Dog Bloat – A Silent Killer

I have a routine. I make my coffee, take the kids to the bus, come home and feed my four large dogs about 3-4 cups of food (Wellness dry with some wet mixed in). Then we immediately jump in my truck and go to the park for some crazy playtime. And they run, and they chase balls, and they run some more. And I feel like the greatest dog mom on the planet.

Turns out, I’m not.

Ever hear of dog bloat? I have, but I’ve ignored it. I know it causes an excruciatingly painful death, and there are several causes, certain warning signs, and possible treatment. But it scares me, so I’ve ignored it.

But recently I’ve heard several horror stories about friends’ dogs getting bloat and dying, or nearly dying. So I’ve decided to take my head out of the sand and learn about it, scary as it is.

Bloat is a common name for Torsion and Gastric Dilation-volvulus or GDV. Very basically that means the dog’s stomach swells, flips, and causes death. It occurs when an abnormal amount of air, gas, food, and/or fluid expand in the dog’s stomach. As the stomach swells, it can twist or flip, cutting off blood flow and trapping the air, food, and water. When this happens, your dog can’t burp or vomit to relieve the pressure, and veins in the abdomen are obstructed — leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs. The combined effect can quickly kill a dog.

So, the obvious question: What causes it?

Well, bloat occurs when your dog eats a large amount of food quickly, or drinks a lot of water quickly, and then immediately goes to the park and runs like crazy, chases balls, runs some more, jumps, gulps at tennis balls. Um, yes, exactly what my dogs have been doing. There are several other singular causes of bloat as well, however, such as rapid eating and drinking, an elevated food bowl (yes, I have been elevating their bowls for their dining comfort), heredity, preexisting digestion issues, high-stress situations, eating high-fat food or kibble containing citric acid as a preservative; and eating gas-producing foods such as beans and yeast products.

Now, if you (like me) have provided your dog with some of these risk factors, don’t beat yourself up. Simply make some adjustments to your routine and take a few precautions. Feed your dog smaller portions twice a day, rather than a big bowl once a day; give your dog a couple of hours rest after a meal; buy one of those special dog bowls with a protrusion in the center if your dog tends to devour his food without tasting it (I bought one; most pet stores have them. It forces your dog to eat slower); don’t allow your dog to drink too much water immediately after exercise; avoid stressful situations if possible; and place the feeding bowl on the floor, rather than on an elevated tray or stairs.

Even if you take those precautions, bloat could still strike your dog, unfortunately. But how will you know? There are definite warning signs. First, your dog will probably start gagging or trying to vomit, often resulting in dry heaves; he might try to tell you through his body language, hunching over, curling up in a ball in corner, walking with a strange, wide stance; he might start licking or biting the air; his abdomen will be swollen; he might be extremely restless and start pacing; his heart rate might race; and he might start foaming at the mouth.

If your dog exhibits these symptoms, there’s only one thing to do: Call your vet immediately. Bloat is a medical emergency and the dog must be treated fast or he’ll die. If bloat is caught early enough, your vet can treat him – by inserting a tube down his throat to release the gas and relieve pressure, or by performing surgery. The key here is acting quickly.

So who gets bloat? Any dog can get it, but it occurs most frequently in large breeds and those with deep, narrow chests. The breeds commonly affected include bloodhounds, German Shepherds, Irish Wolfhounds, Irish Setters, Dobermans, Weimaraners, and Akitas. But keep in mind that every dog is susceptible if proper precautions aren’t made.

Which is why, starting today, I no longer feed my big dogs right before our playtime, I’ve trashed the elevated dog bowl holder, I’ve changed to feeding them twice a day instead of once, I watch carefully while they eat and drink, and I now feed them apart from each other to minimize stress. It’s the least I can do to keep them healthy and safe. And for my own peace of mind as well.