Bloat in puppies occurs when air accumulates in the stomach and cannot be released. This stops blood flow and can cause death within hours. Symptoms of bloat include a distended stomach, difficulty breathing, and dry heaving. Bloat affects large and giant breed puppies disproportionately, particularly Great Danes, Akitas, poodles, German shepherds, Irish setters, Saint Bernards, and Weimaraners. Your vet will examine your puppy, perform a series of tests to diagnose the bloat, and operate soon after. The prognosis depends on the success of treatment, but the mortality rate remains high. There are surgical and at-home measures you can take to help prevent bloat.
What Is Bloat?
Bloat, or gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), occurs when the stomach fills with air and twists itself until the entrance and exit are blocked. The twisting cuts off blood circulation to the stomach and spleen, compressing a vein that returns blood to the heart and severely restricts normal blood circulation. Restricted blood circulation can rupture the stomach wall and inhibit the ability to breathe. Bloat is a leading cause of death among large and giant breed puppies.
Symptoms of Bloat in Puppies
Bloat is deadly in puppies. A few hours after beginning to exhibit symptoms, your puppy will likely go into shock and die. As soon as you notice symptoms, bring your puppy to an animal hospital for emergency surgery.
Puppies experiencing bloat will appear visibly uncomfortable and usually have a distended stomach. The pain may make your puppy act restless, pace, and whine and cry. Puppies may also wretch without producing vomit, as the blocked stomach entry will prevent regurgitation. The gums may appear pale, demonstrating a lack of oxygen, accompanied by shallow breathing and a rapid heartbeat. If your puppy is not treated, it will collapse and die.
Causes of Bloat
Several factors can contribute to your puppy experiencing bloat.
- Breed: Large and giant puppy breeds are three times more likely to experience bloat than mixed breeds. The most predisposed breeds include Great Danes, Akitas, poodles, German shepherds, Irish setters, Saint Bernards, and Weimaraners. Large and giant breeds have wider, deeper stomachs that can hold more air, putting them at higher risk. The deep, narrow chest conformation of certain breeds creates a more acute angle where the esophagus connects with the stomach, making bloat more likely. Still, puppies of any size can develop bloat.
- Ingesting too much food or water quickly: When puppies eat food or drink too fast, they can inhale and trap large amounts of air in their stomachs and create bloat. The food or water itself can sometimes cause bloat, as a too-full stomach can press on other organs, no matter what is filling it.
- Exercising after eating: If a puppy partakes in strenuous exercise too soon after eating, its stomach can twist and swell, causing bloat.
- Anxiety: Irritable, anxious, and aggressive puppies are more prone to bloat.
- Weight: Dogs of any breed that weigh over 100 pounds have a 20% risk of developing bloat at some point in their life.
Diagnosing Bloat in Puppies
To diagnose your puppy with bloat, your vet will examine clinical signs, medical history, and perform blood analysis and imaging tests like an ultrasound or X-ray. Imaging tests will reveal the extent of the bloat, and blood analysis will evaluate the level of oxygen loss. A speedy diagnosis is ideal, as operation should happen as soon as possible.
If you notice your puppy has symptoms of bloat, it needs to be taken to an animal hospital immediately. First, your vet will stabilize your puppy by administering IV fluids and oxygen. To treat bloat, your veterinarian decompresses your puppy's distended stomach by passing a tube down its throat to empty air from the stomach and allow the return of normal blood flow. When the stomach is twisted, your puppy will need surgery to properly reconfigure it. Sometimes, part of the stomach or the entirety of the spleen will need to be removed. If your puppy's surgery is successful, your surgeon may perform a gastropexy (the suturing of the stomach to the abdominal wall) to prevent future twisting.
Prognosis for Puppies With Bloat
The prognosis for puppies with bloat varies based on how early treatment is received and the extent of the organ damage. After surgery, your vet will monitor your puppy in the hospital for several days. Some puppies treated can return to normal shortly after treatment, while others will die regardless. The mortality rate for puppies who have received treatment for bloat is 20%–45% and rises with every organ injury sustained.
How to Prevent Bloat
Although you can't completely prevent bloat, there are measures you can take to reduce its likelihood of occurring. Gastropexy surgery may be recommended preventatively, particularly in Great Danes or other puppies predisposed to bloat. Gastropexy doesn't prevent air from being trapped in the stomach, but it does keep the stomach from twisting.
You can take many at-home measures to minimize the risk of bloat. These include lowering your puppy's food bowl, feeding smaller quantities of food over multiple meals throughout the day, separating multiple dogs at feeding times, and waiting several hours after eating before exercising your puppy. Positive puppy socialization that reduces anxiety can also help prevent bloat as it ages.
Why does eating too fast cause bloat?
Often if your puppy eats too much, or too fast, its belly can be overfilled with food and gas, press on other organs, and cause bloat.
How common is puppy bloat in a small breed dogs?
Bloat most frequently occurs in large and giant breed dogs, but all dogs are able to experience the condition.
How fast does it take for bloat to set in?
Bloat sets in within two to three hours after your puppy begins experiencing symptoms.
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Sutton, Jessie S et al. Gastric Malpositioning and Chronic, Intermittent Vomiting Following Prophylactic Gastropexy in a 20-Month-Old Great Dane Dog. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 2015.
Przywara, JF et al. Occurrence and Recurrence of Gastric Dilatation With or Without Volvulus After Incisional Gastropexy. Can Vet J. 2014;55(10):981-984.
Gastric Dilation and Volvulus in Small Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual.