How to Treat Bloat in Dogs

Canine Gastric Dilation-Volvulus

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Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV, is a serious medical condition that can occur in any dog. Large-breed and deep-chested dogs are more susceptible to this condition. Bloat can happen very quickly and should always be considered an emergency

What is Bloat?

Gastric dilatation-volvulus, or bloat, occurs when the stomach expands with gas, fluid, or food and then rotates in the abdomen. This creates a twist in the digestive tract at the stomach's entrance and exit, trapping material inside the stomach. The spleen may flip over with the stomach as well. The rotation obstructs blood flow to the stomach and spleen, leading to necrosis (tissue death).

The stomach continues to expand and can put pressure on the vena cava, a major vein that carries blood from the back half of the body to the heart. The resulting decrease in blood flow to the heart can lead to shock, which is often fatal if not treated immediately. 

Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs

  • Distended/bloated abdomen 
  • Nonproductive retching or heaving
  • Restlessness due to discomfort
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hypersalivation (excessive drooling)
  • Fast, heavy, or other abnormal breathing 
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Collapse
  • Death

Dogs with bloat typically exhibit restlessness due to discomfort. They experience nausea that causes hypersalivation and retching that yields little to no material. They may regurgitate saliva because it cannot enter the stomach. The retching may look like gagging or coughing. These dogs have an urgency to vomit, but the stomach contents are trapped due to the twist around the stomach.

The dog's abdomen may or may not appear distended. Some dogs will vocalize due to abdominal pain while others will become lethargic and withdrawn. The enlarged stomach may press on the diaphragm and affect breathing. Disruption of the circulatory system can lead to abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). In some cases, the dog will collapse or become depressed and unable to get up.

Signs will vary from case to case and may be mild or absent in the early stages. If you notice these signs or suspect your dog may be suffering from GDV, contact your veterinarian or the nearest open veterinary facility immediately.

Causes of Bloat

The exact cause is of GDV in dogs is unknown, but there are several risk factors for bloat in dogs.

  • Large and giant dog breeds, especially deep-chested breeds (like Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, Standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, Wolfhounds, Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Old English Sheepdogs, and German Shepherds)
  • Feeding one large meal a day
  • Eating rapidly
  • Genetic relation to another dog with a history of GDV
  • Stress, particularly if it causes panting

Elevated food bowls were once considered beneficial for large and giant dog breeds. Some evidence suggests that elevating feeding increases the risk of GDV in dogs. While this is not certain, most vets recommend that dogs be fed at ground level.

Treatment

Dogs with bloat need immediate medical attention at a veterinary facility. This condition cannot be treated at home. Treatment has a better chance of success if the condition is caught early.

The veterinary team will work rapidly to assess and stabilize the dog. Abdominal radiographs (X-rays) will quickly be taken to look for GDV. An IV catheter will be placed to administer fluids and medications to address the shock. Oxygen therapy is typically necessary.

While stabilizing your dog, the vet will also try to decompress the stomach by passing a stomach tube through the dog’s mouth. This may not be possible due to twisting of the stomach. If so, the vet may decompress by inserting a large needle into the stomach via the skin.

Once the dog is stable, abdominal surgery is performed to rotate the stomach back in place and evaluate the tissue damage. Part of the stomach wall or the spleen may need to be removed if damaged. The stomach is then tacked to the body wall with staples or sutures to prevent future rotation.

Most dogs recover from bloat with surgery and supportive care. However, certain factors increase the risk of death from GDV.

  • Signs that occurred for more than six hours
  • Arrhythmia present before surgery
  • Partial stomach and/or spleen removal

How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs

There are ways to prevent GDV in at-risk dogs, or at least reduce the chances it will develop.

Gastropexy is the surgical attachment of the stomach to the body wall. This is the most effective means of prevention. When a veterinarian performs a gastropexy surgery, they tack the stomach to the body wall so that it cannot twist and cause a life-threatening GDV. In high-risk breeds, some veterinarians recommend preventive gastropexy to be performed at the time of spay or neuter.

Make changes to your dog's feeding regimen to prevent gastric dilation. Try feeding two or more small meals per day. Slowing down eating with a slow-feed bowl or a puzzle toy. Avoid using elevated bowls for food and water. Restrict your dog's exercise before and after meals.

Decrease stress for your dog, especially around feeding time. Consider separating your dogs during feeding if your dog is food-protective and eats rapidly to keep it from the other dogs.

Article Sources
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  1. Wingfield, Wayne E. “Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus.” The Veterinary ICU Book, CRC Press, 2020, pp. 753–762.

  2. Buckley, Louise Anne. “Are Dogs That Are Fed from a Raised Bowl at an Increased Risk of Gastric Dilation Volvulus Compared with Floor-Fed Dogs?” Veterinary Evidence, vol. 2, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.18849/ve.v2i1.57.