Bloat In Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Bloat is a medical condition in our canine friends that all dog owners should be aware of.

While some breeds of dog are more at risk of this complication than others, it is critical enough to be on every pet parent’s radar.

Bloat is one of the few conditions that require immediate medical attention to prevent fatality.

Bloat can lead to death within hours when left untreated, which is why it is considered “the mother of all emergencies” in the veterinary field.

In this article we will discuss the details of bloat in our canine companions, and help you better understand why this is a threat that should always be taken seriously.

Bloat In Dogs

What Is Bloat In Dogs (GD & GDV)?

Bloat, or gastric dilatation and volvulus, is a serious medical condition that requires immediate attention.

Gastric dilatation (GD) begins when the dog’s stomach fills with gas for any reason, causing it to become abnormally distended.

This issue will resolve for some furry friends, while other cases will progress into gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV).

When the stomach fills with gas rapidly, this can cause the stomach to flip on itself (GDV).

This causes both the entrance and exit of the stomach to become blocked, trapping not only the contents of the stomach, but the free flow of blood past the organ.

As you can imagine, this is devastating for the dog affected.

The Difference Between GD & GDV

When many dog owners hear the term bloat, they are unaware that this term could be referring to two separate complications.

The term bloat is often used in relation to both GD and GDV, which are not entirely the same from a medical standpoint.

When a dog is experiencing gastric dilatation (GD), this is referring to the bloating of the stomach without the organ flipping on itself.

Once the condition has progressed to the point of causing the stomach to flip, it then becomes a gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV).

Your veterinarian will typically use the specific terms when referring to your dog’s condition, but it’s still important to be aware of the blanket term that ‘bloat’ has become.

What Causes Bloat In Dogs?

There is no concrete cause of bloat or GDV in our canine friends, but there are a few factors that are known to contribute to the condition. To help you better determine which risk factors your dog may fall victim to, let’s discuss a few of them below.

Though gastric dilatation has been found in every type of canine, it is most common in large breed dogs with deep chests. This height to width ratio of dogs with deep chests increases the risk of bloating and stomach flipping as the dog ages, with chances increasing by 20% as each year passes.

Not only does the size of the dog seem to impact the prevalence of bloat, but so can the behaviors or environment of the pup in question. Factors such as stress and anxiety are believed to contribute to the occurrence of bloat, as studies suggest that laid back pups in a controlled setting experience the condition less often.

And last, a dog’s eating habits are known to be a major factor when considering potential causes of GDV. Behaviors such as eating food quickly, overeating, waiting long periods between meals, and even engaging in exercise soon after a meal are known to lead to bloat in our furry friends.

While these are the three most common factors when discussing potential causes of simple bloat and GDV, there are other contributing factors that have been linked to this condition in our canine friends as well. Some of the lesser known contributors of bloat in dogs include:

  • Being underweight
  • Only eating one meal a day
  • Being male, as bloat appears to be more common in male dogs
  • Experiencing chronic anxiety or a nervous temperament
  • Being above the age of 7
  • History of aggression

Many cases of bloat will occur suddenly and without obvious reason, so it’s important to be aware of the condition even when your pup does not fall into a specific category. Bloat has occurred in dogs of all kinds, making it a potential health threat that every dog owner should be educated on.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bloat In Dogs?

Simple bloat and GDV can occur suddenly in dogs, and it requires immediate attention to offer your dog a chance at recovery. Due to this, it is essential to spot the signs of bloat in effort to get your pup to the vet as soon as possible.

Some of the most common signs of bloat in dogs include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Retching without vomit production
  • Distended abdomen
  • Appearing restless
  • Inability to lay comfortably
  • Panting
  • Labored breathing
  • Pale gums
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sudden weakness
  • Ataxia or limb weakness
  • Collapse

If you notice any of the above signs in your dog, we suggest having them seen by your veterinarian immediately. Even if your dog is not suffering from simple bloat or GDV, these symptoms can be an indicator of other serious medical conditions.

Are Some Dogs More At Risk Of Bloat?

Yes, some dogs are more at risk of experiencing bloat than others. As we mentioned above, large breed dogs with deep chests are statistically proven to develop bloat and GDV more than other canine friends. Because of this, there are some breeds of dog that will automatically be predisposed.

Some of the canine friends that are more at risk of bloat include Great Danes, Weimaraners, Saint Bernards, Standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, Dobermans, and other dogs with a similar stature. Not only can breed and size impact a dog’s chances of developing bloat, but so can the presence of other risk factors listed above.

It’s important to note that bloat has been seen in dogs of all shapes and sizes, so it is not something you can rule out based on statistics alone. While you may need to keep a closer eye on your large breed pup as the years go by, you should always be aware of the bloat symptoms we listed above.

Is Bloat Fatal In Dogs?

Bloat is a serious and life-threatening condition seen in our canine friends. This fatal health complication claims the lives of many furry friends, often due to how quickly the condition progresses in the moments after the stomach flips. Because of this, GDV in dogs is considered the mother of all emergencies in emergency veterinary medicine.

Bloat in dogs is almost always fatal when it is not treated immediately. Dogs require urgent medical assistance within minutes to a few hours of the onset of symptoms to offer them the best chance at survival. Not only do they require immediate assistance, but aggressive intervention is typically needed. With all of these factors combined, you can begin to understand why bloat has such a reputation.

Why Do Dogs Die From Bloat?

Many pet parents are aware of GDV being a fatal condition in dogs, but they may not understand why. When a dog’s stomach flips and blocks off both the entry and exit of the stomach, a slew of serious complications will unfold.

First, blood supply to the stomach will immediately be cut off. This puts pressure on multiple large arteries and veins, causing toxins to build up in the bloodstream. Not only will toxins multiply, but the tissues of the stomach and surrounding organs that are not receiving blood will begin to die.

Not only will tissues suffer from lack of adequate blood supply, but the heart will soon be put under immense stress due to the complications unfolding. This will cause the dog to go into shock and ultimately die if the issue is not resolved. This sequence of events will unfold in varying speeds for every dog affected, but will typically occur within minutes to a few hours.

How Do You Know When Simple Bloat Has Progressed To GDV?

As we discussed above, simple bloat and GDV are not the same condition. While bloat refers to the stomach rapidly filling with gas, GDV refers to the occurrence of the stomach flipping on itself. Though simple bloating is still a serious situation, GDV is an immediate threat to the dog’s life.

The challenging part about bloat in dogs is the fact that there is no way for the owner to know when the stomach has actually flipped. Bloat can progress to GDV rapidly, and there may not be an immediate indicator of their worsening condition. This is why we always suggest rushing your dog to the vet from the moment symptoms begin, as there is just no way to measure the severity of the situation without veterinary guidance.

Treatment For Bloat & GDV In Dogs

Now that you are aware of the series of events that unfold when a dog develops GD or GDV, you can begin to understand why immediate treatment is required to save their life. The dog must be stabilized in the moments they await emergency surgery, as every passing second can lead to more complications.

Stabilization

First, your vet may attempt to take the pressure off the stomach and surrounding organs by draining the air that has accumulated in the stomach. This can be done in a few different ways based on your vet’s preference, but many choose to insert a large bore catheter through the skin and into the stomach for an immediate release.

Your vet will also attempt to address your dog’s level of shock by immediately starting them on IV fluids and pain control, as well as administering any cardiac or respiratory support that is needed. Once these steps have been performed, this can offer you a few minutes to determine the plan of action to save your pup’s life.

Surgery

Once the dog has been stabilized and is suitable to be placed under anesthesia, your dog will be rushed to surgery. Surgery will involve not only restoring the stomach to its normal position, but tending to any damaged tissue that has developed as a result of impaired blood flow. Damage will vary from dog to dog, so the following steps will range based on their case.

No matter the details of your dog’s case, you can typically expect your vet to perform a pyloroplasty to repair normal flow from the stomach, as well as a gastropexy to prevent the stomach from flipping again. Some dogs will even need their spleen removed due to damage sustained from GDV. Every case will vary, so we always suggest trusting your vet’s guidance.

Hospitalization

If your dog survives surgery, you can expect your vet to recommend multiple days in the hospital. Many dogs with GDV experience post surgical complications, so this will allow your vet to monitor them closely in the days following. Your vet will typically monitor their cardiac rhythms, offer them adequate pain control, continue to administer IV fluids, and provide any other treatments needed to ensure their recovery.

Can Dogs Survive Bloat?

Dogs can survive GDV, but their survival depends on the details of their situation. If a dog received prompt medical care and has not sustained significant tissue or organ damage, they may have a good chance at survival.

However, if a dog fails to receive immediate medical care in the moments after their stomach flips, or if they have developed cardiac complications or tissue necrosis, their chance of survival is not as high.

GDV is a variable condition with plenty of outcomes, so it’s almost impossible to predict how well your pup will respond to treatment. The best thing you can do is seek veterinary care as quickly as possible, and follow the guidance of your trusted veterinarian.

Preventing Bloat & GDV In Dogs

One of the best ways to prevent bloat in at-risk dogs is by performing a gastropexy, which is a procedure that sutures the stomach wall to the abdominal wall. Many veterinarians feel comfortable performing this procedure at the time of their spay or castration, but you can always schedule it at a separate time.

Another way to potentially prevent bloat and GDV is through avoiding high risk behavior. Some of the most effective ways to implement bloat prevention include:

  • Preventing exercise in the 30 minutes to an hour after eating
  • Feeding two meals a day in opposed to one
  • Preventing your dog from eating their food quickly
  • Limiting stress when possible

Every dog is different, so we always suggest speaking with your vet about the best ways to keep your pup safe in the future.

Final Thoughts

Bloat and GDV is one of the most severe complications that can occur in our pups without trauma. No matter the type of furry friend you have in your home, it’s always best to stay educated on the details of this severe complication.

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