Bloat in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

Bloat in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

While bloating in humans isn’t that serious of a condition, bloat in dogs can be fatal. In fact, due to the fact that bloat, or gastric volvulus, has a 50 percent mortality rate in dogs, it’s extremely life-threatening and so is a condition where quick diagnosis and treatment are most important for your dog to continue living a normal life.

What is bloat in dogs?

There are actually two conditions that cause bloat in dogs.

The first is called gastric dilatation, which causes the stomach to fill up with gas and fluids and causes the stomach to become distended. The second part of bloat is when the stomach actually begins to rotate. Because the spleen is attached to the stomach, this organ will also begin to rotate along with the stomach. When this happens, it can lead to volvulus, which is when the stomach turns 180 to 360 degrees.

If volvulus is present the portion at the bottom of the stomach, the part that attaches to the small intestine, will be pulled away from the stomach, which in turn causes the beginning of the small intestine to be pinched away from the stomach and constrict fluid and/or air from being passed from the stomach. When this occurs the dog will not be able to pass gas through burping, and they will also be unable to vomit. Because the stomach is now completely closed off, with nothing being passed through, it will become largely distended and the blood circulation in the lining and wall of the stomach will also become interfered with.

This is an incredibly dangerous situation as it can lead to a number of other conditions such as severe dehydration that happens quite quickly, bacterial septicemia, circulatory shock, cardiac arrhythmias, gastric perforation, peritonitis and death.

While any dog of any age can suffer from bloat, it’s most likely to happen in dogs that are middle-aged or older. Because dogs that are part of a very large breed, such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, St. Bernards, Labrador Retrievers, Irish Wolfhounds, and Irish Setters, have large, deep chests, they can be predisposed to the condition simply because their internal organs are much larger and located much deeper down within their systems. Dogs also aren’t usually sick or ill before the onset of bloat.

In fact, they are typically very healthy and active dogs and sometimes, bloat can become present in dogs that have just exercised aggressively, have eaten a very large meal, or have consumed a very large amount of water.

Causes of Bloat in Dogs

There are many different causes of bloat. They include:

  • Stress due to dog shows, the introduction of a new dog into the house, or boarding.
  • Eating is a large cause of bloat. Elevated food bowls can cause dogs to take in too much air, as can gulping down large amounts of water at one time. Consuming dry foods that contain citric acid, or foods that are known to cause gas, such as soybean products or brewer’s yeast, are also known causes of bloat.
  • Exercising too closely to meal time. This is true when a dog exercises before eating, but exercising after eating can make a dog especially prone to bloat.
  • Genetics.
  • Physical characteristics, especially when the dog is large, is older, is male, or is underweight.
  • The dog’s personality, especially if they get stressed out easily, are anxious, or are aggressive towards other dogs or people.

Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs

Because dogs cannot belch or vomit when they are suffering from bloat, unsuccessful attempts to vomit are considered the “hallmark symptom” for bloat.

This might mean that nothing comes up when the dog tries to vomit, but it could also mean that a small amount of foam or mucous can be present. Another one of the biggest signs that bloat is present is that the dog simply doesn’t act like themselves. This is most often seen in the way dogs can sometimes ask to go to the bathroom in the middle night, often repeatedly. When the dog does make it outside, they might once again try to vomit frequently, with no results. This symptom can be most noticeable if the dog hasn’t usually asked to go outside in the middle of the night before.

While these are the two biggest symptoms of bloat in dogs, there are others that include:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • A “hunched up” appearance
  • Lack of gurgling sounds in the stomach sounds that indicate digestion, because the dog will not be digesting their food properly
  • Bloated and tight abdomen
  • Discoloration of the gums
  • Coughing
  • Gagging that doesn’t produce anything
  • Salivation or drooling more than usual
  • Unsuccessful attempts to defecate
  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Licking at nothing but the air around them
  • Hiding
  • Continuously checking their side, abdomen, or other areas that might be in pain
  • Refusal to sit or lie down due to pain
  • A stance with legs spread apart
  • Curling up in a ball, staying in a crouched position that looks like praying
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weakness, inability to stand
  • Might try eating stones or small sticks
  • Heavy panting or breathing
  • Membranes around the mouth area that feel cold
  • Weakened pulse
  • Collapsing
  • Increased heart rate, especially as the bloat becomes worse

Diagnosing Bloat

If you suspect that your dog has bloat, you need to take them to the vet immediately; it’s a crucial part of not only diagnosing the bloat, but also relieving your dog of the symptoms, and helping preserve their life.

While the vet will most likely take x-rays of the abdomen, the quickest way to identify bloat is to pass a long rubber tube down into the dog’s stomach through their mouth. When the tube makes its way into the dog’s stomach, a large rush of air and fluid, as well as a “whooshing” sound will be evident. This is not only the best way to diagnose the condition, it’s also the quickest way to bring relief to your dog, as the tube will expel the air and fluid that has been backed up in their stomach for so long.

Once this happens the stomach will be washed out to remove any traces of air and fluid that remain and the dog will need to be put on an IV for the next 36 hours as they will be unable to eat. The vet will continue looking for symptoms and if there are none, the dog can return to their normal eating patterns after the 36-hour time period.

In the case of volvulus, which are gas patterns that show a “double bubble” in which gas bubbles are separated by tissue that’s been twisted and turned, emergency surgery is often needed to untwist the stomach muscles and to return the stomach and spleen to their normal positions.

In extreme cases, portions of both the stomach and spleen may need to be removed.

How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs

Unfortunately, once your dog has been treated for bloat, that’s not always the end of the condition. In fact, dogs who have suffered from bloat in the past are 70 per cent more likely to have it again.

The good news is that there are some things that can be done to prevent this from occurring:

  • Instead of putting out one big bowl of food for them for the day, give them a little bit three times a day and make sure mealtimes are spaced several hours between each other.
  • Place food bowls on the floor instead of on stools or small tables.
  • Read the label on your dog’s food. If any kind of fat appears within the first four ingredients, choose another brand. Also be sure that you don’t give your dog any food that contains citric acid.
  • Remove their water bowl for one hour before and after meals. This will stop them from gulping large amounts of air along with the water.
  • Before taking them on a walk or exercising with them vigorously, make sure that they haven’t just eaten so they are not doing so on an empty stomach.

Bloat in dogs isn’t just a very painful condition, it’s one that can actually kill your dog. If you suspect your dog has bloat, get them to a vet within the hour so they can get the treatment they need. It just might save their life. Also know the steps that need to be taken to prevent it from ever happening again so you can be sure that your dog will continue living a happy, safe, and pain-free life.

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Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has been a freelance content writer for the past 8 years, and has written creatively her entire life. In addition to her online work, she has written a fiction novel, as well as had poetry published in the “Songs of the Heart” collection. A lover of animals since she was young, she’s also always had a dog by her side. Currently her best friend is a 13-year-old German Shepherd named Chewy.

Kate Elliott

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