest that a raw or fresh food diet is safer than mostly dry or kibble diets!
Feeding your dog one large meal a day can also increase their risk of bloat. This is because the large amount of food can weigh down the stomach and cause it to stretch. Over time this will lengthen that muscle, allowing it to move more freely. This is also why the study found that risk of bloat increased with age. Splitting your dog’s meals up and providing fresh, or even canned food can reduce your dog’s risk of bloat. You may also want to look into a slow feeder if your dog is a quick eater or a gulper, to reduce the amount of air consumed while eating.
Temperament, interestingly enough, is also a factor in instances of bloat. In the study it was noted that dogs with higher anxiety, nervousness, or aggression showed an increased risk of bloat. Keeping your dog calm and providing them with a safe and secure spot to eat can also help reduce their risk of bloat.
All in all, the typical dog with the highest risk of bloat would be a lean, deep chested dog, that eats one large kibble meal a day quickly, and is nervous in temperament.
Bloat is lethal, and about 30% of bloat patients die, or have to be euthanized. 40% of dogs have heart arrhythmia during a bloat episode. This can lead to shock which is fatal. To control this, the veterinarian will use shock therapy to try and counteract the irregular heartbeats. Dogs suffering from bloat may also experience death of the stomach wall, or rupturing of the stomach, which also proves to be fatal.
A swollen, hard belly.
Dry heaving. Trying to puke and not being able to.
Pain in abdomen when being touched.
If your dog shows any signs of bloat, you should get them to the emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. This is an emergency in every case.
The best thing to do in an emergency situation is to alleviate the gas pressure in the dog’s stomach. This can be done with a hypodermic needle being inserted behind the dogs last rib. This is something that any large breed, or deep chested owner should keep on hand, as this will help to relieve the pressure and buy you more time to get to a vet who can check to see if emergency surgery is required to untwist the stomach. I know another way to relieve pressure by using a stomach tube, however, this will not work if the stomach is twisted. If you don’t have a stomach tube on hand, the needle will do and the veterinarian will use a tube if necessary.
Once the dog is stable, the veterinarian will likely ask you if you would like to tack your dog’s stomach. This procedure is called gastropexy, where the stomach wall is attached to the body wall to prevent it from twisting. After the first bloat incident, 76% of dogs will bloat again, more than half in the first 3 months, while only 6% of dogs will bloat after a gastropexy. Sometimes a portion of the stomach will be dead, this will decrease the rate of survival by 50%. Blood clots may also occur during this, which will also decrease survival rate.
While the treatment can be scary, the best thing to do is stay calm in the situation and get your pup to an emergency vet as soon as possible. If you have a deep chested dog, keep a hypodermic needle in your house, and know your options for ER vets. If your dog suffers from a bloat episode, there may be long term preventative measures you may want to take. These would include using a slow feeder, or maybe even feeding more times throughout the day, rather than 1 or 2 large meals. Additionally, you would want to decrease your dog’s stress level, and try to keep them calm. If they did not get their stomach tacked, they are far more likely to bloat again, and that is also very important to keep in mind. Otherwise your dog should be perfectly normal! A bloat episode should not affect their physical activity. Other than healing from their surgery, they should be just as normal as they were before the episode. Well, as normal as a dog can be anyways.