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What Is Bloat in Dogs (gastric dilatation volvulus)?Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening clinical condition where the stomach will twist, causing gas and stomach material to become trapped. Trapped gas will expand and the stomach will become dilated in the affected dog. Given the stomach’s ability to stretch, it can become extremely distended, pressing on important structures in the abdominal cavity. This compression can cause the inability of blood to flow to vital structures, leading to poor oxygen delivery to the rest of the body. The twisting of the dog’s stomach also causes the spleen to twist as well because it is attached by blood vessels to the stomach. This can lead to the rupture of blood vessels between the dog’s stomach and spleen, causing bleeding and damage to the spleen. Twisting of the stomach may also compromise blood flow to portions of the stomach wall. A twisted stomach can lead to devitalization and necrosis of the tissue.
What are the clinical signs of bloat in dogs?The most common clinical signs of gastric dilatation and volvulus include:
- Non-productive retching or attempting to vomit without production of stomach contents
- Abdominal pain
- Distension/swelling of the abdomen that is hard and painful to the touch
- Difficulty walking or getting up
- Restlessness, pacing, and panting
- Labored breathing
What causes bloat in dogs?The underlying cause of GDV in dogs is not well known. We know that large or giant breed dogs are more likely to develop the condition than small breed dogs. There is suspected to be a genetic component as dogs from family lines that have experienced GDV are more predisposed. This condition seems to occur most often in older aged, deep-chested dogs. Recent stress is also presumed to be an underlying factor in the sudden development of bloat. Some environmental factors have also been suspected. A dog that eats quickly, a have raised food bowl and is only fed one meal a day is more likely to develop GDV.
What Breeds are Prone to Bloat in Dogs?Genetics are certainly suspected to play a role in the development of bloat in dogs. The following breeds are more likely to develop GDV:
- Great Dane
- Standard Poodles
- German Shepherds
- Irish Setter
- Gordon Setter
- Saint Bernard
- Basset Hounds
How is Bloat Treated?Gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs is always considered a surgical emergency. If you suspect this condition, please rush your dog to a veterinarian as it can be a life threatening condition. Delaying emergency surgery and treatment can result in serious consequences and even death. Diagnosis of bloat in dogs is made by performing abdominal radiographs. These radiographs will have a very classic ‘pop-eye’ arm appearance which allows for rapid diagnosis. Your veterinarian will begin stabilizing your dog with intravenous fluids and pain medication. Trocharization may be performed to help remove air from the stomach. This is where a long needle is introduced through the body well and penetrates the stomach to allow rapid release of air and decompression of the stomach. These methods will help to temporarily try to stabilize dogs before they are prepared for surgery. Surgery is required to correct and prevent this condition from reoccurring. Dogs will be placed under general anesthesia and a veterinarian will perform abdominal surgery. In surgery, the stomach will be untwisted. While performing this, the veterinarian will assess the health of the stomach wall and its viability. If the wall of the stomach is necrotic, a section may need to be removed. The spleen is also assessed and if damaged, may need to be removed. Once no further issues are encountered, the stomach is ‘tacked’ to the body wall via a technique called a gastropexy. Sutures are used to adhere the stomach to the body wall to prevent the stomach from twisting again. After this procedure, dogs are often recovered in the ICU and monitored for a minimum of 2 days after surgery. After GDV, dogs can be predisposed to abnormal electrical activity of the heart and must be monitored closely in the post-operative period.
How to prevent bloat in dogs?While many owners try hard to prevent bloat in dogs at home, the only prevention is to perform an elective gastropexy. At the time of spaying or neutering, many owners will have an elective gastropexy performed by their veterinarian. Other methods of prevention at home include:
- Feeding smaller meals multiples times during the day
- Restricting exercise before and after eating
- Reducing stress as much as possible
- Avoiding raised bowls or feeding stations
- Screening breeders for GDV in family lines
- Use of slow-down feeders
Final ThoughtsBloat in dogs can be a devastating condition for any pet owner. Owners with a large or giant breed dog should consider elective gastropexy to prevent this condition from happening in the first place. Otherwise, owners should utilize management techniques at home and always seek veterinary care immediately if GDV is suspected.
Signs of dogs bloat include non-productive retching or vomiting, abdominal swelling, pain, lethargy, difficulty walking, collapse, or labored breathing.
There are times when dogs develop intermittent twisting of the stomach and the stomach can flip back into a normal position. This is very uncommon and most dogs will need immediate surgical intervention to treat GDV.
Bloat in dogs comes on very suddenly. Clinical signs can develop in a matter of minutes to hours. Any dog that is suspected to have bloat needs immediate medical care. Delay to surgery can increase the risk of necrosis of the stomach and death.