Whether you can walk dogs after they eat is a good question. You may have heard that walking dogs after they eat is bad because they can be prone to a potentially life threatening condition known as bloat.
The proper eating and exercise schedule for dogs is a hot topic. While some dog parents are worried about their dogs developing gastric dilatation and volvulus if fed before going out, others are worried their dogs are not well-energized if not offered a meal before physical activity.
In fact, it is not just the dog parents that are confused. The scientific circles are also divided regarding whether it is better to exercise the dog before or after the meal. However, both options have their pros and cons.
This article will discuss the relation between eating, exercising, and gastric dilatation, and volvulus.
We will explain how the issue develops and what you need to do if your dog belongs to one of the predisposed breeds.
Should You Walk Dogs After They Eat or Before?
Before we dive into the main topic – gastric dilatation and volvulus, we should settle the dilemma and state that it is better to walk your dog before eating (however, not immediately before eating – it is recommended to wait for 30 minutes after the exercise is over).
Dog parents should not be worried about making their dogs exercise or walk on an empty stomach. Dogs are built differently than us and can go more extended periods without eating.
This does not mean you should withdraw food or offer smaller meals. It only means that dogs can safely walk and exercise before eating.
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus in Dogs
Popularly known as bloat or gut-twisting, gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is an acute life-threatening emergency in which the stomach fills with gases, expands, and then twists. The exact cause of GDV is not known, but certain factors increase the risk.
The most important risk factors are vigorous exercise immediately before or after a substantial meal, stress and anxiety, and pronounced excitement.
Usually, gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs develops within the first two hours after the meal. The chances of developing GDV are higher if the meal size was significant and the dog tends to gulp down the food (an activity accompanied by swallowing air).
Additionally, certain breeds are predisposed to this condition. Usually, larger dogs with deep chests are most likely to develop GDV.
The list of GDV-prone dog breeds includes Great Danes, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, Standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers.
The risk of developing GDV also increases with age and weight. Plus, purebred dogs are five times more prone to developing GDV than mixed dogs.
These predispositions and risk factors are worth knowing and considering, but virtually all dogs can develop gastric dilatation and volvulus.
Signs of Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus in Dogs
The problem starts with excess gas accumulating in the stomach. Typically, the stomach should empty and eliminate the gasses, but now it fails to fulfill this function.
At this pre-GDV phase, the dog might feel slightly uncomfortable, but it behaves as usual without showing any specific signs or red flags. The dog needs to relax and rest and should not be left alone and unsupervised.
This point is critical – sometimes the gas buildup can resolve on its own, and other times it may progress into GDV.
If GDV starts developing, there are three distinctive phases. Each phase manifests differently and requires different approaches.
During phase 1, the stomach distends and starts twisting. The dog will probably feel restless and anxious. Common signs include pacing, excessive drooling, and abdominal distension. It is vital to call the vet as soon as you notice these signs.
As the stomach keeps distending, it pressures the diaphragm, thus impairing normal breathing. On the other hand, the twisting cuts off the blood supply to the stomach. At this point, the dog will go into shock.
Commonly reported clinical signs and symptoms include panting, whining, drooling, excessively red gums, and an unusual body posture (with widespread legs). Rushing at the vet’s office is critical.
During phase 3, the overall shock state progresses, and the severity of the internal damages worsens. A dog with GDV phase 3 will be unable to stand, with an exceptionally swollen abdomen, pale gums, and heavily compromised breathing.
What Happens At The Emergency Vet
The clinical manifestation is relatively unique, thus making the diagnosis straightforward. If the vet suspects GDV, he/she will order x-rays of the abdomen to confirm the diagnosis. The vet will also order blood analysis to evaluate the dog's overall status.
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Should I Let My Dog Go Through the Door First?
Whether you should let your dog through the door first boils down to personal preference. You may have heard that allowing dogs to go out of doors first is bad because by doing so we are allowing dogs to be "alphas over us," but the whole alpha and dominance myth is something that has been debunked by professionals.
Once the diagnosis is set and clear, the vet will stabilize the patient – relieving the pressure from the distended abdomen. To achieve this, the vet will insert a tube through the dog's mouth and into the stomach.
If the stomach twisting prevents the tube from reaching the stomach, the vet may insert a sterile needle directly in the abdomen.
If the dog is already in a state of shock, the vet will give intravenous fluids and wide-spectrum antibiotics.
A Life Saving Surgical Procedure
Once the affected dog is stable enough to undergo anesthesia, the vet will perform the lifesaving surgical procedure. During the surgery, the vet will correct the twisting and attach one portion of the stomach to the abdominal wall (stomach tacking)
The purpose of this procedure is to prevent future GDV reoccurrence – if the stomach is stitched up to the abdomen, it will not be able to twist. While the dog is still open, the vet will check for other internal damages caused by the dilatation and lack of blood supply.
Does GDV always require surgery? Yes, gastric dilatation and volvulus is considered to be a surgical emergency. Once the patient is received and stabilized, it needs to be surgically treated.
Can a dog survive GDV without treatment? Sadly, the answer is no. A dog with gastric dilatation and volvulus cannot survive unless provided with proper care – stabilizations and surgical correction of the twist.
As for the treated dogs, the survival rate is 80 percent meaning it is vital to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
The overall prognosis for dogs with GDV depends on the severity of the problem and how fast was the treatment initiated.
For dogs with phases 1 and 2 GDV, the prognosis is good, while for dogs with phase 3 GDV, the prognosis is guarded. At this point, some dogs are not stable enough for surgery which negatively impacts the outcome.
So How Long Should You Wait Before Exercising a Dog After a Meal?
The general rule is to wait for a minimum of two hours after each meal before going out for exercise. Dogs need time to digest the food properly.
Just like people, some dogs get sluggish after eating. This is because, after a meal, the body uses most of its energy for digesting the new food and converting it into energy.
However, the exact waiting time depends on the size of the meal. If your dog had a light meal or a larger snack, you do not need to wait for two hours – one hour can be just enough.
How Far Should You Walk Your Dog After Eating?
Usually, most dogs benefit from a walking distance of between one and three miles. However, if your dog is small and walks slowly, you will probably cover a shorter distance.
On the other hand, if it is large and likely to pull, you can cover more miles. Just be sure to walk your dog after at least two hours after the meal.
Do dogs get enough exercise by just walking? Yes, the general rule of thumb is that walking is an excellent form of physical exercise for dogs. However, whether walking is enough depends on the frequency of the walks you are taking and their length.
Can Puppies be Walked After a Meal?
The concept of GDV is the same regardless of the dog’s age. Puppies can develop GDV too. Therefore, it is advisable to wait before walking or exercising if they just ate.
Keeping your puppy calm after a substantial meal can be a challenging task, especially if your puppy is hyperactive. Many puppies and young dogs go crazy after eating.
To prevent jumping around and strenuous activity, try engaging your pup in a mentally stimulating game after each meal.
Can Dogs Play After Eating?
The exact answer depends on the type of play. Dogs should not play games that require intense physical activity. On the other hand, playing something like tug-of-war or some mental stimulation game is perfectly fine.
Gastric dilatation and volvulus is a life-threatening condition that warrants immediate veterinary attention and rather aggressive treatment and management approach. However, gastric dilatation and volvulus is not as common a diagnosis as usually advertised.
While it is true that strenuous exercise after a heavy meal increases the risk of dogs developing gastric dilatation and volvulus, there are other concerning factors – exercise intensity, meal size, and of course, the dog’s anatomy.
All in all, it is always better to stay on the safe side and avoid situations that can put your dog at risk. Once your dog had its meal, let it rest for a couple of hours and then grab the leash and go for an adventure.