What is Bloat?

This is a term that is synonymous with the more scientific term ‘Gastric Dilatation Volvulus’. It is often called GDV, twisted gut or canine torsion. That means that a dog’s stomach distends with gas to the point that it goes into shock and may die.


How serious is Bloat?

Bloat is a true emergency –the chance of survival decreases alarmingly if the delay from start of symptoms to surgery goes beyond 60-90 minutes. DON’T leave it to see ‘how your dog is in the morning’, your dog will not survive the night….nor for the time for a movie or a meal. Drop everything and go to your vets.


Which dogs are at risk?

There is no association with gender or neuter status.

Larger dogs are more prone to bloat, as are deep chested dogs. Example breeds are German Shepherds, Dobermanns, Pointers, Setters, Retrievers, Labradors, Great Danes, Huskies, Akitas, Greyhounds and Lurchers, to name just a few. But any dog can get bloat and small dogs, although less common, can suffer, including Shih Tzu’s, Chihuahuas, Border Terriers and Spaniels.


The following factors have been identified as being associated with increased risk of bloat, they are not necessarily the cause:


Dog factors

  • Large breed
  • Large individual within a breed
  • Large stature but underweight
  • Deep chest conformation
  • Rapid eating and swallowing air
  • ‘Unhappy’ dog

Management factors

  • Recent car journey
  • Once daily feeding
  • Feeding from a raised bowl
  • Feeding a single food source
  • Highly refined foods



There is no apparent association with exercise or feeding a dry diet. The apparent risk of a raised feeding bowl is potentially worrying as this is often recommended to prevent bloat. Yet the association may simply be that owners of dogs that bolt their food and/or bloat are more likely to try raising the bowl.


What to look out for – Signs and Symptoms


  • It can be a combination of factors to look for (not all will be seen):
  • A hard, and protruding stomach is often the most visible sign, with very taut skin over the abdomen. Spaniels however have more of their stomach under their ribcage so will be less apparent.
  • Panting hard, not being themselves
  • Trying to be sick – retches from throat but nothing happens
  • Refusing food
  • Unsuccessful at pooing
  • Hard stomach and/or swells up like a balloon (often on left side) and skin really tight
  • Dog trying to bite or worry the abdomen
  • Dog very unsettled
  • Lying in the ‘sphinx’ position and front legs stretched out far
  • Dogs in significant pain will look ‘depressed’


What happens when the stomach is distended with air?

The first major life-threatening event that occurs is shock. This occurs because the distended stomach puts pressure on the large veins in the abdomen that carry blood back to the heart, depriving the tissues of blood and oxygen. This also affects the stomach wall to become damaged, sometimes beyond repair.

The twisting can cause the spleen to rotate to an abnormal position – it may have to be removed but dogs can survive without one.


When the stomach is distended, digestion stops. This results in the accumulation of toxins that are normally removed from the intestinal tract. These toxins activate several chemicals which cause inflammation, and the toxins are absorbed into circulation, affecting the clotting process –this is usually fatal.


What is the survival rate?

This will largely be determined by the severity of the distension, the degree of shock, how quickly treatment is begun and the presence of other diseases, especially those involving the heart. Approximately sixty to seventy per cent of the dogs will survive.


However, DO NOT DELAY vet treatment.


What can be done to prevent it from occurring again?

The most effective means of prevention is gastropexy, the surgical attachment of the stomach to the body wall. This will not prevent dilatation (bloat), but it will prevent volvulus in most cases. Some owners request this to be performed during neutering surgery often via keyhole surgery.


What happens at the vets with a dog with bloat?

When at the vets, an x-ray will confirm the condition.

The immediate first treatment is to treat the shock with fluid lines – sometimes several at once.

Pressure must then be removed from the stomach – depending on how critical the situation is, it could be a tube down from the mouth, or inserted directly through an incision through the skin – if the dog’s condition is very grave, the procedure may even have to be done without anesthesia. Not all dogs will be strong enough to pull through surgery.

During abdominal surgery, the stomach will be returned to the correct position, inspected for damaged areas which may be removed, and if not at a critical life threatening situation at this point, perform a gastroplexy (fixing the stomach to abdomen) to reduce the likelihood (but not guarantee) of recurrence.

The heart may have suffered damage so this will also be looked at and checked for several days after the incident of bloat.


Final note

Not much can be done to prevent bloat, but being aware of the signs can help if action taken and rushed to vets as soon as possible.


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