How to Recognize Bloat in Your Dog and Save His Life

Great Dane dogs are subject to bloat.
Many dogs are subject to bloat.
Photo Courtesy of Vanessa on Unsplash

Clyde paced back and forth in obvious distress. The big Dane tried to sit down but cried out in pain and resumed his walk, drool hanging from his lips.

The dog stopped to retch, producing only a small amount of foam. Clyde was in trouble!

Fortunately, his owner knew of the condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), commonly called Bloat. Clyde displayed all the symptoms.

Bloat is a life-threatening condition, where a dog’s stomach twists and fills with gas. Rather like an expanding balloon, his belly swells and becomes noticeably hard and distended. As the gas pressures the diaphragm, the dog’s breathing seems labored.

The evening Clyde bloated, he came inside after a game of chasing the cat around the yard. The game was one the dog and cat often played. He ate his usual dinner of kibble and napped while the family ate dinner.

Upon waking, Clyde cried out and began pacing back and forth. When the other symptoms followed, his owner bundled the dog into the car and headed to their local emergency veterinary clinic.

Only One Thing Can Save Your Dog’s Life if He Suffers Bloat

Getting your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible could determine if he lives or dies. The longer a dog bloats, the less chance he will live. Because the owner knew that Clyde’s bloat must have occurred after he ate his dinner, the vet knew there was still time for the dog to undergo life-saving surgery.

Once at the vet clinic, an X-Ray supplies proof if bloat is present in the animal. The vet will first try to decompress the dog’s stomach to remove the pressure on blood vessels and arteries that carry blood to the heart. Then the stomach must be untwisted and the gas build-up released.

A tube inserted through the dog’s nose to the stomach might release the gas, but surgery could still be required to decompress the stomach. The big concern here is the risk of heart failure because of the lack of blood flow to the heart. Shock could also complicate things.

When surgery is required to untwist the stomach, the operating veterinarian will attach the dog’s stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent a repeat of bloat, a surgery referred to as gastropexy. This simple procedure greatly lessened the chances of Clyde ever bloating again.

With any dog at risk for bloat and especially if your dog is a Great Dane, talk to your vet about the gastropexy surgery as a preventive measure. That preventive technique could be easily done at the same time the animal is spayed or neutered. If the laparoscopy-assisted method is used on a healthy adult dog, gastropexy becomes a quick and easy procedure that could save your dog’s life before he bloats and with minimal recovery time.

Your Dog’s Recovery Period May Hide Health Risks

Once the dog is out of surgery, he won’t be out of the woods. The veterinarian will monitor the dog for a few days for a possible irregular heartbeat. When your dog has recovered enough, the vet will send him home with medications and the dreaded “collar of shame,” the Elizabethan collar that all dogs despise, that will prevent him from pulling out his stitches.

At home, his exercise should be limited and diet possibly changed to one less likely to cause a repeat performance for a canine prone to bloat .

6 Factors that Could Cause Your Dog to Bloat

Frankly, veterinarians don’t know the real cause, but contributing factors have been identified. All dog owners should read these and watch out for such signs in their own pets.

  1. Older dogs that are on the thin side or underweight seem predisposed to bloat and are in the highest risk group. Deep-chested dogs and stressed out canines also fall into the high-risk group. One source suggested that purebred dogs are most likely to bloat.
  2. What and how a dog eats plays a huge role in whether or not bloat looms in his future.
  3. Vigorous exercise right before or soon after eating could trigger bloat in a dog prone to the condition.
  4. According to Maryland Pet Emergency, a dog should not be fed a diet of kibble with animal fat listed as one of the first four ingredients.
  5. Dogs should never be fed from elevated bowls.
  6. Genetics play a part in predisposition to bloat, so never breed your dog if he or she has a close relative that bloated. Dog breeds considered at high risk for bloat include the Great Dane, St. Bernard, Standard Poodle, Irish and Gordon Setters, German Shepherd Dog, Akita, Basset Hound, Doberman, Weimaraner and Boxer.

While we think that deep-chested, large dogs are the ones at risk, any canine could bloat if the circumstances fit.

5 Smart Tips to Keep Your Dog Healthy and Avoid Bloat

  1. Feed him 2–3 smaller meals each day and offer plenty of fresh water.
  2. Consider adding canned food to his diet. While some veterinarians recommend adding commercial canned food to your dog’s diet, others suggest the addition of a kibble containing a calcium-rich meat, such as lamb meal for additional protein. There are as many professional opinions on diet as there are brands of pet food on the retail market. My own Great Danes and my Weimaraner enjoyed ½ Cup of low-fat cottage cheese on their kibble twice a day and a raw egg on their kibble each morning. The egg and cottage cheese were healthy, low-fat, and added needed moisture to their diet. Since it took the place of some of the kibble and contained protein, the cottage cheese aided in the prevention of bloat. Or add any quality canned food to each meal. The idea is to increase meat protein and add moisture to the dog’s diet.
  3. Do not allow him to exercise an hour before or an hour after eating.
  4. If he eats too quickly, consider switching to a bowl with dividers to slow him down and never use raised feeding bowls.
  5. Since stress is considered a factor contributing to the condition, feed your dog in a relaxed environment. Send noisy kids out of the room so he can dine in peace.

Because stress is considered a factor contributing to the bloat condition, feed your dog in a relaxed environment. Send noisy kids out of the room so your pet can dine in peace.

Proactive Care Rewards You and Your Dog with a Bright Future Together

Clyde’s owner’s prompt attention to his symptoms saved the big dog’s life, and the Dane spent several more years chasing the family cat around the yard. But had they known the right preventive measures, Clyde might never have suffered bloat.

You now know how to react if your own dog suffers bloat, and you also know how to prevent it from happening. Limit your dog’s exercise right before and right after eating. Feed him several smaller meals each day in a stress-free environment, and discuss the pros and cons of gastropexy with your veterinarian.

Keep your dog safe, and the two of you will spend many more years enjoying each other’s company.

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