If you are the owner of a large breed dog, you may have heard of bloat. If you haven’t, it’s really important that you learn about it.
Bloat can be deadly and it comes on very quickly.
Being the owner of large breed dogs my whole life, I’ve stressed about this condition but fortunately have never had a dog suffer from it.
But I do have a friend who did, and it was terrible. She lost a very young German Shepherd that she had only a few months. It was tragic.
There are some things you can do to try to prevent it. And knowing the signs so you can get immediate medical attention for your dog is critical.
What is bloat?
Bloat, or gastric dilatation, is a condition where the stomach dilates or becomes swollen with fluid or air. It’s really a two-part condition, first the dilation of the stomach, and then in many cases, the torsion or twisting of the stomach. It’s the twisting that can become deadly in a hurry.
When the stomach twists, it traps blood from flowing from the stomach to other organs including the heart. This can cause your dog to go into shock, which is often the cause of death.
You can see the expansion and twisting of the stomach in this illustration, as well as the demeanor of a dog with bloat.
What are the signs of bloat?
Knowing the signs and detecting them quickly can mean the difference between life and death. Initially, your dog may seem like they have an upset stomach. They may:
Try to vomit but nothing comes up
Have a swollen stomach
Look at their own stomach
But then as their condition worsens they may:
Have a rapid heart rate
Have a weak pulse
Have pale gums
If you think your dog has bloat, get them to the vet immediately.
What causes bloat?
No one really knows for sure what causes bloat, and not all dogs are prone to this condition. There is a breed predilection.
It is the number one cause of death in Great Danes. Other large barrel-chested dogs like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners and Setters are also at risk.
And there seems to be a genetic component too. It tends to run in families. If you’re rescuing a dog, there may be no way of knowing if any of the dog’s relatives suffered from the condition. But if you are buying your dog from a reputable breeder, they should be able to tell you about the health history of close relatives.
Dogs with a close relative that has had bloat are more likely to get it.
There are some other factors that are associated with the onset of bloat. You increase the risk of bloat if:
You feed your dog one large meal a day
Your dog eats quickly
Your dog is very active before or after eating
Your dog overeats or drinks too much
Your dog is particularly anxious
Your dog eats from an elevated bowl
What is the treatment for bloat?
Even with treatment, 25-30% of dogs with bloat die, according to peteducation.com.
If your dog has bloat, the vet will first try to release the buildup of gas by inserting a tube into the stomach, or using a large needle if a tube won’t pass. They’ll administer IV fluids if the dog is in shock or shock seems imminent.
Once the dog is stabilized the vet will do an x-ray to see if the stomach has twisted. If it has, surgery is the only solution. They untwist the stomach and stitch it into place (a procedure called gastropexy) so that the stomach can’t twist again. Without this procedure, 75% to 80% of dogs with gastric torsion will get it again.
It sounds like surgery solves the problem and the dog will be fine. But in reality, so much damage is often done to other organs as a result of the blood supply being cut off that surgery is sometimes not enough.
If the damage to other organs is so severe, the dog may die in spite of best efforts to save them.
Can bloat be prevented?
The best we can do if we own a dog at risk for this dreadful condition is to be educated about the signs and try to prevent it as best we can.
Feeding your dog 2 or 3 small meals a day is better than 1 big meal. Don’t raise your dog’s food bowl unless they have some other condition that your vet says warrants it.
Don’t let your dog consume too much water after eating.
Keep activity to a minimum before and after eating. Avoid vigorous exercise and excitement 1 hour before eating and 2 hours after.
And if your dog is a fast eater, try slowing them down with a food bowl that is specially designed to do just that.
The best we can do as owners of large breed dogs is educate ourselves about the risks of bloat, the symptoms of bloat, and how to best prevent it.
Even armed with that information, things happen. But if you know the signs, you can act quickly to get your dog help and hope that that’s enough.
Have you had a dog with bloat? Share your experience in the comment section above. Maybe your knowledge can save another dog’s life.