The curse of all lovers of large chested breed dogs. Any dog can suffer bloat but larger breeds with deep chests, such as Great Danes, St Bernards, Weimaraners, German Shepherds and Labradors are particularly susceptible.
What is it?
Bloat is a medical emergency and one of the most rapidly life-threatening conditions that vets treat in dogs. It involves the stomach but can quickly lead to life threatening shock if left untreated. When bloat happens, the stomach fills with gas and often twists in a way that it cuts off the blood supply to the gut and stops gas and food from leaving. It can also make the spleen twist and lose circulation, and block vital veins in the back that transport blood to the heart.
Bloat is immensely painful for dogs and it can kill in a matter of hours without vet care, so it’s important that pet owners know the signs and ways to help prevent it. The condition is also known, more scientifically, as gastric dilatation-volvulus.
What are the signs?
- A swollen, hard belly
- Retching but not able to vomit
- Foamy mucous around the lips, or vomiting foamy mucous
- Heavy salivating or drooling
- Pain in the abdomen when touched
- Other signs of distress such as panting and restlessness
- Drinking excessively
- Shallow breathing
- Licking the air
- May refuse to lie down or on their side
- Unable to stand or has a spread legged stance
- Weak pulse
- Increased heart rate
How can I minimise the risk of bloat?
The causes of bloat are not really understood. It’s thought that feeding little and often may make it less likely so eating 2 to 3 small meals per day. Sticking to lower fat food is also recommended and if changing your dog's food do this over a week. It’s also advised to avoid strenuous exercise before and after feeding - allow at least an hour either side. Eating rapidly is another risk factor, so it is a good idea to consider using a slow feeding bowl if your dog is a fast eater. Avoid excessive drinking. Overweight and very underweight dogs are also more susceptible to bloat, so maintaining a healthy weight is also important.
What should I do if my dog has any of the above symptoms?
Contact your vet immediately and take your dog to your vet as soon as possible. There are other potential emergencies that present the same symptoms of bloat, so a scan may be done first of all to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment will then be needed immediately.
Your vet will first release the build-up of gas and air inside the stomach to stop the tissue in the stomach from dying and take pressure off surrounding organs. This can be done using a tube and stomach pump, but surgery is sometimes needed. It’s possible to untwist the gut at this point as well, but not always.
At the same time intravenous fluids will need to be given to reverse the shock and slow down the heart rate to prevent heart failure. This will often require strong painkillers, antibiotics and medicine to correct the loss of blood flow to the heart caused by bloat.
If a dog can be made stable after this initial treatment, it will need surgery to repair the damage to the stomach, which will involve removing any tissue that is dying due to the cut off in blood supply. There is a high risk that dogs that have suffered from bloat will have further attacks and so usually during the operation vets will try to fix the stomach to the body wall so that it can’t twist again ( an operation known as a gastropexy). A preventative gastropexy is sometimes recommended at a young age in breeds at particular risk.