What Is Bloat in Dogs and How Can It Be Prevented?

Posted by Pekin Insurance on May 14, 2018

What is bloat in dogs? Knowing the signs and symptoms could save your dog’s life.

You may only have a few minutes. At most, you have a few hours. What is bloat? In dogs, bloat is a life-threatening condition that can appear without warning. Even in an otherwise healthy dog, bloat can develop and become fatal within a few hours or less.

Worse, even dogs who make it to the vet only have a slim chance of survival if they don’t get treatment quickly enough. A case of bloat is truly a race against time. That’s why it is so critical that dog owners recognize the signs and symptoms of bloat.



What is bloat in dogs?
The symptoms every dog owner needs to know.

Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus, happens when a dog’s stomach flips or twists, closing off the openings between the top (esophagus) and bottom (intestines) of the stomach. According to Best Friends Animal Society, air, food, and water get trapped in the stomach. As the contents of the stomach ferment, pressure builds and distends the stomach, obstructing blood flow to other organs. 

Though there is not a definitive cause, there is speculation that when a dog eats and drinks a lot, then exercises, the “heavy” stomach swings and flips, twisting over itself. Why it happens isn’t nearly as important as recognizing what is happening. Bloat is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate treatment from a veterinarian. German Shepherd Rescue of New England recommends looking for these symptoms: 
  • Mostly unsuccessful attempts to vomit (the “hallmark symptom”)
  • Acting “off” or displaying unusual behavior
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Bloated or tight abdomen (although this is not a frequent symptom)
  • Either pale or dark red gums
  • No digestive sounds in the abdomen
  • Foamy mucus either around the mouth or in the vomit
  • Licking the air
  • Hiding
  • Heavy panting
  • Shallow breathing
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Weak pulse

If you notice these symptoms, call your vet right away or head to the nearest emergency veterinarian facility. In most cases, the vet will take an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis, and your dog will need emergency surgery. In an interview with PetMD, Anna Stobnicki, DVM, notes, “The only way to treat it is to go into their abdomen surgically and untwist the stomach.” 




Find out if your dog is at risk.

There are plenty of urban legends regarding the cause of bloat in dogs, from ice water to different foods. The Animal Medical Center in New York points out that it is a dog’s breed and body type as much as anything that causes bloat. “Large and giant breed dogs with deep chests and narrow waists, like the Weimaraner, St. Bernard, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter, Rottweiler, and Standard Poodle, but even Chihuahuas can experience bloat.” 

They also point out that age and a nervous temperament may be factors in bloat. And although certain breeds are more at risk for bloat, any dog may experience bloat.

The good news is that there are a few ways to reduce the risk of bloat.

  • Feed your dog several small meals during the day instead of one large meal.
  • DO NOT raise the food bowl. One study found an elevated food bowl increases the risk of bloat by 110%.
  • There is some evidence that including human foods or canned pet food in your dog’s diet can help reduce bloat. A study from Perdue University found that adding human and canned food to your dog’s meals decreases the risk of bloat by 59% and 28% respectively. 
  • Use a slow feed food bowl designed to help dogs eat more slowly.
  • Try to limit stressful situations.
  • Limit exercise for one or two hours after eating.

In some cases, you and your vet may decide that preventative surgery is the best option for a dog who is at a high risk for bloat, such as a Great Dane. In a procedure called prophylactic gastropexy, your vet will surgically attach the stomach to the abdominal wall, preventing it from “flipping.” 

Preventative measures may be preferable to a potentially deadly emergency, though. Emergency surgery could cost thousands of dollars, and some emergency vet clinics require payment up front.


We hope you and your pet are never in this situation, but if you are, pet insurance through Pekin Insurance can help you cover your expenses. Get in touch with your local Pekin Insurance agent to learn more.



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