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Dog Bloat

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What Causes Bloat?

Dog bloat may present as a digestive disorder with affected dogs showing symptoms of a distended abdomen, anxiety and unsuccessful attempts to vomit. When dogs present with these symptoms, it's important to head to the closest animal emergency center because of the risk for GDV.

What is GDV?

GDV is an acronym that stands for "Gastric Dilatation Volvulus," another name for bloat. Gastric dilatation is technically an accumulation of gas and fluid in a dog's stomach. The term volvulus refers to the stomach twisting from 180 degrees up to 360 degrees or more. Volvulus is often a complication of a distended abdomen. With the digestive system twisted, the affected dog is unable to vomit or belch and the food is unable to make its way to the intestines.

Because of the gas and fluid entrapped in the stomach, the abdomen will distend due to fermentation. When blood supply is cut off, the stomach walls become subject to necrosis. A series of complications may then arise that can very likely lead to death. Such complications may consist of cardiac arrhythmia, stomach perforation, stomach necrosis, peritonitis, collapse and death.

Which Dogs are Predisposed?

Dogs predisposed to bloat are deep-chested breeds such as great danes, German shephards, Labrador retrievers, Weimareners, Saint Bernards, boxers, etc. Typically the age of onset is middle aged to older dogs. However, bloat can generally appear at any age and sometimes, even in smaller breeds.

What Causes Bloat?[adinserter block="4"]

Causes of bloat may be unclear. Many times an exact cause may not be found; however, some common patterns have been observed. Below are some common causes of bloat. Generally dogs affected by bloat:

  • Have eaten a large meal
  • Have exercised vigorously prior to a meal
  • Have exercised vigorously after a meal
  • Have drunk a large amount of water after a meal
  • Have eaten too fast swallowing a lot of air

Hereditary factors may be a cause as well, since dogs with a specific conformation of deep, narrow chests are more prone to bloat. Also dogs that are fed only once a day may be predisposed and so are dogs that have a nervous temperament.

What are the Symptoms of Bloat?

A dog affected by bloat will typically exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Retching
  • Inability to vomit
  • Salivation
  • Distended abdomen
  • Painful abdomen
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A dog may assume a hunched up position and may whine from pain upon pressing on his abdomen. Should you thump on the abdomen very likely you will hear a hollow noise. As the condition progresses the dog may exhibit symptoms of impending shock such as:

  • Pale gums
  • Delayed capillary refill time
  • Weakened pulse
  • Labored breathing
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Possible Death


[adinserter block="5"]Time is of essence with a serious condition such as bloat. A dog must seek treatment promptly since death may overcome within 6 to 12 hours of the onset of the first symptoms. When there are no signs of torsion, a stomach tube may be inserted down the dog's stomach. Subsequently, a rush of air escaping from the stomach will bring relief to the dog. In some cases, a needle can be inserted through the stomach wall to allow the gasses to escape.

In case of torsion, emergency surgery will often be required. Often, the veterinarian will also suture the stomach wall to the abdominal wall to prevent a future torsion from happening, a surgery known as "gastropexy." Complications such as disseminated intravascular coagulation are treated with heparin. An IV catheter is placed for dogs in shock to provide fluids and stabilize the dog.


Usually dogs that have had an episode of bloat unfortunately have high chances of having repeated episodes. By following some guidelines, these episodes may be lessened. However, owners should always have a watchful eye for symptoms suggesting bloat. Here are some important guidelines for your dog:

  • Avoid feeding only one meal, rather divide the daily ration into 3 meals well spaced apart
  • Avoid vigorous exercise after meals
  • Avoid too much excitement after meals
  • Avoid access to water 1 hour prior meals
  • Avoid access to water for 2 hours after meals
  • Avoid your dog from drinking too much at once
  • Avoid your dog from eating too fast
  • Avoid abrupt diet changes
  • Avoid kibble that lists fat in the first four main ingredients
  • Avoid foods with citric acid

Bloat is a life threatening emergency that should not be underestimated. Now that you are aware of the key symptoms, you know what to watch for if you own a deep chested breed. Because time is of the essence, do not delay veterinary attention, generally, the quicker your dog sees the vet the better the prognosis. 


Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook 4th Edition Debra Eldredge DVM, Liisa Carlson DVM, Delbert Carlson DVM, James Giffin MD

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