One of the most serious problems a dog owner can face, bloat often strikes without warning. Bloat is caused by rapid food consumption. It can show up a few minutes or a few hours after a dog eats a meal. It's possible to feed your dog in a way that minimizes the possibility of bloat but that is not guaranteed to prevent it.
Formally known as gastric dilatation, bloat occurs when a dog's stomach fills up with gas and food. The increased pressure on abdominal veins from the swollen stomach causes oxygen deprivation to other organs, but that's not the worst of it. Dilatation can progress to volvulus, in which the stomach twists. The only hope of saving your dog involves getting him to the emergency vet as soon as possible.
The abdomen of a dog suffering from bloat will usually swell and become sensitive to touch. Affected dogs become restless, because they are in pain. Your dog might pant and whine excessively. He might try to throw up, with no result. He could produce lots of drool. Without immediate intervention, he will collapse.
Any dog can suffer from bloat, but large breeds with deep chests are more often affected. Among susceptible breeds are the Great Dane, Doberman pinscher, Saint Bernard, standard poodle, Old English sheepdog, Irish setter, Weimaraner, Akita, German shepherd and boxer. Basset hounds, who aren't tall but have deep chests, are prone to the disorder. One in five dogs weighing more than 100 pounds experience bloat.
Even if he's quickly transported to an emergency vet, a dog might not survive bloat. The vet might insert a stomach tube, pump for gas relief and decompression, and give the dog intravenous fluids; then, once the dog is stabilized, perform surgery. The vet can assess the damage done and remove dead tissue. She can attempt to untwist the stomach if volvulus has occurred. Since a dog who has bloated once frequently bloats again, the vet surgically tacks the stomach so it won't twist again.
Feed your dog several small meals daily rather than one large meal. A canned food diet is preferable to feeding only kibble. He shouldn't drink copious amounts of water prior to eating or right afterward. Avoid feeding your dog for a couple of hours before or after vigorous exercise. If you change his diet, introduce new foods gradually rather than making an instant switch. Some vets recommend tacking the stomach in place for breeds prone to bloat, at the same time as a spay or neuter surgery.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.