Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus)

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV), or bloat as it is commonly known, is a very serious and life-threatening condition, occurring suddenly and can kill in a matter of hours. Bloat usually occurs in two parts; first the stomach rapidly fills up with air, increasing pressure and causing compression of surrounding organs and shock. Secondly, filled with air the stomach can rotate on itself, pinching off the blood supply. The entire blood supply is disrupted and the dog's condition begins to deteriorate rapidly.

Which breeds are susceptible?

A definite link with the build of the dog has been recognised, and bloat is much more likely to occur in large, deep-chested breeds. Great Danes, Saint Bernard, Weimaraner, Irish Setter and Gordon Setter being among the breeds with the highest incidences, however and deep-chested breed is susceptible. It has been noticed that there is often a tendency for bloat to run in certain lines. Because bloat is correlated to the depth and width of the dog's chest, and genes from the parents determine these traits, if the parents are deep chested then it is most likely that their progeny will also have deep chests and thus be more susceptible to bloat. The problem has been known to occur in small dogs, but very rarely.

What causes bloat?

Bloat appears to be caused by a number of different and unknown reasons, and is usually a combination of events. Studies of the stomach gas that occurs, suggests that dilation occurs as a result of swallowing air. Whilst we normally burp to release excess air, for some reason these dogs are unable to release it.

What are the symptoms?

When gas first starts to accumulate in the stomach, the dog will appear slightly uncomfortable. The stomach then starts to dilate (gastric dilation) and the dog will become anxious and restless, often pacing, and the stomach may be swollen. He may also try to vomit, but will only bring up a white foam, no food.

The next stage is when the stomach twists (gastric volvulus) and the dog becomes extremely restless, whining and panting as well as salivating and trying to vomit every few minutes. He may go on to stand with his legs apart and hang his head down. The stomach is swollen and sounds hollow if tapped.

When the blood supply is cut off, organs become compressed and shock can begin to develop. The dog is unable to stand, or stands very shakily, with his legs apart. The stomach is very swollen and breathing is shallow.

The final stage is shock and heart failure develops, the dogs gums are white or blue and death is imminent.

How is it treated?

The best chance a dog has of surviving is immediate veterinary attention. Sadly, even with treatment, a large percentage of dogs still die, some survive surgery but then die of the shock after treatment.

Your veterinarian must relieve the pressure, decompressing either by using a stomach tube or inserting a large needle into the stomach to release the gas. The less time the pressure is on the stomach and organs the better the dog's chances of survival. Once the dog is stabile, x-rays are taken to determine whether a torsion is present. If it is, then surgery is performed to untwist the stomach, which is then stitched to the abdominal wall to prevent reoccurrence.

How is it prevented?

The cause of bloat is unknown and therefore it is near impossible to determine how to prevent it. Some suggestions are listed below, but there is no guarantee that these will help to prevent bloat occurring.
  • Divide the day's ration into two or three meals a day, spacing them well apart.
  • If feeding a dry food, ensure it is well soaked beforehand.
  • If your dog has a tendency to eat very quickly, gulping his food down, try slowing him down by placing a very large smooth stone (too big to be swallowed) in the middle of the food bowl.
  • If you have more than one dog and meal times are a competition to see who eats fastest then try feeding them in separate rooms.
  • Put both the water and food bowls on a stand at head height, thus reducing the amount of air swallowed during eating or drinking.
  • Do not allow your dog to drink large quantities of water at a time, especially after a meal.
  • Avoid exercise for about two hours after a meal.
  • Avoid feeding before or during stressful or exciting situations.
  • Most important of all, ensure you know and can recognise the symptoms of bloat and act quickly by taking him to the vet immediately.


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© 2006 Jill Terry.

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Submitted: 18 Aug, 2006 (Edited 28 Jan, 2010)
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