You may well have heard of bloat especially if you chat to owners of larger breeds of dog or happen to own one yourself. But do you know what bloat is and how best to avoid it happening? 

What is bloat?

Bloat, which is also known as gastric torsion or gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), is a potentially serious condition whereby the stomach fills with gas and can twist into an abnormal position within the abdomen. When this happens, dogs can rapidly become very unwell. If it is not dealt with quickly by a vet, a GDV can sadly be fatal. 

Bloat is more common amongst large and giant breed dogs; especially those with deep chests such as the Great Dane, German Shepherd Dog, Doberman Pinscher, Weimaraner, Irish Setter, Boxer, and Rottweiler. It can also be seen occasionally in smaller breeds though. So it is important to be aware of the signs, whatever breed of dog you have. 

It can be a scary thought that your dog may one day suffer from a GDV. Knowing the signs to look out for means that if it does happen you will be able to get them to the vets quickly and give them the best chance of recovery. 

So, what might you see if your dog is suffering from bloat? In the early stages, you may notice that they are more restless and seem to be uncomfortable. They may pant more or pace around. They may also salivate or drool more than usual. These early signs should be taken seriously. As time progresses then you may notice the following:

  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Vomiting or retching – often attempts at being sick fail to produce anything

Bloat is an emergency. If you think that your dog is showing any of these signs, then please speak to your vet immediately. Do not wait. The sooner that bloat is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of a successful outcome. 

If your vet diagnoses a GDV then surgery will be needed. This involves repositioning the stomach and then stitching the stomach wall to the body wall on the right-hand side. This is to try to prevent the stomach from twisting again in the future and is known as a gastropexy. The survival rates for dogs suffering from GDV have improved considerably over the years. But, unfortunately, not all patients will recover.

How high is the risk that my dog will get bloat?

The lifetime risk of your pet developing a GDV varies depending on breed. It has been reported to be up to 37% in a Great Dane. But is lower in many other at-risk breeds (said to be approximately 4% in a Rottweiler for example). Age does increase the risk, with older animals more commonly affected. It can occasionally be seen in puppies too so don’t ignore any concerning signs in your pet even if they are still young.

What causes bloat?

Despite bloat being a condition that veterinary surgeons have been dealing with for a great many years we still do not have a good understanding of how and why it occurs. Whilst we know that bloat is more common in these large/giant breed dogs what is it that makes some of these dogs suffer from bloat whilst others do not? 

Factors that have been proposed include stress, diet, speed of eating, height of feeding bowl and timing of exercise relative to eating. There is some evidence that feeding large meals increases the risk of developing bloat. For this reason it is advised that at-risk breeds are fed smaller more frequent meals rather than once a day

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What can I do at home to reduce the chances of my dog getting bloat?

As well as feeding smaller meals there are other simple things that can be done at home to try to reduce the risk of bloat. Whilst there is limited evidence to be sure how effective these are it is generally advised to:

  • avoid exercise around the time of eating especially in the few hours following a meal
  • feed from a bowl on the floor rather than a raised bowl
  • have at least some wet food as part of the diet rather than dry kibble alone
  • reduce stressful events as much as possible

Preventative surgical options

Is there anything that vets do anything to reduce the risk of your dog developing bloat? Yes! In dogs that are at high risk of developing bloat, there is the possibility of performing what is known as a prophylactic gastropexy. This means that the stomach wall is stitched to the body wall prior to any episode of bloat in order to prevent it from being able to twist in the future. 

This can be performed in several different ways, but it is becoming more commonplace to do the procedure laparoscopically (by keyhole surgery). There is no real evidence to say when might be the best time to do a prophylactic gastropexy although it is often done at the same time as neutering when your pet will be under anaesthetic. It may be combined with a laparoscopic spay in female dogs relatively easily but does require special equipment and expertise. 

There is a strong argument for considering a prophylactic gastropexy in dogs at very high risk of having a GDV in their lifetime such as the Great Dane. In breeds where the risk is lower the decision to perform a prophylactic gastropexy may not be as straightforward. It is a good idea to discuss the risks and benefits of this surgery with your vet.

Overview

Bloat is a horrible condition to see your pet suffer from. Knowing the signs to look out for is important. There are some simple steps that you can take at home to try to reduce the risk that your pet will develop bloat and it is a good idea to have a discussion with your vet about the possibility of preventative surgery especially in breeds where the risk of developing bloat is very high.

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