Having a dog in your life can be incredibly rewarding. Like humans, though, dogs are prone to certain ailments and conditions, and it is important to understand what some of those conditions are. One of the most serious conditions a dog can suffer from is bloat. Bloat in dogs, if unnoticed or left untreated, can be fatal.1 While the actual causes of GDV are still unknown, understanding what to look for – and what you can do to possibly avoid bloat in dogs – is critical.
What is Bloat and What Causes it?
Bloat , more formally known as gastric dilation-volvulus, occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with air. When too much air builds up in the stomach, pressure increase. This can stop the flow of blood to the dog’s hind legs and abdomen, and the blood doesn’t return to the heart. When this happens, blood collects in the rear of the dog’s body, which can cause shock.
Not only can a dog suffering from GDV go into shock, but their stomach may actually flip its orientation (and the spleen and pancreas with it), cutting off more blood flow. Without the necessary oxygen from the blood, the pancreas begins to develop toxic hormones, some of which can stop a dog’s heart.2 But, if you pay attention to certain factors, you can try and help your pup steer clear of these dangers.
What Causes Bloat in Dogs?
While veterinarians are still unsure what causes bloat in dogs, they do agree on some of the symptoms of bloat in dogs.
Dogs who eat their food quickly may be at higher risk of GDV. Why? Because when dogs eat their food rapidly, they also ingest a lot of air. This ingestion of air is called aerophagia and is responsible for the “dilatation” part of GDV.3
Believe it or not, the number of times your dog eats throughout the day seems to be a contributing factor in GDV. Dogs who eat one meal per day are more likely to get GDV than those who eat smaller, more frequent meals.4,5
Dog Breeds Prone to Bloat
A dog’s breed may also put them at a higher risk of canine bloat. Some studies have found that there are inherited conditions that are more common in purebred dogs than in mixed-breed dogs. One of these conditions is GDV.6
Additionally, medium and large-breed dogs have a higher rate of GDV. For instance, the following large breeds may have a higher risk of GDV —
- Great Danes
- St. Bernards
- Irish Setters
- Doberman Pinschers
And while neutering or spaying on a dog seems to have no impact on a dog’s chances of suffering from GDV, males are 50% more likely to have GDV than females.7
Weight Affects Likelihood of Bloat
Bloat in dogs is also more likely if the dog is malnourished or underweight. If you’re unsure of how much your dog should weigh, consult your veterinarian, as they will be able to tell you if your dog is underweight or not.8
Stress May Trigger Bloat
Is your dog happy-go-lucky or does it have a somewhat fearful temperament? In controlled studies, dogs with more fearful dispositions were significantly more at risk of GDV than “happy” dogs. To add to that, if your dog is often stressed, they may be more prone to GDV than dogs who don’t get stressed frequently.9
How Do I Know if My Dog Has Bloat?
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the factors that can lead to bloat, it is important to understand the signs of bloat in dogs. Symptoms of bloat in dogs vary, but each of them can be a telltale sign that your dog needs immediate medical attention.
Look to the Stomach and Belly
If you’re worried about your dog having GDV, one of the first places to look for symptoms is your dog’s stomach and belly. If their stomach seems bigger than usual or is sensitive to the touch, that could be a sign of GDV. A larger stomach may mean that it is dilated – a dilated stomach could indicate that there is a build-up of gas and/or fluid in your pup – and you should seek out your veterinarian immediately.10
Dogs suffering from bloat may have a swollen or enlarged stomach, which may or may not be visible just by looking at your dog. However, if you’re not sure your dog has GDV or not, gently feel their belly and abdomen. Dogs experiencing GDV may have a stomach that feels very hard or solid. This is due to the accumulation of air and/or fluids in their stomach and is a red flag that your dog could be in danger.
And if you’re still not sure whether or not you’re pooch is exhibiting dog bloat symptoms, applying a little bit of pressure to your dog’s stomach may give you your answer. If gentle pressure is applied to the stomach and your dog whines or cries a little bit, it could mean that they have GDV, and you should take them to the vet immediately.11
Watch Their Behavior for Signs of Bloat
When was the last time you saw your dog sit or lay down? If your dog typically relaxes by laying down or sitting, but they are restless or are constantly pacing, it may mean something more serious is going on. Similar to how applying a gentle pressure to your pup’s belly may be painful for them, it might be that they’re not laying down because it is too painful or uncomfortable for your dog to do so. If they’re suffering from GDV, laying down might hurt too much, resulting in prolonged standing or uncharacteristic pacing.12,13
Panting & Drooling
After a long walk or on a particularly hot day, it’s common to see your dog panting heavily. The same is true for drooling before a meal – especially if your dog is food-motivated! But what about when your dog is panting or drooling seemingly out of nowhere or for no reason? Unfortunately, this may be a symptom of dog bloat.14
Retching or Gagging
Another symptom to be on the lookout for in terms of GDV is retching. Generally speaking, retching looks like your dog is trying to vomit but nothing comes up. If anything, you may see a bit of foam around their mouth, but seldom will you see any food come up when a dog is retching from GDV. Pay special attention to retching or gagging, especially if it happens after your dog has just eaten a meal quickly.15
What to do if You Think Your Dog Has Bloat
If you’re concerned your dog is suffering from bloat, it is extremely important that you seek veterinary care for your dog immediately. Bloat is a very serious medical condition and waiting too long could have dangerous consequences for your dog.
When it comes to GDV, it is best to not take any chances: if your dog shows any signs of bloat, head to the animal hospital. GDV is one of the most well-known conditions in dogs, and chances are your vet is no stranger to it. They will be able to tell quickly if your dog needs immediate care or not, and if your dog does need emergency surgery, they are safest under the supervised care of your veterinarian.
Can Bloat be Prevented?
While there are no hard-and-fast rules that completely protect your dog from GDV and the associated symptoms, there are several things you can do to potentially lower your dog’s risk of GDV.
Trying to protect your dog from GDV requires you pay special attention to a variety of factors. As mentioned before, some dogs are just more predisposed to GDV than others. Large breed dogs and specific breeds may be more prone than others, and there is nothing you can do to change that predisposition.
However, there are some common, everyday things you can do or watch for that improve your dog’s chances of not getting GDV.
Pace Their Eating
If your dog seems to inhale their food every time you feed them, you can do a few things to slow down their eating. Slowing down their eating may help in preventing GDV, because smaller portions of food may reduce the amount of air they ingest while eating.
When you feed your dog, give them their meals in smaller portions. In other words, if your dog usually eats 2 cups of food for every meal, consider giving them a quarter of a cup at a time.
There are also specially-designed dog bowls that make eating quickly much, much more difficult. Rather than a regular dog bowl, these dishes almost look like mazes, requiring your dog to slow down and work a bit harder to get each piece of food.16
In addition to giving them smaller portions of food during their meal, you can also consider feeding them smaller meals throughout the course of the day. As a matter of fact, dogs who eat only one meal per day are twice as likely to suffer from GDV than dogs who have two meals per day.17
Final Thoughts on Recognizing Bloat
If you think your dog may be suffering from bloat, don’t hesitate to contact your vet immediately or take them in to be examined.
Bloat prevention isn’t foolproof, but by knowing the signs of bloat in dogs and symptoms to look for – and ways you can reduce your dog’s chances of getting GDV – you can feel better knowing that you’re doing everything you can to ensure your dog’s health and happiness.
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