Gastric dilation-volvulus, commonly called bloat, is a life-threatening condition that occurs in dogs. Bloat can kill a dog within minutes. It is a true medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary treatment. Even with immediate care, 25 to 40 percent of dogs with bloat do not survive.
What Is Bloat?
Bloat is a condition whereby a dog's stomach fills with too much food, fluid or gas; becomes enlarged; then twists. The twisting causes immediate blockage of the windpipe and esophagus. As bloat continues, it causes increased abdominal pressure, decreased blood pressure, and decreased blood flow to the heart and other vital organs. This chaos within a dog's body can throw it into shock and lead to blood poisoning, peritonitis, cell and tissue damage, organ failure and death.
Bloat is most treatable in its early stages. Symptoms can be subtle; so every dog owner should know what to look for. Symptoms include unsuccessful attempts to belch or vomit, abdominal pain or distension, excessive drooling, weakness, collapse, pale gums, shortness of breath, heavy panting, rapid heartbeat, cold body temperature, anxiousness, depression, hunched position, coughing or choking sounds, repeatedly asking to go out, excessive drinking and repeatedly licking the air.
According to PetMD, the specific cause of bloat is unknown. Most likely to blame are anatomy, genetics and environment. Any breed can get bloat, but dogs with deep, narrow chests like German shepherds, Basset hounds, Labradors and Newfoundlands are at higher risk, as are specimens with ancestral history of bloat. Risk grows as your dog ages. Contributory causes include eating or drinking too fast, overeating, over-drinking, dry-food-only diets, eating one large meal daily, exercising too soon after eating, fearful disposition, stress, trauma and abnormal gastric motility or hormone secretion.
Do not attempt to treat your dog yourself -- bloat requires emergency veterinary treatment. If your dog presents cardiac distress, his heart must be stabilized before the bloat can be addressed. Your vet may attempt to relieve pressure by inserting an esophageal tube. Surgery is the only corrective action if your dog's stomach has rotated. Most vets will recommend gastropexy, the permanent attachment of the stomach to the abdominal wall, to prevent recurrence of bloat. Any internal organ damage will also have to be repaired.
Following surgery, your dog will likely be hospitalized for a few days to a week. Your vet will then send you and your dog home with a special diet, pain medication and any other necessary medications. Your dog's activity will be restricted for at least two weeks. It's important that you follow your veterinarian's instructions exactly as prescribed and take your dog to followup appointments.
Protecting Your Dog
To guard against bloat, the ASPCA recommends, maintain your dog's proper weight, prohibit vigorous exercise before and after meals, don't use raised bowls unless your veterinarian recommends them, do not allow your dog to gulp food or water, mix canned food with dry kibble, and feed several small meals throughout the day rather than one or two large meals. All dietary practices should be approved by your veterinarian. If you have a high-risk breed, talk to your veterinarian about a prophylactic or preventative gastropexy. It will not prevent bloat, but it will prevent a bloated stomach from twisting.
Yvette Sajem has been a professional writer since 1995. Her work includes greeting cards and two children's books. A lifelong animal advocate, she is active in animal rescue and transport, and is particularly partial to senior and special needs animals.