Canine Bloat is Life Threatening

Bloat is a generic term sometimes used by pet parents to describe what happens when their dog gets into a bag of dog food or if their dog is gassy, says Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, of Tufts University, North Grafton, Mass.

But what veterinarians mean by bloat is gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV)—words that put the needed urgency into bloat, says Christopher G. Byers, DVM, DACVECC, DACVIM (SAIM), of MidWest Veterinary Specialty Hospital, Omaha, Neb.

GDV is a condition in which a dog’s stomach first dilates with fluid or gas and then twists so that inflow and outflow of the stomach is obstructed.

Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, Tufts University, suggests that pet parents:

  • Be familiar with the condition
  • Consider preventive gastropexy for at-risk breeds
  • Avoid boarding anxious dogs unnecessarily
  • Make sure, if they are traveling, to either be reachable or have a delegate that is reachable.

It is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate and aggressive intervention, says Larry Glickman, VMD, DrPH, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Take a dog to be evaluated immediately if you see any of these signs:

  • Distended stomach
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Licking or biting at their flanks
  • Unproductive retching
  • Unexplained drooling
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Sudden refusal to eat
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness or fainting

Typically, the situation requires:

  • Intravenous fluids and drugs for shock
  • An X-ray to determine if the stomach has rotated. If it has, immediate stabilization and surgery are needed to relieve the pressure and derotate the stomach.
  • Gastropexy: surgically attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall so it cannot twist—and postoperative care. If a dog’s stomach is simply distended with gas but did not twist on itself (gastric dilatation compared to GDV), surgery is still often recommended because it’s very likely that the dog will have a recurrence of gastric distension or GDV.

So how can you prevent bloat? The problem is that the exact cause has not been discovered.

“Dog owners and breeders often have strong opinions about what causes bloat and are not afraid to share them,” says Glickman. “Unfortunately, many of these opinions are not supported by controlled epidemiological studies.”

He says results of published peer-reviewed papers do show that:

  • The risk is highest in the giant breeds, followed by large breeds and a few smaller breeds Incidence increases with age, most commonly in dogs 7–10 years old. Within these high-risk breeds, those with a narrow and deep chest are more likely to bloat.
  • In comparing dogs of the same breed, the risk of bloat increases when dogs are fed from bowls raised off the floor.
  • Stress and exercise after eating do not increase a dog’s risk of bloat.
  • A greater number of smaller meals daily—rather than fewer large meals—can decrease the risk.
  • A diet containing a high-quality, dry dog food supplemented with high-quality fresh vegetables and meats may reduce the risk, compared to a diet of only dry dog food.
  • The most effective method for preventing bloat in a high-risk breed is to have the dog undergo preventive/prophylactic gastropexy at a young age before an issue arises.
  • While there have been no studies to identify specific bloat genes, dogs having a first-degree relative that bloated are at higher risk of bloating themselves.

Byers notes that other data about GDV finds that:

  • Purebred dogs are over-represented.
  • The likelihood increases after 4.5 years of age.
  • Increased thoracic depth-to-width ratio plays a role.
  • A thin or lean body condition plays a role.
  • Dogs reported by owners to have a more fearful or anxious personality profile in general had a higher risk of developing GDV.

Currently, there are no studies showing drugs or supplements that can prevent GDV.

Fortunately, compared to 30 years ago, the reported mortality rate has dropped by nearly half or more, says Byers. He credits that to pet parents being more aware of the condition, better education of and initial intervention by primary care veterinarians, and more aggressive and state-of-the-art treatments by specialty care veterinarians.

Research continues to search for the cause(s). Byers notes one report implicated the sphincter separating the esophagus and stomach, as well as an abnormality of the pylorus. The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation this year sought proposals for GDV research as part of a multiphase effort. The hope is that the research will define what predisposes animals to bloat and then allow for ways to prevent it.


By Maureen Blaney Flietner / American Animal Hospital Association

Photo Credit: ©


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