Beyond Overeating: Recognizing the Signs of Bloat in Dogs

Few health conditions can take a dog’s life as suddenly as bloat can. Despite this, few dog owners truly understand what happens when a dog develops this severe problem. Recognizing the signs of bloat can mean the difference between life and death, so taking just a few minutes to understand this disease will better equip you on how to respond if your dog is experiencing this distressing condition.

The Basics

Scientifically known as gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), bloat is a life-threatening condition when the stomach turns on itself, trapping air, food, and fluid thus restricting the blood supply to the stomach. Sometimes the spleen, which is close to the stomach, also twists. Additionally, the pancreas may release a hormone into the bloodstream that can affect heart function.

When GDV occurs, it can cause severe and life-threatening complications:

  • The digestive tract cannot function normally.
  • It is a painful condition that can restrict breathing.
  • The stomach and spleen may start to die due to a lack of blood supply.
  • Bacteria may leak into the bloodstream and cause sepsis.
  • It can lead to shock and death.
  • The heart may be negatively affected.

Signs of Bloat in Dogs

When GDV occurs, time is of the essence. If your dog displays the following signs, immediately bring them to our emergency room at The COVE or go to your primary care veterinarian’s clinic. Other conditions can have similar symptoms, but GDV is a dire emergency, and symptoms cannot resolve independently.

Don’t wait to seek treatment if you notice any of these signs:

Enlarged or distended abdomen. Bloat can cause your dog’s stomach to look noticeably swollen, although your pet can still be affected by bloat without any changes in appearance.

Nonproductive retching. One of the common signs of bloat is nonproductive retching that occurs when dogs try to relieve their discomfort. Often nothing comes up, or you may notice a small amount of foamy saliva. 

Restlessness. Dogs in distress with GDV cannot get comfortable. They may pace, get up and down, or become agitated as symptoms worsen.

Difficulty breathing. The distended stomach places pressure on the diaphragm, making breathing more difficult. Pressure on the diaphragm may cause shallow or rapid breathing.

Change in posture. If your dog hunches its back, dropping its chest to the floor and raising its hind end, this may indicate bloat.

Painful abdomen. Signs of pain include not wanting to be touched, hiding, or whining.

Other signs. Dogs with bloat may have pale gums and a rapid heartbeat.

Risk Factors

The jury is still out on what exactly causes bloat. Scientists are still studying all the theories, and there have been some solid findings regarding risk factors, including:

Genetics. Scientific studies show that bloat has a hereditary component, meaning that if a dog’s relatives have suffered from bloat, they are more likely to develop bloat as well. As a result, dogs who have experienced GDV should not be bred as they may pass this predisposition on to their litter.

Conformation. The chest structure is correlated with the risk of GDV, with tall, deep, narrow-chested dogs being more likely to develop the problem. Great Danes are at particular risk due to their body conformation.

Breed. In addition to Great Danes, studies show that giant and large breed dogs are more prone to bloat. Breeds at risk include Saint Bernards, Weimeraners, Irish and Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers.

Gender. Male dogs are twice as likely as females to bloat, and neutering does not affect incidence.

Eating habits. Although still under investigation, some believe that eating habits can contribute to the risk of GDV. Gulping down food and water or consuming large amounts of food or water increases the chances of your dog swallowing a lot of air, which can lead to bloat. Dogs fed one meal daily are twice as likely to bloat as those fed two. In addition, vigorous exercise immediately after eating may increase the risk.

How Can The COVE Help?

At The COVE, we provide 24-hour emergency care and surgery for GDV if indicated. If your dog is brought to our emergency service with suspected GDV, our highly skilled emergency veterinarians and staff will start by assessing your dog and treating shock.

Next, if appropriate, your dog will be brought to surgery. Our emergency staff has years of experience and is highly adept at evaluating and treating GDV. They may also perform a gastropexy, in which the stomach is tacked to the right side of the body to prevent it from twisting again in the future. Sometimes part of the stomach has died (necrosed) and needs to be removed. In some cases, if too much of the stomach has necrosed, euthanasia may be recommended. Our team will also evaluate the spleen and surrounding organs and may remove them if necessary.

Intravenous fluids will be continued after surgery, and plasma or blood transfusions may be recommended. Your dog will receive pain medications, and their vital signs will be continuously monitored. Recovery times vary, and the success of this surgery depends on many factors, including your pet’s age, condition, and how far the GDV progressed before treatment.

The COVE surgical team can also perform prophylactic gastropexy to prevent GDV in large and giant breed dogs. This procedure can be done as young as six months of age at the time of neutering and is minimally invasive, with the aid of laparoscopic instruments and a telescopic camera. Prophylactic gastropexy has a shorter anesthesia time, an easier recovery, and is much less expensive than managing a GDV.

The COVE is always here for you and your pet in an emergency. Call us at (757) 935-9111 for more information if you are concerned about GDV in your dog or with any questions about this condition.

About Us

The COVE’s veterinarians and staff wholeheartedly embrace the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion, and integrity. This focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a healthcare experience as possible, regardless of the circumstances that bring us all together.