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What is Canine Bloat?

Great DaneMany well seasoned dog owners warn against the dangers of canine bloat and vets even give recommendations on how to prevent your dog from suffering from canine bloat but some dog owners have no idea what this illness is, how it occurs or how to prevent it. Read on to learn everything you ever wanted to know about canine bloat.

Gastric Dilitation-Vovulus

Canine bloat is the regularly used term for the illness but often times it is referred to by the scientific term Gastric Dilitation-Volvulus (GDV) of simply Gastric Dilation. Canine bloat as it will be referred to from here on out, is a particularly serious and often life threatening illness that strikes a good many dogs every year and the outcome of each dogs affliction depends on a variety of factors. The biggest factor in helping a dog to survive canine bloat is the speed with which treatment is administered to a dog suffering from bloat. But before we discuss the treatment it is perhaps wise to begin with the original question: what is canine bloat?

Much like human beings a dog’s stomach resembles something like a balloon. While for humans over eating and eating too quickly can result in bloating and gas as well as an uncomfortable feeling generally humans are able to recover quickly with minimal illness. Dogs, however, are not so fortunate and for them what begins as gas can quickly turn in to something much worse. When a dog eats too much or too quickly canine bloat can occur. During the passing of the food through to the stomach there is a buildup of gasses and the stomach begins to blow up like a large balloon. As gasses continue to build up the stomach stretches and soon it stretches beyond its limits and the circulation of blood to the heart is prevented. During this mass expansion of the stomach the stomach also experiences a lack in blood flow which can result in death of stomach tissue. In many cases of bloat the dog’s stomach has also been known to twist which is where the word “Volvulus” comes from in the medical term Gastric Dilitation-Volvulus (GDV). When the stomach turns it twists both at the top and the bottom cutting off the stomach from the esophagus as well as the pyloric valve which prevents the gas from moving out of the stomach at all.

Damage that occurs to the stomach as a result of bloat is not damage that can be repaired or reversed since it generally involves cell death. Veterinarians are not able to regenerate tissue that has necrotized as a result of gastric torsion. If a dog begins to show symptoms of bloat and it is caught soon enough and the dog is rushed in to emergency medical care it is possible to untwist the stomach or relieve the buildup of gasses that are contributing to canine bloat. It should be noted, however, that bloat can become fatal extremely quickly and a dog can die within hours of the onset of bloat so it is vital to get medical attention immediately upon noticing symptoms of bloating in your dog. Generally a dog that does succumb to bloat dies from the cutting off of circulation that occurs from the swelling of the stomach. The dog usually will go in to shock and die from cardiac arrest.

No Definitive Data As To Why Bloat Occurs

Veterinarians have no definitive data as to why canine bloat occurs and despite attempts to intentionally recreate canine bloat in laboratories they have been unsuccessful in doing so as of yet. There are, however, a variety of theories relating to factors that are believed to contribute to bloating. One of the factors that is popularly thought to contribute to the development of bloat is the feeding of one particularly large meal per day instead of breaking a dogs daily food allowance in to two or three smaller meals. Part of this theory comes from the fact that a dog that eats only once a day is generally starving by the time mealtime rolls around and will gulp their food down quickly and along with it they will swallow large pockets of air that contribute to gas buildup.

Theories on Bloat

Another theory that concerns the causes of bloat is that extreme exercise done around mealtime contributes to the development of bloat. Dogs should ideally be given an hour before and after rigorous exercise to calm down from play before eating or allow food to begin digesting after eating. Exercise before food can often leave the dog riled up and extremely eager to eat which again leads to the gulping of food and large pockets of air. Feeding too quickly before exercise can result in bloat due to the fact that running in vigorous exercise can often result in swallowing large pockets of air which contribute to gas buildup in the dog’s stomach.

One more argued theory is that bloat is caused by excessive grain in dry dog foods. This theory is rejected by some veterinarians but accepted by many due to the fact that excessive grain use in dry kibble can lead to fermentation during digestion which will release a large quantity of gasses that can lead to bloat. A high quality dry kibble that does not list too many grains in the first few ingredients are generally preferred over dry kibbles that list grain as one of the first three or four ingredients. It should also be noted that this theory also extends to dog owners that wet their dog’s kibble. Kibble that has excessive grains in the ingredients list should not be dampened before being eaten due to the fact that water will begin the fermentation process.

Another theory that is thrown around frequently is that drinking large amounts of water during mealtimes can contribute to canine bloat. It is believed that when a dog swallows large gulps of water they oftentimes also gulp large pockets of air which can build up in the stomach. Many people believe that this cause of bloating can be eliminated by removing water from the dogs reach while they are eating and making it freely available at all other times.

Size Pinpointed as A Contributing Factor

A dog’s size and breed are also often pinpointed as being a contributing factor to bloat. Larger breed of dogs are generally more susceptible to bloating than smaller dogs due to the fact that they tend to eat larger meals and swallow larger amounts at one time. This does not, however, mean that small dogs do not bloat; plenty of small dogs have suffered from canine bloat. Certain dog breeds are also more susceptible to bloating based on the structure of their chest. Dogs that are referred to as being “barrel chested” or “deep chested” meaning that the sternum hangs down at a lower point from the backbone than other smaller chested dogs, are much more prone to canine bloat than other breed. Breeds that are particularly noted for a high incidence of canine bloat include: Great Danes, Weimaraners, Labrador Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Standard Poodles, Rottweilers, Akitas, Bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, Basset Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Borzoi’s, Mastiffs, BullMastiffs, Airedale Terriers and Dachshunds.

Bloat Might Be Hereditary

Canine bloat is also assumed to be a hereditary illness and if a dog’s parent or sibling has suffered from bloat it is likely that the dog will also suffer from bloating. Dogs are also at higher risk for bloating if they are excessively thin, this results from a dog’s eagerness to eat when they are starved and underweight. To avoid the occurrence of bloating in underweight dog’s weight should be gained by the feeding of many small meals throughout the day as they will result in less swallowing of air during mealtimes. For this same reason dogs that are fearful or anxious should also be fed small meals in areas of their home where they feel most secure. A dog that is fearful over losing its food for any reason will eat quickly and likely swallow large pockets of air while eating which can contribute to bloating.

Bloat Symptoms

So how exactly is bloat recognizable in dogs and is it possible for a dog to bloat without the causing factors listed above? Yes, any dog can suffer from canine bloat and due to the fact that veterinarians have yet to pinpoint an exact cause of the illness it cannot be determined whether certain dogs will bloat or not. It is possible for any dog to bloat. Bloat is particularly recognizable fortunately; however, as stated above it is extremely fast moving and should receive immediate emergency medical care as soon as symptoms are noticed.

Dogs that are suffering from bloat will not act like their usual selves; they will seem different in personality as well as physical action. Most notably for a dog with canine bloat their stomach will appear large and distended; this will be noticeable at your dog’s abdomen. In some breeds a distended abdomen can be difficult to identify; however, running your hand over your dog’s stomach will yield an extremely hard stomach that is stretched taut like a drum. The buildup of gasses in your dog’s stomach will cause the stomach to feel much like a tightly stretched drum or a ball that has been overinflated. Putting an ear to the dog’s stomach will also reveal a lack of normal digestive sounds in the dog’s stomach; this is one of the most telling signs of canine bloat. A dog with bloat may also appear to be standing in a hunched over position in an attempt to find a comfortable position, on this same note a dog with canine bloat will generally refuse to lay on their side and will have difficulty finding any comfortable position in which to sit or lay down. A dog with canine bloat will also almost always dry heave or vomit but only produce foam or mucus. A dog will attempt to vomit to relieve the feeling of gas buildup in the stomach; however, due to the tension in the stomach nothing will come up. A dog with canine bloat will also appear anxious and generally will pace repeatedly. Other physical signs of canine bloating include the possibility that the dog will whine, lick the air, look towards their abdomen, stand with their legs spread, have shallow breathing, have a weak pulse, will collapse, will have cold gums, will have dark red gums or in later stages blue or white gums, with have a rapid heartbeat or will attempt to defecate without being able to.

The majority of the symptoms of bloat will be immediately noticeable to anyone who knows their dog’s usual behavior and upon noticing any of these emergency signs of bloat the suffering dog should be immediately taken to an emergency veterinary clinic. What does a vet do to relieve a dog with bloat? There are only a few options for a dog with canine bloat. In the event that the stomach has not twisted the vet will insert a small tube down the throat of the sedated dog. This tube should aid the passage of gas from the stomach through the tube; however, if the dog’s stomach has already twisted a tube will not pass through the esophagus in to the stomach and an incision will have to be made. For a dog with volvulus the surgery is much more risky than the insertion of a tube down the throat. The veterinarian will make an incision in to the dog’s stomach which will relieve the pressure from gas and often times vets will utilize this opportunity to also staple the dog’s stomach in place so that if another bloating occurs the stomach will not be able to expand.

Regardless of whether a dog is relieved from its episode of bloat it should also undergo a complete physical examination to ensure that no severe damage was done by the bloating. Often times during an episode of bloating tissue of the stomach can die and must be removed in order to preserve stomach function and prevent decaying tissue from migrating within the body. Many vets recommend keeping an anti-gas over the counter drug on hand to help diffuse a potentially fatal episode of canine bloating. You should ALWAYS consult your veterinarian about the right simethicone containing product for your dog and the right dosage so that you will know beforehand what product to keep in your home to assist your dog in a time of bloating. While the administration of simethicone will help to reduce pressure in your bloated dog’s stomach it will not cure bloating and will only serve to buy you some extra time to get in to your veterinarian immediately.

Great Video On The Symptoms of Canine Bloat

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About Amy Brannan

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.
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  • Denise

    Just got a second (tiny) toy poodle that seems to dominate my older toy poodle (she is four).  Lately my older girl eats faster, also eats what the puppy doesn't and wants to eat everything.  She has started to vomit and her breath is unusually foul. Sometimes when I try and pick her up she lightly growls. I'm not sure what is going on. Some days she is herself and others, she doesn't want to be bothered. She has been very tolerant of the little one. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  • Tammy

    I have a four month old Pit/Lab mix, very active, ate, drank, and potty very well 'til about 3 days ago. He would never eat puppy food! I fed him small breed Kibbles n Bits. Until two days before he stopped eating, he ate Gravy Train. He hasn't drank in over 12 hours now. No pee, and stinky blood poop! He is not an outside dog, but he potties outside.

  • mad4mywesties

    I had to mention that our male Westie suffered a strange affliction recently that resembled bloat but was due to eating cat food. Dry cat food can certainly pose a threat to your dogs, and I had to mention it in case cats are fed with dry food especially. In our situation, the cat food was made for a senior cat, and low on grain. That may be one thing that helped my dog manage it. He scarfed it down rather quickly, which has happened before, but right after drinking lots of water. Our male Westie LOVES water, and has a bit of a fetish about it so I have to watch him about eating soon after he is gorging himself with water. It's a constant issue. I took away his self waterer. He would lay there and drink impulsively. (Has anyone ever had a dog that did this?) We took him to the vet with a very distended tummy, whimpering, strange sounds in the stomach, following a sudden onset of these symptoms. Normally I don't keep large amounts of any food around because our dogs (both Westies) tend to eat too much. We had just got home from a trip so we had left the cat's self feeder accessible. The vet put him on some sort of med that is an antibiotic with an anti-gas ingredient added. He seemed better before we left the office and they said he needed his anal glands cleaned, and that was that. I am not too sure he even needed the med but I we got it anyway, along with the antacid OTC that they recommended. I'm glad to have read this article, though, because now I'll watch out for the things that can cause this bloat. Thank you.

  • jane

    Small meals will ensure your dog's health. Do NOT give your dog a large bowl of food. Most dog food companies tell you to feed your dog 3 x the amount you should (marketing ploy) and it will kill your dog as well as give them diabetes and heart disease.

  • Ash

    I realize that a lot is unknown about bloat, but one of the common theories is that when dogs eat to fast it could contribute to bloat. I have a boxer, a breed that seems to really be prone to bloat. So I wanted to do anything I could to help prevent it. I bought one of those dog bowls that has raised sections. This forces my dog to eat around those sections and it drastically slows down how much food he can consume. It take him 3-4 times longer to finish his food vs a traditional bowl. Whether this is definitely helping to prevent bloat, I don't know, but it is worth the precaution to me.

  • Anonymous

    I am an absolute dog lover.  I really wish I had the capacity to take care of more of them.  The issue of dog stomach bloating seems like a particularly egregious one and I hate to think about one of my family pets suffering from such an affliction. 

    I had one of my dogs run over by a neighbor one day as they were backing out of their garage. She was largely deaf at the time and pretty old, so she never saw nor heard the car backing out and the rear tire of the truck actually rolled over her stomach perpendicular to her body.  Amazingly, she lived but she did suffer a tearing of the stomach lining due to the trauma.  It took months and months for her to recover from the damage and she ended up needing surgery, but she did make a pretty complete turnaround health wise and lived another two or three years after the incident.  The lesson learned from that though was how life threatening that stomach damage can be for dogs.  It should never be taken lightly.

  • Anonymous

    “Canine Bloat” seems like an affliction that is similar to a lot of the afflictions that human beings have these days that simply did not exist so many years ago.  We as humans have a lot of health issues these days that never existed in our past and they are a product of the way we live our lives.  As creatures of convenience, we now have problems with obesity and heart disease that never existed in our more primitive years because we got what we needed by having to work for it.  Now we can get more than we need simply by starting the car.

    In the context of dogs, this canine bloating issue obviously seems connected to the way we as humans take care of and feed our canine companions.  If dogs were left to their own devices, such as wolves and coyotes are, they would not suffer from this type of thing because they would eat when able and they are only able when they obtain prey.  Obtaining prey involves hunting, and that is clearly much harder than starting a car.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is really interesting that Great Danes are the most prone to this kind of issue.  It really seems like bigger breeds of dogs suffer from a lot more health issues than the medium to smaller breeds.  Smaller dogs live longer than any other and all of this has to be related to the breeding of these animals over time. 

    All dogs are essentially drawn from the same genetic strain, so the different characteristics of the breeds are borne of centuries of genetic manipulation by dog breeders.  The larger dogs, who were bred to be that way, sacrificed physiological stability for their size and strength.  This is similar to the modern day athletes that are so large and subject their bodies to such physical strain that after their careers end, they struggle with tremendous health issues related to their size and punishment to their bodies.

    I could argue the moral validity of the breeding of dogs, but that is largely a moot point now.  I think it is just important to help these animals live healthy, happy lives.

  • Anonymous

    We had so many dogs when we were kids that I seriously doubt my parents ever took them to the vet. I mean we had a bunch of them all at one time and we never had any money. What money we did have certainly wasn't going to go to the dogs. I'm afraid that due to my upbringing I now have a sort of callous attitude toward pets and medical bills. That's changed a bit with our recent development that seems to be turning into a small farm, but I'm still not going to take animals to the doctor more than I'm willing to go myself.

    It seems to me that in most cases, a bit of common sense helps. And, with animals, some knowledge of the animal itself. That's why articles like this are so helpful. Because we were never devoted to the vet, I never really learned anything about proper animal care. Until reading this article I had no idea what bloat was or that it could be so dangerous to the animal. I would have assumed that the dog simply had gas and let it at that. However, having had some serious stomach problems myself, I can relate to the amount of pain it sounds like the dog goes through. As such, I'll keep the tips in mind and be more careful about monitoring eating habits.