Gastric Dilation Volvulus, commonly referred to as “bloat,” is a life-threatening condition that can affect any dog breed, at any age. The second most common cause of death in dogs, it is fatal in roughly half of all reported cases. When afflicted with bloat, your canine companion’s stomach will dilate and rotate, often causing enlargement of the stomach, increased pressure in the abdomen, damage to the cardiovascular system, and decreased nutrient delivery, which can lead to cellular damage and organ death.
While all dog breeds are susceptible, there are certain breeds that are at greater risk for bloat; particularly deep-chested large and giant breeds, such as Dobermans, Great Danes and Golden Retrievers. Also at risk are underweight dogs, dogs with an anxious temperament, aggressive dogs, and dogs with an ancestral history of bloat.
Know Your Dog
The majority of bloat symptoms are behavioral, at least in the very beginning, so your dog will begin to act differently. The most telling signs are restlessness, pacing, excessive drooling and retching. One of the first, most obvious physical signs is a swelled belly, as the abdomen will swell to several times its normal size due to gas build-up.
In the late stages of bloat, when shock is a near certainty, symptoms include labored breathing, rapid heart rate, pale gums and weakness or collapse. Bring your precious pooch to the vet immediately if you notice any signs of possible bloat, as it can be deadly. If you have on hand Gas-X or any OTC gas reliever that contains simethicone, give one to your dog to help reduce gas and relieve some of the pressure as you make your way to the vet.
An Ounce of Prevention
The best treatment for bloat is to know the signs and symptoms and take precautions to prevent it from occurring. While there’s no surefire way to prevent bloat, there are some steps that can be taken to lessen the odds that it will happen to your pooch:
- Monitor your pet’s eating habits to ensure he doesn’t scarf down his food too quickly.
- Avoid high grain foods.
- Add a bit of water to his dry food.
You’ve likely heard feeding your large breed dog from a raised dish is beneficial, but that advice has been disputed and reversed. A University veterinary department found raised feeders are actually a danger for at-risk breeds. With a raised feeder, a dog is eating in an unnatural position, as they were “designed” to eat with their heads down to the ground. This unnatural eating position affects the way the dog swallows, causing the intake of air. *Note – this only applies to large breed dogs; don’t hesitate to use a tiny, raised dish for your small breed pup.
If it is determined that your furry friend suffers from bloat, there are two basic treatments. Your vet may try to insert a tube down his throat to make a passage for the built-up gas to escape. But if the stomach has twisted, the only alternative is surgery, during which your vet will make a small incision in your dog’s stomach to relieve the gas. If surgery is necessary, he may decide to perform gastropexy, where the stomach is stapled in its normal position so it cannot blow up should bloat occur again.