Bloat in Dogs
Reviewed for accuracy on April 10, 2020 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
As humans, we often find ourselves bloated after eating a big meal, maybe when we’ve had a few beers and a hot dog at a baseball game, or even if we’ve had too much salt. It can be uncomfortable, but we can pop a couple antacids or drink some ginger ale; it’s typically gone by the next morning. Dogs, however, have an entirely different situation when it comes to bloating. And it can be fatal.
What is Bloat in Dogs?
When a dog’s stomach fills with gas, it bloats. This expansion of the stomach puts pressure on a dog’s diaphragm, constricting breathing. The stomach can also twist, causing shock and even death. The technical name is Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV).
GDV can be caused by swallowing too much food, fluid, or air. It can occur with or without a full twisting of the stomach. However, in most cases, as the stomach swells, it will rotate. A rotated stomach then traps air food, and water as it obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to reduced blood return to the heart, low blood pressure, shock, and even damage to internal organs. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, GDV can cause the stomach wall to rupture. GDV is no joking matter and can kill a pup if life-saving veterinary treatment isn’t implemented immediately.
Larger breeds with elongated, deep chests (e.g., Weimaraner) are usually more likely to suffer from bloat. Also, dogs that eat only once daily and older dogs are prone to GDV. Other risk factors include being underweight, having a family history of GDV, and eating quickly.
The most obvious symptom is an enlarged abdomen, accompanied by heavy panting and breathing, excessive drooling, dry heaving and unproductive vomiting, a weak pulse, pacing, and even collapse. Not all symptoms need to be present for a dog to be suffering from bloat.
Diagnosis and Costs
- Digital X-Ray: $150 – $400, depending on the number of views
- Endoscopy (camera down the hatch): $800 – $1,000
- Biopsy: Up to $1,500
- Ultrasound: $300 – $500
- CT Scan: $3,000, depending upon how the pet is under anesthesia
If your dog has any of these symptoms, get to a vet right away! Your vet will first stabilize your dog with intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy, then perform gastric decompression to release what’s trapped in the stomach. This decompression often involves passing a tube down the esophagus into the stomach, or inserting a large-bore needle through the skin, followed by flushing the stomach to get out any remaining food.
After this stabilization and decompression, your dog will need surgery, during which your veterinarian will put your dog’s stomach back in the right position, remove dead or damaged tissue, and prevent the stomach from re-twisting.
Make sure that you have emergency veterinary contacts somewhere easily accessible, because you will have to move quickly. The good news is that bloat in dogs is treatable when caught early.
Since the chances of bloating increase with overeating and overdrinking, keep food portions reasonable and give your dog a little bit of time to digest before playing or getting rowdy. Also, elevating your dog’s food and water bowls so that your dog can eat with its head up minimizes the risk of swallowing air. There are even veterinary recommendations for certain breeds to undergo gastropexy before an episode of GDV. Gastropexy is surgical procedure that prevents the stomach from twisting by tacking it to the abdominal wall. When in doubt, ask your vet before something becomes an emergency.
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