“Yikes! I ate way too much! I feel so bloated!” Ever hear a phrase like this after a big meal? When you rapidly consume large quantities of food, you also tend to swallow a great deal of air. For humans, feeling bloated is physically uncomfortable, but it’s also an inconvenience of our own making. Bloat in dogs, on the other hand, is a serious and dangerous medical condition that requires immediate treatment. Let’s look at bloat in dogs: What it is, how it arises, and what can be done to treat and prevent it.
First, what is bloat in dogs?
If I say “bloated dog,” chances are the first thing that pops into the layperson’s mind are overweight or obese canines that resemble Jabba the Hutt. Bloat in dogs is an informal term that covers a pair of related but distinct digestive issues. The first of these is related to the holiday-meal scenario described above.
Dogs, as we know, will eat anything they can wrap their jaws around, and as much as they can get. Eating too fast, whether you’re a human or a dog, causes aerophagia, literally, eating air. Dogs who belch after a hearty meal are better able to avoid the more serious sort of bloat.
The second, far more dire form of dog bloat is called gastric dilatation volvulus, or GDV for short. Bloat in dogs that involves GDV is more complicated than an excess of gas, fluid, or food, because it comes with a horrifying twist. Quite literally, in cases of GDV, the stomach itself is twisted anywhere from 180 degrees to a full 360 degrees from its normal position in a dog’s abdomen.
Not only are fluids, gasses, and food matter distending the stomach, but they are effectively trapped there. A twisted stomach allows nothing to escape, in or out. All avenues for relief — belching, flatulence and defecation among them — are blocked, a situation that can be fatal if professional veterinary assistance is not sought immediately. Our research shows numbers ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent mortality rates for bloat in dogs accompanied by a twisted stomach.
What causes bloat in dogs?
In milder cases of dog bloat, the causes are similar to those in humans. Dogs who eat too much, particularly when they eat quickly, can develop bloat, and the same is true for rapid overconsumption of water. Remember your mom telling you to wait 30 minutes after eating before going out to play? Strenuous activity or exertion, especially after a large or rapidly devoured meal, is another potential path to a bloated dog.
Not only is GDV, bloat with a twisted stomach, more dangerous, it’s also less predictable. The reasons why the stomach twists, denying food, liquid and air any point of egress, remain unclear. The best we have are risk factors based on observed cases of bloat in dogs, who it affects and when. All breeds of dog may potentially fall prey to a twisted stomach and GDV, but larger dog breeds, along with those who have deep and narrow chest cavities, are the most frequent sufferers.
Breeds that are prone to bloat include the Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boxer, Briard, Bulldog, Cane Corso, Chow Chow, Great Dane, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Komondor, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Mastiff, Newfoundland, Standard Poodle, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Samoyed and the Weimaraner. This severe type of bloat is also most common among adult and older dogs.
Symptoms of bloat in dogs
Symptoms of bloat in dogs range from the obvious, which is to say, an abnormally distended abdomen, to the strange, such as relentless and aimless pacing or walking around. Bloated dogs may also be seen trying to vomit with no positive results. That restless movement, if the case is growing worse or developing into GDV, may turn into listlessness, fatigue and inaction.
A further sign to watch out for, whether the dog won’t stop moving or won’t move at all, is heavy breathing. As the bloat in dogs worsens, their heart may start racing and their gums turn pale. Any combination of these signs should send you and your pet to the emergency vet.
Treatment for bloat in dogs
Treatment for bloat in dogs with GDV is risky and painful. If a bloated dog’s stomach is twisted, a veterinary surgeon must operate in order to restore function to the stomach at its entrance and exit points. Even if surgery is successful, a very high and troubling number of GDV cases recur, often necessitating another surgical procedure called gastropexy. This involves pinning the stomach to the wall of a dog’s abdomen so that is incapable of becoming twisted again. Some owners of dogs from high-risk breeds have even wondered whether they should subject their pets to preemptive gastropexy to avoid twisted stomach altogether.
Can you prevent dog bloat in the first place?
Risky preemptive surgeries aside, how can we prevent our dogs from becoming bloated and possibly developing GDV? For owners of at-risk breeds, the first and simplest approach is smaller regular meals, and keeping their food and water dishes on the ground. Dogs who crane their necks to the ground to eat have less chance of ingesting excess air along with their meals. A second easy tactic is to keep human food and table scraps out of a dog’s food. Food that a dog is unaccustomed to, or which is high in carbohydrates, is more likely to produce gas, and too much gas can lead to bloat.
Bloat in dogs, with or without a twisted stomach, is an uncomfortable, painful and serious condition. Monitor your dog’s diet and make sure that they exercise either before or well after they eat.
Tell us: Have you ever had to deal with standard dog bloat or had a dog with a twisted stomach? Please share your experiences with bloat in dogs in the comments below!
Thumbnail: Photography by studio37th / Shutterstock.
This piece was originally published on May 18, 2015.
26 thoughts on “How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs”
Unfortunately we just went through GDV on 6/10/22.
Our 8 yr old Bloodhound , Sherman was fine, ate his dinner(which he gobbles down & drinks lots of water afterwards & use a raised pet table, about 30 min.later he was pacing the yard, turning small fast circles, lying down & whimpering. He was salivating profusely, trying to vomit, trying to poop, & couldn't do anything. He was panting hard, layed at my feet & then I saw his tummy bloating & it felt hard. That's when we raced to the Emergency Vet. After x-rays, they gave us devastating news….Twisted stomach. We had minutes to decide if we race over to an ER Hospital or let him go. I was in total meltdown, & my husband said we have to try. The vet said because we caught it so fast, his chances were 90% he'd make it. SO we raced to the hospital, but just know that we had to pay almost the Whole cost BEFORE they would operate. I pulled out Every credit card we had. Asking God to bring him thru this & somehow help us out financially. And aa day later , we have our baby & we got an over payment credited. They untwisted his stomach, tacked a part of his stomach to the side of his abdomen to hopefully prevent a recurrence. Now, I'm reading all about GDV & I am nervous about this going forward. I Pray that I have informed & maybe helped other parents have a chance to save their Fur baby❣️🐾🐾
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Quite a few years ago, I lost my beautiful 7 year old, 125 pound St. Bernard/German Shepard mix to bloat. Her first episode was in the winter, on a Saturday night during a snowstorm. She always hated staying in the house and was happiest in the garage connected to my house in inclement weather. That night, I heard her whimpering. I opened the door to check on her and she was standing like a statue, arched back and panic in her eyes, instead of her usual, playful self. I coaxed her into the family room and saw that she was moving very slowly and stiffly, and she just couldn’t lie down or relax. She was miserable and I had no idea what was causing her discomfort. That many years ago, there was only one emergency 24 hour animal hospital in the entire metropolitan area and it was 45 minutes away in good weather. I ended-up staying with her all night and after many hours, she was able to relax and we got through the night. First thing Monday morning, I took her to her vet. It was then that I first heard of bloat. He explained the condition to me and said how surprised he was that she had survived, because death could occur (and usually did) in as little as 45 minutes without medical intervention. He warned me to keep a close eye on her because it was likely that it would happen again. Seven months later, on a hot day in August, she was outside with me and became lethargic. I took her indoors in the A/C, thinking it was the heat affecting her. Shortly after going inside, as she was lying on the cool floor, she began to cry and whimper. I knew she was in trouble again. I attempted to get all 125 pounds of her into my car to take her to the vet, and she died in my arms. It was devastating! Prior to this experience, I had no idea that such a thing as bloat even existed. I’ve since found out that most people aren’t familiar with it either. I also learned through this that any dog is susceptible to bloat, but larger dogs more so.
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My 10 year old Standard Poodle had emergency surgery for bloat on 4/5/19. She also had to have a splenectomy. She became ill about 4 hours after eating. Pacing, distended stomach, arched back, non productive vomiting. Took her to the vet, he took xrays. Stomach was twisted and spleen was enlarged. Surgery was successful and about a 2 month recovery. He also tacked her stomach. I followed all the protocols…no raised bowls, no exercise before and after, fed her small meals 3 times a day. According to her breeder, no history of bloat and it still happened. I also keep gasx in the house in case. Even though her stomach is tacked, she can slill bloat again, which is painful and serious.
I just lost my 6 year old bull mastiff/pitbull mix 3 days ago to bloat. She was perfectly fine and by night time she was in shock. Her stomach grew larger and larger by the minute. She was panting and dry heaving and couldn’t get comfortable. We rushed her to the vet at 12:30am and by 2:30am we had to make the decision to put her down so that her suffering could come to an end. We were given the option of surgery at $4000 but she was only given a 60% chance to make it through and she would probably have to have a follow up surgery with our primary vet after. Bringing the grand total close to $6000 and her survival rate down to less than 40%. Money was never a thought in our heads but we couldn’t make a decision to put her through so much more with such terrible odds. The look in her eyes said she had experienced enough so we decided to say goodbye.
It was the most horrifying experience with a pet that I have ever witnessed. Even after putting 4 others down within my life due to cancers, and an animal attack because there was no reason for this. Nobody could tell us why this happened just a maybe this is why it happened but none of their reasons made sense other than her being her. A large dog with a large chest. Trying to understand that my dog lost her life because she of how she was made is the hardest pill to swallow. No dog should have to suffer like this.
I am so sorry for your loss.
Our 14 year old Akita died from bloat. I was “lucky” enough to recognized the symptoms so we could get her to the animal hospital and had her put down fairly quick so she didn’t have prolonged suffering. It was a terrible way for her to go, as with her age it resulted in the need for immediate euthanasia. We have a younger Akita now and we are hoping we can prevent bloat.
My german shepherd/chow chow mix suffered from dog bloat at the age of 8. She had surgery in which the vet pinned her stomach to the walls of her abdomen however in her later years, somehow it came back and we had no choice but to put her down.
I had a 11 year old Doberman. Just got him home from getting stones removed out of his bladder and the same night his stomach flipped. He was noticably uncomfortable. Pacing and couldnt get comfortable sitting or laying down. Then he started vomiting very very thick and foamy saliva. At that point we knew what it was and took him to the emergency vet and they operated on him and pinned his stomach. I highly recommend a “slow feeding” dog bowl. Google it. They work great.
Yes, our Labrador retriever was diagnosed with dog bloat or GDV. His was determined to be caused by medication which slowed down/interrupted motility. He was being seen by a Vet for bilateral nose bleed caused by high blood pressure & anxiety after dropping him off at a dog resort which he usually enjoyed. It was thought that he had a foxtail (that may been been the cause of the bleeding as well). GDV occurred 2 days later after the procedure to determine if a foxtail was present, which was negative. His symptoms were restlessness, pacing, heavy breathing, distended abdomen and odd behavior over a couple of hours. Brought him to ER Vet who saved his life via surgery & gastroplexy.
My 12 year old standard poodle had to be put to sleep because of bloat. She was not eating drinking or running around. She woke up around 9 at night after sleeping for hours and start trying to throw up and couldn’t. I let her outside and I could see that her stomach was getting hard and bigger. I took her directly to the animal emergency clinic and had them sedate her first because I know it is very painful and then they took x-rays and her stomach was twisted. Since she was 12 years old I did not want to put her through that surgery which is very extensive painful and long recovery and 50% chance of it happening again. I love this dog like a child and I would do anything for her. But the best thing I could have done for her is put her to sleep. Like I said there was no reason for her to but she did. She was on her right rod diet never had human food eight very slowly drink slowly so I have no idea what happened. Please let me know if you had something similar to this is very heartbreaking.
That exact scenario happened to my 14 year old husky last week. She was sleeping soundly for a couple hours. She woke up, tried to vomit and then started screaming. Saw her stomach distending and rushed to the vet. Sadly, I also made the decision to let her go. That surgery is not something I wanted to put her through and I knew she wouldn’t survive it. Sorry for your loss
Does this ever happen to small dogs? I have a 1/2 Yorkie 1/2 Pomeranian and he started with the stomach sounds this morning. Very loud , he is not eating, and wants me to hold him. Nothing in his diet has changed but he has allergies and has been licking his feet a lot. He loves pork chop bones and I gave him one to chew on two days ago. Could this cause it. He was fine yesterday.
We suggest asking your vet for the best advice. Hope your dog feels better!
Wrong. It is not that difficult to recover from. additionally, you could have had the vet pin her stomach to her abdomen so it could not happen again.
Unfortunately my wife just lost her 10 y/o lab to Bloat! She was fine the night before, jumping around, drinking, eating and went for her evening walk! I went down the next morning, as I did every morning, and found her completely lethargic and basically out of it. I got her to stand up for about 10 seconds and she crashed like a sack of potatoes. Within probably 10-15 minutes she was gone. Her stomach was distended and actually got harder in a matter of minutes. No I idea when this issue developed since she was “fine” the night before. The vet is the one who diagnosed the bloat issue but it was too late! Sad ?