Canine Bloat – What You Need To Know

Canine bloat (also known as Gastric Torsion or Gastric Dilatation Volvulus – GDV) is an extremely serious and life-threatening problem.

Cartoon veterinarian treating canine bloat

It usually appears suddenly and progresses very quickly – often with tragically fatal results.

Bloat tends to strike large and extra-large, deep-chested dogs, such as Rottweilers, Great Danes or Irish Wolfhounds more than it does medium or small breeds.

However, no breed is ‘immune’..

Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of bloat (and knowing what to do next) could literally mean the difference between life and death for your dog!

Perhaps you think this sounds a bit ‘melodramatic’ or that I’m exaggerating… but I’m not.

Bloat is one of the most dangerous ‘acute’ health conditions your pet can develop, and affected dogs can die within hours.

How quickly you recognize the problem and get the right help for your dog is the biggest factor in determining whether or not he survives.


What Is Canine Bloat?

Basically what happens in canine bloat is that the dog’s stomach becomes distended, or swollen, because of the build up of too much gas.

The size of the stomach, then puts pressure on the diaphragm and other organs, including the heart, blood pressure drops and blood flow is restricted or cut off in some cases.

This alone can cause the dog to go into shock, or cause cell death in the stomach/digestive system. But it gets worse.

It most cases, the stomach then twists or rotates on itself, closing off the connection between the esophagus and the stomach and between the stomach and the intestines.

This means that food, water and gas trapped inside the stomach with no way out, and the gas keeps expanding.

Actually the name ‘Gastric Dilatation Volvulus’ describes it perfectly….

    • GASTRIC – meaning ‘of the stomach’


  • DILATATION – meaning ‘to become wider’ or to ‘distend’


  • VOLVULUS – meaning ‘abnormal twisting of the esophagus and intestine’

If canine bloat is left untreated there are several potentially fatal results, including a ruptured stomach, irreversible cell damage, shock or cardiac arrest.

What’s even more frightening is that all this happens within the space of a few hours.

Although prompt treatment gives your dog his best shot at making a full recovery, even with immediate treatment, around 25% of all dogs who ‘bloat’ may die.

That’s how dangerous this condition is!


What Causes Canine Bloat?

Although large and giant sized breeds are considered to be ‘high risk’ in terms of gastric torsion, any dog of any breed can be affected, and there are several different things that can trigger gastric dilatation-volvulus.

The most common ‘risk factors’ that veterinarians and researchers have identified in dogs, and these include…

  • Being a large, extra-large or giant breed dog.
  • Having a ‘deep’ chest (eg Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Setters, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards etc.)
  • A ‘family history’ of bloat, ie there is believed to be a genetic component involved.
  • Being 7 years old or olde.
  • Being male.
  • Being anxious, aggressive, fearful, nervous or excitable by nature. Or who has experienced a lot of stress.
  • Dogs that eat much too fast (practically ‘inhaling’ their food).
  • Exercising vigorously either right before, or right after, eating.
  • Eating one big meal per day, rather than 2 smaller ones.
  • An inadequate or inappropriate diet, eg poor quality foods, or those with a very high grain (or carbohydrate) content.
  • Drinking a lot of water right before, or right after, eating

The more ‘risk factors’ your dog has, the greater his chances of developing bloat at some point, and the more important it is for you to keep a close eye on him and be aware of the symptoms of bloat in dogs.

Rottweilers are a large breed, so they definitely have that risk factor. However, they are way down the list of breeds at risk (spot number 23 to be exact, and with only a 1.1% greater risk of developing bloat than your average, healthy mixed breed).

So, don’t panic and assume that your Rottie is at high risk of canine bloat, but do be aware that it exists, learn how to recognize the symptoms and realize that you need to act fast should the worst happen.

For owners of other large or giant breeds, here’s a quick run-down of the Top 10 breeds who are at the highest risk of bloat/torsion (and their risk factor by %), according to a study done by the Purdue University, School of Veterinary Medicine.

1. Great Dane 41.4

2. Saint Bernard 21.8

3. Weimaraner 19.3

4. Irish Setter 14.2

5. Gordon Setter 12.3

6.Standard Poodle 8.8

7. Basset Hound 5.9

8. Doberman Pinscher 5.5

9. Old English Sheepdog 4.8

10. German Shorthaird Pointer 4.6

Other brees at risk include (but aren’t limited to) Newfoundland, GSD, Boxer, Labrador (and Golden) Retrievers, Miniature Poodle and Dachshund.


Symptoms Of Bloat In Dogs

When canine bloat strikes, you have a very short ‘window’ of time in which to get your dog the help he needs.

That means that it’s absolutely vital that you know what the symptoms of bloat may look like.

Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all picture of a dog who is ‘bloating’, but there are several symptoms that are usually seen.

If your dog shows any of them, he could be in serious trouble.

Here are the most common symptoms of bloat in dogs….

  • Your dog will be in a lot of pain, and this may show up as continuous restlessness, pacing, whining, panting, or drooling.
  • Repeated attempts at retching or vomiting (without actually being able to bring up more than foam/mucus)
  • Constipation-type symptoms and your dog may try to poop but be unable to.
  • An inability to get ‘comfortable’ or to lie down. Related to first point above. 
  • A distended or swollen stomach may be visible, but not always.
  • Eventually your dog may have difficulty breathing, walking or even standing

If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t waste a second wondering what to do – get your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic or hospital IMMEDIATELY.

Minutes, even seconds, count here.


Preventing & Treating Canine Bloat

Veterinarian with clipboard

While there’s no sure-fire way to prevent your dog from getting bloat, there are some things that you can do to help minimize his/her risks.

Although you can’t (and won’t want to!) change your dogs’ breed, genetic makeup, size or age, you can make sure that you avoid some of the environmental/behavioral risk factors mentioned above.


How Diet Affects Canine Bloat

What you feed your dog, and how you feed it, can increase or decrease the risk of him falling victim to canine bloat.

Here are a few things you can do to lower your dog’s risk factors..

  • Feed your dog two smaller meals a day, rather than one big one.
  • Only feed a premium dog food that is appropriate for you dogs breed and age.
  • Avoid poor quality dog foods, and those contain cheap grains or an excessive amount of grain or carbohydrates.
  • Make sure he doesn’t run around like a crazy-dog or go for a long strenuous walk for at least an hour before, and after, eating.
  • Don’t allow him to gobble down his food as though he hasn’t seen a meal for a week, or drink a gallon of water at mealtimes. Using one of the ‘go slow dog bowls’ (aka anti-bulp bowls) can really help here.
  • If you have several dogs, feed them separately to prevent food ‘guarding’ or ‘guzzling’ (and use go-slow bowls too)
  • Although there’s no firm evidence of this, one study suggests that using elevated feed bowls may increase the chances of bloat in some dogs.
  • Add Probiotics and Nzymes (or choose a food that contains them) to your dogs diet to help maintain a healthy digestive system.


Stress & Bloat In Dogs

By reducing the levels of anxiety and stress your dog experiences, you can help his immune system stay strong and keep his digestive system working properly.

Ways to help reduce canine stress and anxiety include…

  • Make sure he gets plenty of exercise and stimulation (both mental and physical).
  • Give him lots of sturdy chew toys to play with (dogs chew as a way of relieving anxiety and stress).
  • Keep his environment as calm and orderely as possible. Routine is important to dogs.
  • Avoid food ‘guarding’ or food-based aggression by feeding dogs separately from other pets.
  • Neuter or spay your dog to help prevent any tendency towards aggression or anxiousness.


How To Treat Bloat In Dogs

At the first sign of bloat, your dog needs veterinary attention – immediately. If it’s after hours, go directly to an emergency pet hospital.

Hurry text

There is no time for a ‘wait and see’ attitude when you’re faced with a dog who may have bloat!

Veterinary treatment depends on whether your dog has experience dilatation (severely distended stomach which puts pressure on other organs) or both dilatation and volvulus (distended stomach plus twisted/rotated esophagus and intestine).

Only a professional can make an accurate diagnosis as to which situation your dog is in.

Initial treatment is usually made to try to relieve the pressure in the stomach, and to give fluids and medications (possibly antibiotics or painkillers) by IV.

Once the dog is stable, surgery is usually performed to try to ‘turn’ the stomach back into the correct position.

This relieves the pressure and then if there has been any cell damage that is treated.

A Point To Ponder!

If your dog developed bloat, could you afford the veterinary bills? They could potentially run into hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

If you want to be sure that you can afford to get your dog the help he needs in ANY emergency, ,check out my Health Insurance For Your Dog page.

It could literally be a lifesaver!

A couple of stitches, or staples, may be used to help the dogs’ stomach stay in the righ position in the future.

Because canine bloat is so serious, and there is still the possibility of cardiac symptoms, most dogs will need to be kept at the clinic for at least 24 hours and needs to be closely monitored for several more days.

If your dog does have an episode of bloat, and survives, he is at a greater risk for having a second episode (even if he’s had surgery to ‘hold’ his stomach in place).

Always keep a close eye on a dog who’s experienced this condition, be hyper-aware of the symptoms, and get veterinary attention if you are even a little bit concerned.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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About The Rotty lover 2122 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone

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