What Is Canine Bloat? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Dog laying on back in grass (caption: What Is Canine Bloat?)Canine bloat is a fast acting, life-threatening illness. Knowing the symptoms beforehand is extremely important, so you catch it early and get your dog the care he needs. If you notice symptoms soon enough, your dog may be one of the few dogs to survive this terrible disease. Also, learn how you can help prevent canine bloat for your dog.

Article Overview

What Is Canine Bloat?

Gastric dilatation-volvulus is the scientific term for canine bloat, also known as gastric torsion. Canine bloat is a serious and often life-threatening illness that strikes many dogs every year, and the outcome of each dog’s affliction depends on a variety of factors.

Much like humans, a dog’s stomach resembles a balloon. While for humans, overeating and eating too quickly can result in bloating, gas and general discomfort, we can recover quickly with minimal illness. Dogs, however, are not so fortunate, and what begins as gas can soon turn into something much worse.

If a dog eats too much or too quickly, canine bloat can occur. During the passing of the food 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 beyond its limits and prevents circulation of blood to the heart. The stomach also experiences a lack of blood flow which can result in the death of stomach tissue.

In many cases of bloat, the dog’s stomach twists at the top and bottom, cutting off the stomach from the esophagus and pyloric valve, preventing gas from moving out of the stomach. When this occurs, the damage to the stomach is unrepairable due to cell death — veterinarians are not able to regenerate the necrotized tissue.

If a dog begins to show symptoms of bloat and it’s caught soon enough, it’s possible to untwist the stomach or relieve the build-up of gasses that are contributing to canine bloat.

Bloat can become fatal exceptionally quickly, and a dog can die within hours of the onset of bloat, so it’s vital to get medical attention immediately upon noticing symptoms.

What Are Signs Of Canine Bloat?

  • Change in personality and physical activity level
  • Stomach appears larger, distended and hard
  • Lack of normal digestive sounds (place your ear on your dog’s stomach and note if there is any difference)
  • Standing in a hunched over position, unable to get comfortable
  • Refusing to lie on their side
  • Dry heaving or vomiting foam or mucus
  • Appearing anxious
  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Licking the air
  • Looking at their abdomen
  • Standing with their legs spread
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Collapsing to the ground
  • Cold gums that are dark red (or blue or white in later stages)
  • Attempting to defecate but unable to

How To Treat Canine Bloat

The biggest factor in helping a dog survive canine bloat is the speed with which he gets treatment. The moment you think your dog is suffering from bloat, you should seek veterinary care immediately. Treatment is based on how advanced the bloat condition is.

If the stomach hasn’t twisted yet, the vet may sedate your dog and put a tube down your dog’s throat to help remove gas from the stomach.

If the stomach has begun twisting, your dog may require surgery. An incision made in the dog’s stomach can help alleviate pressure from gas. The vet may staple the stomach to help prevent canine bloat in the future.

If your dog survives treatment, you should schedule a physical afterward to ensure there is no remaining damage. Sometimes dead stomach tissue must be removed to help maintain function.

What Causes Canine Bloat?

Veterinarians have no definitive data as to why canine bloat occurs, and despite attempts to intentionally recreate it in laboratories, they have been unsuccessful. There are some theories as to why bloat occurs.

  • One Large Meal Per Day – One of the factors is feeding one large meal per day instead of 2 or 3 smaller meals. Part of this theory comes from the fact that a dog who 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.
  • Extreme Exercise Near Mealtime – Dogs should have one hour before and after rigorous exercise to calm down from play before eating. Exercise before meals can leave the dog riled up and extremely eager to eat, which again leads to the gulping of food and large pockets of air. Eating too quickly before exercise can result in bloat because running can cause dogs to swallow large pockets of air which contribute to gas buildup in the dog’s stomach.
  • Excessive Grain In Kibble – Some vets reject this theory, but others accept it because excessive grain in dry kibble can lead to fermentation during digestion, which releases a large amount of gas. A high-quality dry kibble that does not list too many grains in the first few ingredients (or is grain-free) is better than those that list grain as one of the first 3 or 4 ingredients.
  • Drinking Lots Of Water During Mealtime – When a dog swallows large gulps of water, they also gulp large pockets of air which can build up in the stomach. Many think that this potential cause of bloat can be eliminated by removing water from the dog’s reach while they are eating and making it freely available at all other times.

Does Dog Size & Breed Play A Factor?

Large breed dogs are generally more susceptible to bloating than smaller dogs because they tend to eat larger meals and swallow greater 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 due to the structure of their chest. Dogs that are “barrel-chested” or “deep-chested” (meaning that the sternum hangs down at a lower point from the backbone than small-chested dogs) are prone to canine bloat. Breeds noted for a high incidence of canine bloat include:

Airedale Terriers
Basset Hounds
Bernese Mountain Dogs
Doberman Pinschers
Gordon Setters
Great Danes
Irish Setters
Irish Wolfhounds
Labrador Retrievers
Saint Bernards
Standard Poodles

Is Canine Bloat Hereditary?

If your dog’s parent or sibling has suffered from bloat, it’s likely that your dog will also suffer from bloat. Dogs are also at higher risk for bloat 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 bloat in underweight dogs, you should try to get your dog to a healthy weight by feeding him several small meals throughout the day.

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’s fearful over losing his food for any reason will eat quickly and likely swallow large pockets of air.

Canine Bloat Infographic

Here’s a graphic summarizing what it is, how to treat and prevent bloat in your pup.

Canine Bloat Infographic

Sample Claim From Petplan

Below is a claim filed with Petplan for canine bloat.

“I was on vacation when I got word that my 13 year old Standard Poodle, Jasmine, bloated at the kennel. She was rushed to surgery and thank goodness survived. Our bill was $4,800 and I was so thankful that I had Petplan because I received most of it back.”

How Can I Keep My Dog From Eating Too Much?

If you think your dog has overeaten and is suffering from canine bloat, you should seek vet care immediately. Try to prevent overeating in the future by splitting up meals and using a slow feeder dog bowl to help keep your dog from wolfing his food down too quickly.

Why do you think your dog is prone to canine bloat?

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