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Bloat in Dogs 

Gastric dilatation, torsion and volvulus (GDV) are medical emergencies where time is of the essence

MetPet.com Staff Writer

Bloat is the common term for a two-part condition.  In gastric dilatation (the GD in GDV), the stomach becomes engorged with gas, fluids and possibly food. Instead of being its normal sized and pliable self, the stomach becomes large and taut like a balloon or simply firm like a drum.  This can be caused by a combination of air being swallowed and of gas produced from fermentation in the stomach.  Along with gastric dilatation, the enlarged stomach may twist.  This effect is called torsion or vovulus (the V in GDV) depending on how far the stomach twists.

The stomach is cut off from its normal entry and exit, blood supply is shut off and a host of other conditions may develop including dehydration, shock, peritonitis, gastric perforation and, quite commonly, death.  This is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary care!  Time is extremely important in the treatment of this potentially fatal condition.  This is a medical emergency and requires immediate care. 

Predisposition to Bloat in Dogs
Although the causes of Bloat/GDV are not fully understood, studies do show increased risk factors in certain dogs.

Size, Breed, Body Shape
Large dogs with narrow, deep chests are more prone to bloat than medium-sized or small dogs.  Briards, Collies, Dobermans, St. Bernards, Leonbergers, Weimaraners, Borzois, Great Danes, Standard Poodles, Setters, Great Pyrenees, Boxers, Old English Sheepdogs, Bloodhounds, Irish Setters, Wolfhounds, German Shepherds and Labradors are among the breeds most likely to bloat.

Even if your dog is not in the high-risk breed category, bloat can still occur.  It is always important to keep bloat in mind when your dog is exhibiting unusual behavior.   

Age, Family History, Personality
Middle-aged and senior dogs are more prone than younger dogs as are nervous, high-strung dogs versus calmer dogs.  There also may be a family tendency towards bloat so knowing the experience of close relatives, siblings and parents, is very helpful. 

Possible Causes of and Prevention for Bloat/GDV
Even though the exact causes of Bloat/GDV in dogs are not known, there are reasonable cautions for exercise, water intake, diet and eating habits.

Separate eating and drinking from exercise
Bloat can happen when a dog combines vigorous exercise with food or water.  Bloat can also happen when your dog swallows large amounts of air or drinks large amounts of water all at once. 

At the least, allow for an hour or two of separation between vigorous exercise and meals, both before and after.  Keep your dog calm especially before and after meals.  Practice calming exercises with your dog.  Some owners place their dog in a kennel after meals although whether this is necessary is not known. 

Regulate eating and drinking
To be safe, feed your large-breed dog smaller and more frequent meals spaced throughout the day rather than large meals all at once.  A single, large meal during the day does appear to be a significant risk factor for bloat.  Consider feeding moist food instead of dry kibble or soak kibble in warm water before feeding.  Kibble that is preserved with citric acid might exacerbate the problem if it is fed moist so check the ingredients on the bag before moistening.  This idea is controversial. 

If you are making your own foods, feed grains like oats and rice thoroughly moistened.  If you are making your own foods you can also eliminate grains and limit carbohydrate intake to green, leafy vegetables.  Limit water intake to small quantities spaced throughout the day rather than large quantities all at once.  Limit water intake with meals. 

Feed on the floor instead of in a raised bowl.  Encourage your dog to eat more slowly by placing food in muffin tins, mounding it on a plate and heating it so that your dog must wait for it to cool or by placing an obstruction such as an upside down plastic flower pot or rock in the middle of the bowl or plate.  You can even feed hand feed your dog as you cook dinner by dropping small portions into his bowl as you go. 

Ask your veterinarian about gas reducers
Tums and Gas-X may aid in reducing gas.  If your dog is at risk for bloat, ask your veterinarian about the safety, quantity and uses of such over-the-counter human products.

Symptoms of Bloat
Your dog appears uncomfortable and nervous.  He may pace, salivate and try to vomit but cannot.  If you feel his stomach, it may appear distended and tight like a drum or just somewhat tighter than normal depending on the progress of the bloat. 

These symptoms are not definitive.  Some dogs drink water or vomit froth or slime or pass gas. 

As the bloat progresses more severe symptoms appear including labored breathing, pale gums and collapse.  Again, this is a medical emergency so take your dog to your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately. 

Treatment for Bloat
With dilatation only, a tube is passed into the stomach to relieve the pressure.  Air and liquid are released and your dog feels immediate relief.  He can be treated for possible infection or dehydration and is kept off of food and drink for a day or two. 

With torsion or volvulus, when the stomach has twisted and closed itself off surgery is usually required.  In some circumstances, a tube can be passed even if the stomach has already twisted.  The stomach and the spleen are repositioned and parts of both organs that have died from lack of blood may be removed.  The stomach is then sutured to the abdominal wall (gastropexy) so that it cannot twist again.  This is major surgery and is quite expensive.  If you have a dog in the high risk category, it is worthwhile to ask your veterinarian about the costs and plan ahead. 

This type of procedure is usually quite successful in preventing future incidences of bloat.  Without gastropexy, it is highly likely that your dog will experience another episode of bloat so it is very important to take precautions. 

For some dogs at high risk, a gastropexy is done to prevent volvulus from happening in the first place.  If you have a dog that is in the high risk category, it is worthwhile to discuss this option with your veterinarian. 

 

 
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