What Is Canine Bloat? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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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
Akitas
Basset Hounds
Bernese Mountain Dogs
Bloodhounds
Borzoi’s
Bullmastiffs
Dachshunds
Doberman Pinschers
Gordon Setters
Great Danes
Irish Setters
Irish Wolfhounds
Labrador Retrievers
Mastiffs
Newfoundlands
Saint Bernards
Standard Poodles
Rottweilers
Weimaraners

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

To share this infographic on your site, simply copy and paste the code below:

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?

About The Author:

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. She has been writing about dogs since 2014, covering subjects such as dog insurance, training, health, accessories and more. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing and personally testing canine products and services. With every piece she writes, her goal is to help our readers find the best fit for their unique needs.

Kimberly grew up in a family that loved Labrador Retrievers and remembers running and playing in the yard with them as a child. In 2017, she and her husband adopted their Coonhound mix, Sally, from a local shelter. Kimberly's research was put to good use since Sally faced some aggression issues with other dogs and needed some training to be an inside dog. She worked daily with Sally and sought help from professionals to help Sally become the happy pup she is today.

One of Kimberly's favorite pastimes is spoiling Sally with new toys, comfy beds and yummy treats (she even makes homemade goodies for her). She tries to purchase the safest products for Sally and knows that each canine has their own specific likes and dislikes. Kimberly is passionate about dogs, and knows the bond between humans and canines is like no other.

Disclaimer: The information provided through this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

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Wendy sutton
Our two dog got into the pantry and somehow got into there kibble (grain free) opened the clip lock and between them both ate about 8 cups plus two dental chews between them. No idea who ate what or how much each. Thus was about 6/7hrs ago now They both seem ok drinking a bit more . Don’t seem distressed both sleeping. I talked to my vet clinic they didn’t seem to concerned. How long after the event would something like bloat happen.??
Elizabeth Marion
My dog doesn’t have any of the symptoms but he’s really tired. His stomach is big but not feeling extremely hard. I’m very concerned about him because he’s 17. I don’t know if I should still bring him to the vet and see if he’ll be ok
Bil Arbuckle
Thank You for the information in the article. I found it very timely. My Mack found his way to the cabinet where we keep his kibble. How he got the door open remains a mystery. It is unknown just how much food Mack ate. I found him standing in front of the open door cabinet with a guilty look on his face. After I corrected the cabinet situation it became obvious the Mack was experiencing issues related to confusion. Mack was impatiently roaming the house. He also seemed to be experiencing issues with his gate. He was licking and staring at the air. After reading this article we got him to the vet.
Good News!!! After inducing vomiting, exrays and subcutaneous fluids, Mack is about to head home. A full recovery is in the process.
Thank You again, for your very informative words.
-Bil Arbuckle
Kelly D Bodin
I gave my dog a new organic wet dog food today…he has thrown it up now he acts all stopped up in nasal passages and shaking head. Any suggestions? He doesnt feel well
Angela Christine Wattler
I have a question a stray dog showed up at my house so I took her in and I am treating her for worms and tomorrow will make the 3 Rd treatment and last no worms have came out of her stool but her stomach is still swollen what could this might be
juvy
help me how can i treat my dog suffering from maybe upset stomach.. after eAt a few minutes everything it only blow it.. sorry im good in english
TheBob_1
Well you covered everything imaginable except what one can do for a bloated dog! Rushing to a vet is not always an option. What does a vet do? What can an owner do (similarly or differently) to help their dog?
James
I really don’t know what to do. I’m disabled from a work injury and living at home with my three dogs and family. Our bulldog has his stomach hanging further than usual to the floor. He’s expressing all symptoms of the article but I don’t think I can get him to the vet because only one person is driving here. I’m really worried he’s going to have his stomach die.
Michelle Schenker (Admin)
Hi James,
I am so sorry to hear this. I would suggest that you all your vet and talk with them, maybe they can even help you find someone to pick your dog up for an exam. I think talking to the vet is your best next step to see what can be done. Take care, M
ElleLee
Amy, thank you for writing this article. It saved my dog’s life. Thank you thank you! I am now sharing it with everyone I know!
Michelle Schenker (Admin)
ElleLee – this is wonderful news! So glad your dog is okay and we were able to help in this small way. Take care!
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.

Kimberly
Or, we would not know they suffered from bloat because they wouldn’t be under supervision. No one has any idea if wolves or coyotes suffer from bloat because no one watches their every move.
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.

BB
Changed a bit? Maybe you shouldn’t have a pet then.
Liz Marie
Maybe you should be happy someone has recognized that their education on the subject is incorrect and is trying to educate themselves.