Canine bloat

Jennifer Ryan

Canine bloat can be a life-threatening condition. Also known as gastric torsion or gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV), canine bloat can come on quickly, which makes early recognition and treatment essential to your pet’s survival.

What is canine bloat?
Often, canine bloat is caused by a combination of two conditions, namely gastric dilation and volvulus. Gastric dilation occurs when the stomach distends with gas and fluid while volvulus occurs when the stomach twists along its axis.

With gas and fluid trapped within the twisted stomach, the contents of the dog’s stomach continues to ferment and the organ to distend. The stretching of the dog’s stomach can cause necrosis, or cell death, and prevents normal circulation to and from the heart. This can lead to a variety of adjacent health threats, such as dehydration, shock, cardiac arrest, arrhythmias, gastric perforation, and even death, among others.

Symptoms are often relatively easy to notice and include:

  • sudden distension in the abdominal area
  • attempts to vomit or belch without success
  • restlessness
  • shortness of breath
  • signs of pain, such as whining or withdrawal

If your dog displays any of the above symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

In severe cases, your dog may even collapse due to the strain placed on the cardiovascular system.

Your veterinarian will first check your dog for signs of shock and will monitor her blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. A physical examination, X-rays, and other necessary diagnostic tests will enable your veterinarian to determine the cause of your dog’s bloat, which allows her to treat it appropriately.

If there is no evidence of the stomach twisting, your veterinarian may use a needle or tube to relieve the pressure. If, instead, the stomach has twisted, emergency surgery may be needed. Surgery allows your veterinarian to untwist and reposition the stomach and to examine the tissue, ensuring there is no residual damage.

During the surgery, a procedure that attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall, known as gastropexy, should be performed to prevent future twisting.

Your veterinarian will often examine the spleen as well to ensure that it, too, is intact.

Large, deep-chested dogs are more likely to develop canine bloat, though all dogs are susceptible. A few things you can do to help decrease your dog’s risk of experiencing canine bloat include:

  • Feed your dog two smaller meals per day, rather than one large meal.
  • Feed your dog at least one hour before or one hour after vigorous activity.
  • Avoid foods that are high in grain, fat, or citric acid.
  • Prevent your dog from drinking large quantities of water in a single sitting.
  • Do not allow your dog to eat from a garbage bin.
  • Have a gastropexy performed in at-risk breeds during their spay or neuter surgery.

Canine bloat is a serious issue that requires immediate veterinary attention, but it often is treatable once the pet is in the care of a veterinarian. Once a dog is showing signs of a possible bloat, time is of the essence. Early detection and immediate action could mean the difference between life and death.   

Based in Denver, Colo., where she lives with her Rhodesian ridgeback mix, Jennifer Ryan writes for the American Animal Hospital Association.

Photo credit: iStock images


Comments (1) -

Laura Silva
Laura Silva
6/30/2014 8:41:49 AM #

should giant breeds be fed on elevated dishes to prevent bloat.  I have hear it go both ways and my trainer also suggests to go elevated?

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