In the United States, 33% of dogs die from a disorder commonly known as “bloat”, technically known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). In the USA it is the second biggest cause of dog death. In Australia that figure is much lower. No one is really sure why this is so, but vet scientists believe this is due to the fact that Australians tend to give their dogs more raw food and bones.

Bloat occurs when something goes wrong during digestion of food. Something causes gases to build up in the stomach so fast that the stomach blows up like a balloon, stretching the organ so much that normal circulation of blood to and from the heart is cutoff. The stretching itself and the lack of blood to the stomach’s cells can cause cell death, or necrosis. What makes it even worse and more immediately serious is when the stomach actually “twists and turns” (known as volvulus) at the top near the esophagus and at the bottom of the stomach at the pyloric valve. Gas is trapped and can’t escape from either end. The gas pressure builds as it becomes trapped within the stomach. The stomach grows so large it cuts off circulation and irreversible damage is done to the cells. The dog goes into shock and then cardiac arrest. This can happen within several hours after the start of bloat. If you suspect your dog is experiencing this condition, you must rush to the vet. THIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

The incidence of bloat is more common in large and giant breed dogs but it can happen to any dog, in particular dogs with what is often referred to as a deep chest. This means the length of the chest from backbone to sternum is long and the width of the chest is narrower. It also has a higher incidence in older dogs and underweight dogs.

Bloat is one reason why so many grain free diets now exist for dogs. However it would be unfair to say it is grained diets that make bloat occur. Despite research efforts, there is no conclusive evidence as to why it occurs, just best guesses by experts.  What we do know, is that dogs with balanced diets are less prone to the condition.  This is why it is important to feed your dog a high quality diet that includes some bones and raw foods.

A few examples of what scientists believe to be contributing factors to the causes of bloat are listed below:

  1. Large meals eaten at one time. They recommend serving your dog two smaller meals a day, rather than just one big one.
  2. Rigorous exercise done either right before a meal or right after one. You should wait one hour before feeding after exercise and one hour after eating before you let your dog run around.
  3. Dry food given that is high in grain, which causes fermentation during digestion, which causes gas. Dry food should have meat; meat meal and bone meal listed within the first few ingredients, not grain. In other words, dry food should have more meat than grain in its ingredients. [Some texts claim this is not true, but most do agree with it.]
  4. If only dry food is given, some people moisten it with water if it is a high-end dog food. However, with lesser quality foods, less meat-based dog food, the ones that are mostly grains, it is better to NOT wet the food, since water mixed with grain will start fermentation, a process that has by-products of gas. But if the food is mostly meat, it’s OK, and can actually help with digestion. Mix dry food with canned food if possible.
  5. Gulping large amounts of water at one time during meals. Keep water within the dog’s reach at all times, except during meals.
  6. Be careful of snacks and biscuits that are high in carbohydrates. Grains are carbohydrates.
  7. Avoid dog food high in citric acid used as a preservative and also food that is high in fat.

Signs and Symptoms

Know your dog. Most of the symptoms are behavioral, at least in the very beginning, so your dog will start to act differently. The abdomen is stretched to many times its normal size due to an increase in gas. It will blow up like a balloon and is one of the first most obvious signs. In some cases, this part of the bloat event can’t be seen. But, usually you can see the distended abdomen, which will also feel very hard to the touch, like a ball that has been pumped up with too much air.

This event causes severe abdominal pain. So, you may see that your dog is acting uncomfortable, pacing the floor, not being about to find a comfortable position to lie down or may make sounds like he is in pain.

The biggest, most obvious symptom is that the dog appears to be nauseated. The dog will unsuccessfully attempt to vomit and will retch and gag, but nothing come up, or very little, if any. They will also attempt to have a bowel movement, assume the position, but again, nothing comes out. Excessive drooling is also a common symptom.

It is better to be safe then sorry, as you only have a few hours to get treatment, so if you see any of the above, please take your dog to the vet ASAP.

Bloat is most common in the following dogs, but please note it can happen to any dog:

  • Great Dane
  • Rottweiler
  • Staffordshire Terrier
  • German Shepherd
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Boxer
  • Greyhound
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador
  • Standard Poodle
  • Doberman
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Irish Setter
  • St Bernard
  • Weimaraner
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Akita
  • Afghan
  • Kuvasz
  • Newfoundland
  • Basset Hound