When Your Dog Suffers from Bloat

A veterinarian offers advice on this serious and mysterious dog illness.

Q. What is bloat, and can it happen to my dog?

Leslie Sinclair, DVMLeslie Sinclair, DVM says: Bloat is the common term for gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome (GDV). It occurs when a dogs stomach becomes distendedbloated or dilatedwith food, gas, and/or fluid. Why this happens is not completely understood, but it is thought to be the result of a dog eating or drinking too much at once, eating too quickly, gulping a lot of air while eating or drinking, or exercising immediately before or after eating or drinking. Large and deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes and Rottweilers are more often affected, so anatomy and genetics may also play a part.

A bloated dog quickly becomes seriously ill, often within thirty minutes to an hour. The enlarged stomach is very painful, and as the ensuing pressure diminishes blood flow to the stomach and surrounding organs, shock (a complete collapse of the circulatory system) begins. In the worst cases, the stomach becomes rotated (volvulus), closing off the entry and exit to the stomach so that gas, food, or fluid cannot pass through to the lower digestive system. This is a life-threatening emergency, and few dogs survive GDV without immediate veterinary care, which often includes exploratory surgery to empty the stomach and put it back in its proper place. Symptoms of GDV include panting, unproductive attempts to vomit (retching), obvious distention of the abdomen, frequent belching, and signs of discomfort or pain. A study at Purdue University [Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Raghavan M, Lee TL. Incidence of and breed-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 216 (2000): 40-5.], found that dogs who eat fewer meals per day, eat rapidly, and are nervous or fearful are those most likely to develop GDV.

If your dog is large and/or deep-chested, has a family history of GDV, or tends to be a fast eater, there are steps you can take to help her avoid GDV. Feed her several small meals per day, rather than one or two large ones. Never feed her or allow her to drink a large amount of water immediately before or after exercising; a two-hour wait is a good practice. Feed your dog separately from other dogs, so she doesn’t rush to finish. Encourage her to rest quietly after eating.


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Reprinted from Ask the Vet About Dogs, by Leslie Sincliar, DVM © 2003. Permission granted by BowTie Press.

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