The word “bloat” is not appealing even under the best circumstances. When it’s applied to a medical condition in dogs, it takes on a deadly meaning. Before I answer the question, “What are symptoms and treatment for bloat in dogs?” let’s discuss what is meant by the term bloat.
Definition of Bloat or GDV in Dogs
When people say their dog got “bloat,” they’re referring to a disease we veterinarians call gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). Let’s break that down so you can understand it. Gastric means stomach. Dilatation means the stomach has dilated with food, liquid, and air. Volvulus means the stomach turns on its axis so that both the inflow and outflow tracts are closed off.
That means a dog with bloat has a swollen stomach but can’t vomit anything up to empty it. Since the outflow tract is also twisted closed, nothing can flow out. The materials in the stomach produce gas and cause the stomach to swell even more.
The life-threatening nature of GDV is two-fold. First, when the stomach swells and twists a lot of tissue damage can occur. There are some blood vessels that attach to the surface of the stomach that can tear and bleed during a GDV episode. The tissue the stomach itself can also be compromised so that it starts to die after a period of time.
The biggest problem happens when the swollen stomach presses on the large vessels that lie just above it. The pressure from the stomach is so great that is compresses the vessels, compromising blood flow to the entire body.
What Causes a Dog’s Stomach to Bloat?
We still don’t know exactly what causes bloat. It’s a very controversial topic amongst dog owners. Some people tell you to always feed dogs from an elevated dish and others say to never feed dogs from an elevated dish. In reality, the development of bloat probably has many factors.
Increased Risk Factors for Bloat/GDV:
- Large or giant breed dogs, especially deep-chested breeds
- Having a close family member with a history of bloat
- Middle-aged to older dogs
- Male dogs
- Underweight dogs
- Eating fast (slow-feeder bowls may help with this issue)
- Dry dog food diet with high fat content
- Eating moistened dry dog food
- Fearful temperament (Adaptil may help)
Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs
The early signs of bloat can look exactly like a run-of-the-mill case of upset stomach. It’s challenging even for a veterinarian to diagnose bloat without running tests like radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, blood tests, etc.
After the situation has progressed, it’s a little easier to recognize a dog with GDV. I remember one dog owner saying she knew something unusual was happening because her dog “just had a really strange look on his face!”
- Repeatedly trying to vomit with nothing or very little produced
- Swollen abdomen (sometimes it’s hard to see this in furry or fat dogs)
- Firm abdomen, like a basketball just behind the ribs
- Rapid breathing
- Pale gums
- Pain in the abdomen
How to Treat Bloat in Dogs
Once a dog’s stomach has twisted and inflated, it’s an emergency situation. GDV/bloat is not a disease to try to treat at home.
The sooner a dog gets aggressive veterinary care, the better his chances are. Studies show a short-term survival rate of 61–83% in dogs after GDV-related surgery.
At the vet clinic, the first order of business is to restore normal blood circulation. IV fluids will support the failing circulatory system. Oxygen improves the low oxygen content in the blood caused by poor circulation.
The next step is to remove the pressure on the large vessels in the abdomen. The fastest way to accomplish this is by removing some of the air from the stomach.
The vet can try to pass a tube from the dog’s mouth to the stomach. Another option is to introduce a large-bore needle through the skin on the dog’s side directly into the stomach. Once the stomach shrinks enough to restore blood flow, vital signs usually improve.
The veterinarian may recommend surgery, depending on the dog’s condition. Opening the dog’s abdomen allows visual assessment of tissues, repair of any ruptured blood vessels, and suturing of the stomach into a position so it can’t twist again.
Dogs are kept in hospital after surgery for one to several days, depending on complications. The hospital staff will monitor vital signs and treat abnormalities as needed. Hospitalization is the best bet to make sure your dog recovers quickly.
Beck, J. J., Staatz, A. J., Pelsue, D. H., Kudnig, S. T., MacPhail, C. M., Seim III, H. B., & Monnet, E. (2006). Risk factors associated with short-term outcome and development of perioperative complications in dogs undergoing surgery because of gastric dilatation-volvulus: 166 cases (1992–2003). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 229(12), 1934–1939.
Glickman, L. T., Glickman, N. W., Schellenberg, D. B., Simpson, K., & Lantz, G. C. (1997). Multiple risk factors for the gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome in dogs: a practitioner/owner case-control study. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 33(3), 197–204.
Sharp CR: The Genetics of Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs: What Do We Know and Where Are We Going?. Tufts’ Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference 2015, Sept. 11–15, 1015, Dedham, MA.
Sharp CR: GDV: What’s New?. International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium 2015, Sept. 18–22, 2015, Washington, D.C.
Van Kruiningen HJ, Gargamelli C, Havier J, et al. Stomach gas analyses in canine acute gastric dilatation with volvulus. J Vet Intern Med. 2013;27:1260–1261.