For dog owners and dog lovers, “bloat” is a very scary word—and for good reason: this serious medical condition affects an estimated 60,000 dogs in the United States—and 33% of them die as a result. The fact is, bloat starts fast and gathers momentum with tremendous speed, and unless a dog receives immediate veterinary care, bloat is usually fatal. So the more you know about bloat, the better prepared you can be if your dog ever shows symptoms.
What is bloat exactly?
When a dog is bloated, air and fluid rapidly accumulates in his stomach. In simple cases the animal can still vent the air, but in the more severe instances the dog’s stomach rotates, trapping the air, fluid, and any food present in the stomach. When this happens, the air and fluid build up with no means of escape. As a result, the pressure of the distention cuts off blood circulation and the stomach tissues may start to die. In addition, the bloated or distended stomach compresses other organs, such as the heart and major blood vessels, causing shock and cardiac dysfunction. The spleen can also e involved when the stomach rotates.
When bloating begins, a dog will usually show signs of abdominal discomfort. He’ll be restless, whining, salivating, and attempting to vomit (the dry heaves). And you may be able to see that his abdomen is considerably bigger than normal. Shock sets in quickly, indicated by pale mucus membranes, weakness, and collapse. The disease can worsen in a matter of minutes or over a period of hours. Either way, you should stop him from eating or drinking anything else—and get him to a vet immediately.
Your vet will need to examine your dog and take x-rays for a definitive diagnosis. If you’re lucky, your dog will have a case of simple bloat. In this case, the vet may be able to release the air from the stomach with a tube or needle. However, a rotated stomach is much more serious and will require immediate surgery to derotate the stomach and perform a procedure known as gastropexy.
Dogs most at risk
Large, deep-chested breeds are most at risk of developing bloat. These include German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Akita, Bloodhound, Collie, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, and Weimaraner. The risk seems to increase with age in these large breeds.
Other contributory factors that may put your dog at risk include:
- Having an immediate relative with bloat
- Rapid eating of a large meal or drinking a large amount water
- Being underweight
- Having a fearful temperament
You can help prevent bloat in your dog by giving him multiple daily feedings and making sure he doesn’t eat too rapidly. If he has an anxious or fearful personality, help him overcome his fearfulness.
If you suspect your dog has bloat, don’t wait to see what happens. Take him to a vet immediately.