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Bloat in Dogs

Bloat is the distention of the stomach, caused by a build-up of gasses. No one knows why it happens, only that it's more common in the large or giant breeds, like ours. There is lots of speculation as to the causes, and there are studies underway now that may give us more answers. But for now, all we can do is look at the more common circumstances surrounding the greatest numbers of cases, and hope that we can protect our dogs.

3 Degrees of the Condition commonly referred to as Bloat

1) the stomach fills with gas/food/liquid, and becomes distended. This is called gastric dilatation.

2) in addition to the first type, the stomach twists or flips, almost cutting off entry and exit to and from the stomach. This is called gastric torsion.

3) in addition to the first type, the stomach twists or flips, completely cutting off entry and exit to and from the stomach. This is called gastric volvulus.

Each of these is a medical emergency the first type is considered to be a precursor to the second and third types. All three types can be life-threatening, and it is a hideous, painful death. These guidelines will help you to determine if your dog is at risk, and what to do to reduce this risk, if at all possible:

  • Dogs with bloat are nearly always three or more years of age. Not always but nearly. The older the dog, the more likely the occurrence.
  • The lifetime risk for large and giant breeds to develop bloat is between 22-24%.
  • Two-thirds of dogs affected are males, which tend to be bigger and broader/deeper through the chest.
  • The study confirmed that bloat risk increased with advancing age, larger breed size, greater chest depth/width ratio and having a first degree relative with a history of bloat.

**A greater chest depth/width ratio means that the dog has a long, narrow chest, as opposed to having a short, broad chest.

Dogs who bloat tend to eat large quantities of dry kibble. I recommend feeding a premium or supreme grade of kibble this cuts down on the amount your dog must eat to maintain it's weight and activity level.Feed 2-3 small meals per day, rather than just one large one. Keeping your dog on a feeding schedule is recommended, as a dog is more likely to eat too fast or develop stomach upset when no schedule is kept.

The faster dogs eat, the higher the incidence of bloat. This may be because large amounts of air are gulped down along with the food. If you can slow your dog's ingestion of its food, it is recommended.

Most people tend toward the idea that those dogs who exercise vigorously after eating are more prone to bloat but until more is known, take this safety precaution, and enforce limited activity for 2 hours before and after meals.

It's also generally accepted that dogs that tend to drink water in large amounts after meals are more susceptible to bloat, particularly if they also eat large amounts of dry kibble. The large amounts of water will, in turn, cause the large amounts of kibble to swell.

The dogs that are more prone to bloat may have a history of digestive upset, such as vomiting or loud belching in frequency. If your dog is prone to gastric upsets, take every precaution.

Studies have shown that there may also be a familial link there are many cases of dogs whose siblings and parents have bloated, and these dogs are more at risk for the disease. If possible, know your dog's familial history. This is supported by the data presented in the new study.

If at all possible, don't allow your dog to become stressed particularly at or immediately after a meal. Stress is a known factor in bloating, particularly when combined with a change in food or feeding schedule.

Try not to feed a kibble which expands greatly when wet. Do the kibble test overnight. Put a cup of kibble in a bowl. Add water and let soak over night. What you see in the morning is the amount of swelling this food will do in your dog's stomach. If it's excessive, change to another kibble which doesn't swell as much.

Keep Mylanta in you dog's first-aid kit.

**Dogs in rescue situations are more prone to bloat!! The dog has been passed from one facility/rescuer/foster to another; had it's food changed at least that many times within a couple weeks; and been under tremendous emotional (and therefore physical) stress during that time. Rescues should be STRICTLY observed during those first 2-3 critical weeks in the foster/adoptive home, and all guidelines must be observed!!


The most significant findings related to preventive methods used by owners, namely raising the food bowl, actually increased the risk of bloat by approximately 200%!!

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES succumb to the temptation to buy a so-called "bloat kit" (needle and tube) and try in an emergency situation to tube the dog or worse, stick a needle in its side and let off the gas. The minutes you waste trying that are minutes wasted getting to proper veterinary emergency care... and probably mean the loss of the dog's life.

Realize that a dog with dry unproductive "heaves" or attempts to vomit, positional discomfort, apparent choking and apparent inability to get its breath, that doesn't resolve in a couple minutes, is having a problem... it could be gastric torsion... aka "bloat'... folks need to know the early warning signs. They really shouldn't hang around until the dog is the size of a hot air balloon before doing something!

These measures may help to prevent some cases of bloat, but will not prevent all cases. Being aware of some of the possible causes may mean the difference between life and death for your dog. For now, all we can do is try.

What to Watch For – Symptoms

Its important to know the history of the dog. Has it eaten recently? Drunk large amounts of water? Has it been running or exercising within 2-3 hours of eating? Your vet will need this information.

Watch for any behavior that may signal abdominal discomfort...fullness, pacing, salivating, whining, getting up and laying back down, unnecessary stretching, looking at the stomach area, anxiety and unsuccessful attempts to vomit, and, of course, distention of the stomach area.

Signs of Gastric Dilatation

The signs are excessive salivation and drooling, extreme restlessness, attempts to vomit and defecate, evidence of abdominal pain (the dog whines and groans when you push on the stomach wall) and abdominal distention. Any or all of these symptoms can indicate problems don't wait to see if your dog will present more than 1 or 2!!

Signs of Torsion or Volvulos

The initial signs are the same as for Gastric Dilatation, except that they are more pronounced. The distress is more evident. There could be rapid breathing, pale gums and the dog may collapse. The shock-like symptoms are due to the strangulation of the blood supply to the stomach and spleen. Do nothing at home surgery is needed to relieve a torsion or volvulus. The chance of a recurrence is about 15 percent.


Brenda Rushman, Web Author, in cooperation with Dr. Steve Van Wie, D.V.M.

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dog canine bloat
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