What is Bloat or Bloating in dogs?


Bloating in Dogs can be a very serious condition, occasionally life threatening, in which the stomach expands due to gas, fluid or food, which in turn causes pressure on the heart and other organs and at the same time it may also twist the gut which then prevents blood circulating to and from the vital organs. Also referred to as Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), bloating in dogs is a complex medical situation and will require surgical emergency treatment.

Bloating occurs when a dog’s stomach expands because of gas, fluid, or food. The swollen belly puts unhealthy pressure on other body organs. In some instances, the stomach will twist or rotate (the GDV complex). The stomach traps blood and prevents it from circulating back to the heart or reaching other parts of the body. At this stage, Gastric Dilatation Volvulus can send a dog into shock.

Bloat can be a life-threatening emergency for your dog, from something as simple as overeating a food source.

Knowing the causes and signs of bloating could save your dog’s life.

Causes of Bloat in Dogs

Extremely painful, the exact cause of bloating in dogs is still debated as there does not appear to be one cause, there are several factors that may predispose your dog or trigger a case of bloating such as listed below.  

Predispositions may be –

  • Being deep-chested – Big breeds such as the Great Dane, Weimaraner, and St. Bernard.
  • Dogs that weigh over 99 pounds have a tendency to be at more risk.
  • History of bloat/GDV in the dog’s family.
  • Your Dog is always nervous (large and small dogs)
  • Your dog is very stressed (large and small dogs)

Then add in the following possible additions

  • Feeding the dog one single meal a day.
  • Eating from over elevated food bowls.
  • Eating very fast.
  • Heavy exercise after eating.
  • Being older, (7-12 years old are more prone). 

Other possible causes of Bloating

Peritonitis is another possible cause of bloating in dogs. This is a serious infection that’s usually caused by a rupture or puncture of your dog’s intestine or stomach lining due to tumours, ulcers, splinters from a bone, or other similar causes. 

A pot-bellied look in a dog could mean he has Cushing’s syndrome or Hyperadrenocorticism, a medical condition triggered by the overproduction of a hormone known as cortisol. Ascites is the accumulation of abdomen fluid and also leads to swelling.

A swollen stomach in puppies might look like bloating but may be due to a severe roundworm infection.

Very underweight and overweight dogs are also vulnerable to bloating if you add in some of the previously discussed problems.

The Symptoms of Bloat

While there are some clear signs, it’s important to note that not all dogs will exhibit all of the signs and symptoms described below. Besides, some of the symptoms may not always be easy to see and most likely a mixture of some of these signs together as opposed to on their own are a more likely indicator. 

A Lap Dog with Hard Distended Stomach – Bloated
  • Hard, distended, swollen, or bloated abdomen.
  • Unproductive retching; trying to vomit, but nothing is coming up.
  • Pacing and restlessness.
  • Excessive saliva (Drooling).
  • Standing with the neck extended and elbows pointed outward, possibly attempting to retch but being unsuccessful.
  • Stretching with the front half down, rear end up (constant).
  • Heavy, fast, or difficult breathing.
  • Rapid pulse and heart rate.
  • Prolonged capillary refill time (CRT).
  • Pale mucus membranes (lift the lip to see the gums).
  • Looking anxiously at you.
  • Looking at their stomach.
  • Collapse.

Treating Bloating in Dogs

Regardless of how Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) happens, it’s terrible for your pet. Eventually, the stomach becomes distended with gas putting pressure on the diaphragm. That can cause severe breathing problems. Moreover, the pressure cuts off the return flow of blood to the heart. 

See how the stomach is causing pressure to the other intestinal organs, when the stomach distends far enough it can affect the heart and lungs also.

The extreme pressure can cause delicate internal tissue to die, causing stomach rupture. Sometimes, the spleen twists together with the stomach, also resulting in damage to splenic tissues. If you suspect your four-legged friend has bloat, get him to a veterinarian immediately as there’s not much you can do to help your dog at home.

The first action your vet is likely to do is release the gas and air build-up inside the stomach. This stops the stomach tissue from dying and takes off the pressure from the surrounding organs.

Although this can be achieved using a stomach pump and tube, sometimes surgery is needed.

At the same time, the dog will need intravenous fluids to reverse the systemic shock, slow down the heart rate, and prevent heart failure.

Often, that will require antibiotics, painkillers, and medication that correct the deprivation of blood to the heart. X-rays and other diagnostic medical tests may be necessary to determine if the dog’s stomach has twisted.

Once stabilized, the dog may need surgery (gastropexy) to repair the stomach damage. This will also involve removing any dying/dead tissue because the blood supply was cut off by bloat. 

Dogs that have previously suffered from bloat have a high risk of further attacks. Therefore, during the gastropexy surgery, vets will typically fix the stomach to the body wall so that it won’t twist again in the future.

Preventing Bloating in your Dog

Preventing bloat in dogs is not straightforward, as many factors may play a role in causing it. However, several things can be done to reduce the risk of bloat.

Don’t feed once a day only

Feeding your dog one meal a day is twice as likely to cause bloat as providing two meals a day. Feed your dog with several portions scattered throughout the day and avoid using highly elevated food bowls.

Fast Eaters

The rate of eating also contributes because fast eaters have a higher risk than slow eating dogs. Consider using feeding bowls with centre posts (fingers) or placing large stones in the bowl to physically slow down the eating.

Anti Gulp bowls will slow down fast eaters

Make Water Available

The dog must have access to drinking water particularly if you are feeding dry foods such as kibble.

Rest After Eating

Ensure the dog rests after a meal; no strenuous exercise should take place on a full stomach.

Separate Nervous or Stressed Dogs

Hyperactive and stressed dogs are more likely to suffer from bloating. Try and reduce stress and anxiety, particularly during feeding time. It may help reduce stress and anxiety surrounding feeding time by separating your dogs. Fearful and unhappy dogs are more likely to bloat.

Other useful Information for Bloat

A recent preventive trend is to perform a gastropexy on at-risk dogs. Often, the surgical procedure is done when a dog is sterilized. To reduce the level of invasiveness, some veterinarians are now doing the procedure laparoscopically. This surgical approach’s challenge lies in determining which dogs are at a high risk to warrant the surgery. 

GDV or Bloat ranks high among the most serious non-traumatic medical conditions seen in dogs. Even in relatively uncomplicated cases, the mortality rate is still high for GDV.

If you think your dog might be suffering, talk to your vet. If bloating is suspected and you want to explore ways of preventing it, consult your veterinarian about the available options. 

The primary line of defense is not limited to preventive surgery as less invasive approaches might be better for your dog. Your vet will help you determine the most suitable treatment line or a combination of treatment techniques for your dog.

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is also essential.

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