Also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, it's a medical and surgical emergency.

By Amy Shojai
February 10, 2020

If you have a larger breed dog—such as German shepherd, Bullmastiff, or Akita—you may already be alert to cases of bloat in dogs. Bloat goes beyond a mere tummy ache and can be life-threatening to the big-breed dogs prone to the condition. More technically described as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), the condition happens when gas becomes trapped in the stomach. The painful swelling can cause pressure on the internal organs. The stomach may twist or rotate, which can cut off blood circulation. Bloat refers to one or both scenarios, and either can cause your dog to die within hours.

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Related: How to Choose the Best Food for Your Dog

What Dogs Are Affected

Any dog may be affected, but large and giant breeds like Saint Bernards are three times more likely to suffer bloat compared to mixed breed dogs. Dogs with a narrow but deep chest have the greatest incidence, with Great Danes the most frequently affected. Some research suggests that affected dogs could suffer from swallowing abnormalities and swallow more air or are less able to burp to rid themselves of trapped stomach gas. Personality also can increase the risk—dogs that are anxious, irritable, or aggressive are more prone, and nervous dogs have a 12 times higher risk than calm, happy dogs. Dogs that are underweight also have an increased risk, which may be an indication they already have problems with their gastrointestinal tract.

What Are the Danger Signs

When you live with an at-risk dog, be alert to the danger signs. You must immediately get your dog to the emergency clinic to save his life. Typically, dogs become restless from the discomfort within a few hours of eating. Watch for these signs of discomfort and distress: Your dog can't get comfortable (whine, lie down then get up, and pace), makes unsuccessful attempts to vomit or defecate, has a swollen painful abdomen, shows signs of shock (like pale gums, irregular or shallow breathing, or a rapid heart rate), or collapses.

How to Diagnose Bloat

The above signs in at-risk dogs usually point to the condition, but X-rays may be required to confirm the diagnosis. Veterinary treatment seeks to vent the gas and remove the contents of your dog's stomach to relieve the pressure. If the stomach hasn't rotated, a stomach tube passed down the dog's throat may do the trick. A twisted tummy, though, requires emergency surgery to move the stomach to a normal position, and address any other organ damage.

Repair includes gastropexy surgery, which fixes the stomach to the internal body wall, so that it won't twist again. Dogs with gastric dilatation-volvulus that do not undergo a gastropexy have recurrence rates of more than 70 percent and mortality rates of 80 percent.

How to Reduce the Risk of Bloat

While, there isn't anything you can to absolutely prevent bloat there are predisposing factors that can be reduced. Gastropexy surgery may be used in at-risk dogs at the time of neutering surgery to reduce the risk. Laparoscopic surgery techniques can make the procedure much less invasive and reduce recovery time. At home, follow these best practices. Dogs shouldn't exercise immediately after eating—wait at least a couple of hours. Avoid sudden changes in food, which can prompt gorging behavior. When a diet change is necessary, introduce it gradually over a seven to ten-day period. Eating too much or drinking a lot at one time also can cause problems, so meal-feed your dog small quantities of food several times a day. Use a puzzle toy or slow-feeder bowl to slow gulping. If there's food competition between your dogs, feed them in separate rooms to prevent gulping. Elevated bowls are no longer recommended.

Some veterinarians also recommend keeping a simethicone product like Gas-x, Phazyme, or Mylanta Gas in the house to initiate burping immediately. Take steps to build your dog's confidence, and reduce nervousness or fear. Pheromone products that reduce fear can help.

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