It’s the look in the eyes that tell it all. Some dog owners say that they see the look of death in their friend’s eyes. This look, coupled with a swollen stomach, signals a horrible disease, referred to as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or simply as “Bloat in dogs”. It’s one of the most dangerous and misunderstood diseases that dogs can suffer from.
What is Bloat in Dogs
Technically, GDV (Bloat) is stomach bloating and gastric torsion in dogs. It begins with the accumulation of air in the stomach, or at least we think that comes first, though even that point is controversial. Some believe that air is produced as a byproduct of food digestion and this distends the stomach, allowing the bloated stomach to twist. The others theorize that the stomach twists first and air accumulates either from being swallowed or manufactured by the food in the stomach. Studies are inconclusive.
The gastric torsion in dogs means nothing can enter or leave the bloated stomach. It’s like a sausage link. The swelling of the stomach in the abdomen restricts blood flow – blood can’t pass by the enlarged stomach and it pools in the abdomen, not returning to the heart. Blood flow falters and the hind legs become weak. As well, blood can’t go back to circulation so blood pressure falls. This sends the dog into shock and, without treatment, certain death.
To add to the problem, the rotation (torsion) of the stomach pulls the spleen and pancreas along with it. Blood flow to these vital organs is disrupted, resulting in the production of hormones that affect the heart. They can literally stop the heart cold.
My Dog Is Bloated
The Best Thing you can do? – Know the signs and get veterinary attention right away if you suspect bloat!
The initial GDV treatment depends on clinical signs of bloat in dogs and their severity.
Signs of Bloat in Dogs
- Distended stomach
- Futile retching
- Unsuccessful attempts to belch or vomit
- Excessive salivation
- General weakness
- Cold body temperature
- Pale gums
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
GDV in Dogs Treatment
When veterinarians see a dog with GDV, there is a predictable treatment plan. First, the doctor confirms the GDV diagnosis. In many cases, inserting a needle into the swollen belly and hearing air rush out is all that is needed. In others, a radiograph is taken to reveal an air-filled stomach. Coupled with the clinical signs of weakness, pale gums, and going into shock, the diagnosis is readily apparent.
The bloat treatment usually begins with the placement of an intravenous line to inject fluids and reverse the hypotension.
The next step is decompression of the distended stomach. One way to do this is to push a large-bore tube through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. This cannot be done in some bloated dogs due to the twist at the stomach entrance.
If there is massive stomach enlargement or the dog is in such bad shape that it may go into cardiac arrest, a needle put through the skin into the bloated stomach can release some air. This may also make it easier to pass the stomach tube. Deflation of the stomach allows easier breathing, better blood circulation, and a possibility that the stomach flips back to its natural position on its own.
The next step is surgery to correct the dog’s stomach torsion. This should occur within one to two hours.
The surgery starts with a cut along the bottom of the belly. The bloated stomach pops out of the incision. It can then be examined to see which way it is rotated. Once it is pushed or pulled into the correct position, it can be further deflated and checked for damage. With a compromised blood supply, part of the stomach wall can die. This may need to be resected (surgically removed). The spleen is often removed because it also suffers damage.
The most critical time for GDV (Bloat) in dogs is directly after what is thought to be successful surgery. Some dogs appear to be doing well, yet suddenly succumb to cardiac arrest. Other complications include pancreatitis, abdominal infections, and rupture of the stomach. Aggressive fluid treatment, antibiotics, as well as monitoring with frequent blood tests can help reduce fatalities.
Current mortality rates for dogs with GVD are 10 to 15 percent. In the past, it was up to 45 percent. The difference is the intensive care and monitoring now available.
Bloat and torsion in dogs recur in 75 to 90 percent of patients. To prevent this, most veterinarians do a gastropexy – affix the stomach to the abdominal wall. This is considered a permanent solution, and though a dog may still bloat, it stops the stomach from twisting.
What Causes Bloat in Dogs
There has been great debate on what contributes to GDV in dogs. A helpful review of what causes bloat in dogs was recently compiled by Dr. Jennifer Ogeer, an associate professor in critical care at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon.
- GDV (Bloat) increases with dog’s age, it’s seen more in purebreds, and giant breeds are more likely to be affected than large breeds. Also, narrow and deep-chested dogs, as well as lean dogs, have an increased GDV risk. These include Great Danes, Weimaraners, Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, Irish and Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, and Doberman Pinschers.
- Single meal feeding boosts the bloated dog risk, as well as feeding a large volume of food per meal (a two-fold increase in the risk of developing GDV). Eating faster is associated with a higher risk.
- A high-energy food containing carbohydrates was not found to be a risk factor. However, dry dog food containing soybean meal or having oils or fats as one of the first four ingredients may increase the risk of GDV by four-fold.
- We also know that exercise after eating increases risk. As well, calm dogs are less likely to suffer from GDV than stressful, fearful, or aggressive dogs. The presence of other gastrointestinal diseases – inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and esophageal disorders (e.g. megesophagus) – boost the incidence of GDV.
Preventing Bloat in Dogs
The question is – what can we do to preclude GDV? Dr. Theresa Fossum, a veterinary surgeon, presented what she recommends for preventing bloat in dogs at an important veterinary conference.
- First, it helps to feed several (at least two) smaller meals a day rather than a single large one. Stress should be avoided during feeding. This may mean, in multiple dog households, separating dogs at feeding time. Dr. Theresa Fossum believes that restricting exercise before and after eating is of questionable benefit.
- One controversial suggestion Dr. Theresa Fossum makes is to avoid an elevated food bowl. Having the food bowl on a platform or step has been recommended for years, but we now know it increases the risk of GDV.
- When it comes to breeding, do not breed a dog that has had GDV/Bloat, or a dog with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or offspring) that has had GDV/Bloat.
- For high-risk dogs, prophylactic gastropexy can be considered. Most important for owners is to know what the signs of bloat in dogs are and seek veterinary advice as soon as any signs are evident.
Academy for Canine Educators
Dr. Jeff Grognet is a veterinarian, and Mike Annan is a canine obedience instructor and behaviorist. Together they have created the ACE Academy for Canine Educators. They have produced a free course for shelter and rescue (though anyone can benefit from it) as well as a weekly newsletter that educates on canine (and feline) health, obedience, and behavior issues.
By the same author:
- How to Recognize and Break Up a Dog Fight
- Dog Separation Anxiety Help and Treatment
- Dog Recall Training