Bloat: A Deadly Disease That Can Kill

Bloat. Such a simple word that may not sound serious, but it is dead serious when it comes to dogs that get this life threatening condition. Bloat is considered the second leading cause of dog death right after cancer and nearly 50 percent of all dogs with bloat die.

What is Bloat?

Bloat, which can also be known as torsion or gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), is when a dog’s stomach gets filled with too much gas and it stretches it out of shape. It can be made worse when the stomach actually twists in on itself because if this happens, the stomach blocks the esophagus and the gas build up has nowhere to escape. If it gets bad enough, it can block the windpipe as well, and the dog won’t be able to breathe.

If the bloat is allowed to continue, it puts pressure on the blood veins, causing low blood pressure and decreased blood flow to vital organs like the heart, stomach, liver and spleen. All of this causes shock and if not treated fast, it will lead to blood poisoning, peritonitis, toxic shock and eventually death.

What Are The Symptoms of Bloat?

In the early stages, bloat isn’t always easy to spot. For this reason, all pet owners should be very aware of their pet’s habits, as it could save their lives. Signs include:

  • Vomiting or attempting to vomit every few minutes. Vomit may be foamy or just saliva.
  • Restlessness or the inability to lie down comfortably. This would include panting and not acting like himself.
  • Distended hard stomach.
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weakness
  • Erratic heartbeat
  • Asking to go outside repeatedly, especially in the middle of the night
  • Being all hunched up and miserable looking
  • No digestive or gurgling sounds in the stomach
  • Coughing or choking sounds
  • Pale gums
  • Licking the air repeatedly
  • Standing with legs spread all out
  • Drinking a lot of water
  • Heavy panting

How Can It Be Treated?

Bloat is a true medical emergency, not something to fool around with and try to treat at home. It can kill a dog in a matter of minutes. If you suspect your dog is having a bloat attack, then you can administer something like Gas-X, Pepcid, or other medication containing simethicone. BUT—you still MUST call your veterinarian and get your dog there as soon as possible, as his life will depend on it. This can’t be stressed enough.

First, your vet will likely start a fluid therapy which may contain saline, dextrose and balanced electrolytes to help get the dog’s blood pressure back up to normal. Sometimes steroids and antibiotics are added as well, depending on the dog’s condition.

The vet will also want to get rid of the excess gas inserting a lubricated tube down into the dog’s stomach or passing a catheter attached to a large bore needle through the dog’s skin into the stomach.

Surgery may be needed to remove the excess gas, fluid and any material that is blocking the dog’s stomach. Your vet may also have to untwist the stomach if needed. In some cases the dog’s stomach will be stapled to the wall of the dog’s body so it can’t twist a second time, especially if your dog has gotten bloat before and seems predisposed to get it again. If any of the stomach tissue has died due to loss of blood supply, it will be cut out and the stomach sewn back together.

If all goes well, your dog will likely remain in the hospital for about a week and may need to be put on a special diet, take medication and take care of the surgery wounds.

Prevention of Bloat

Even if your dog survives an episode of bloat, there is still as much as a 70 percent chance of it happening again. To prevent a relapse you can take some of the following steps:

  • Don’t let your dog drink water one hour before or after eating. When he does drink, make sure it is small amounts at a time and he doesn’t gulp it.
  • Divide mealtimes into three times a day, instead of one large meal. Don’t let your dog gulp down his food or he may swallow air.
  • Don’t feed your dog from a raised food dish.
  • Feed a high quality dog food that isn’t high in fats and oils. Fat should be at least fourth down in the ingredients, and preferably the protein level should be 30 percent or higher.
  • Don’t let a dog exercise or play roughly after eating for at least two hours.

Large Breed Dogs Are Especially Prone to Bloat

If you have a large breed dog, especially one with a deep, narrow chest, then he may be more susceptible to getting bloat. Breeds that are affected regularly are Akita, Great Dane, German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Irish Wolfhound, Irish Setter, Doberman Pinschers Weimaraner, Bloodhound, and other similar breeds. For example, a Great Dane has about a 37 percent chance of getting bloat sometime in its life.

Another interesting note is that purebred dogs seem to be more likely to develop bloat then mixed breeds. Perhaps the mixing of the genes helps to protect the dog if the other breeds are not the ones prone to bloat. It also occurs more in older males dogs, which get it twice as much as younger female dogs do.

All in all, the important thing to remember is that time is of the essence if your dog develops as case of bloat, since it can kill in minutes. If you think your dog is suffering from bloat, don’t take chances with your pet’s life. Get them to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible.


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