Home Health Bloat/Twisted Stomach – What You Know Can Save Your Dog’s Life

Bloat/Twisted Stomach – What You Know Can Save Your Dog’s Life Print E-mail

It can happen to any dog, but it usually happens to big dogs. It strikes males more than females, and if not treated, can kill within hours.

No one knows what causes it and no one is sure how to prevent it; there are a lot of opinions all based on anecdotal evidence, but no hard facts to go on.

Bloat, as it is commonly called, is a condition technically known as gastric dilation/volvolus, or GDV, which at first seems and is, similar to stomach gas. The abdomen becomes enlarged and distended, and the dog shows signs of discomfort – pacing, salivating, whining and trying to throw up. At this stage, a dose of Mylanta Gas, Gas-X, or any product containing simethicone may help by breaking up any gas bubbles. Not every case is extreme, and the problem may go away, but if it does not, or gets worse, it becomes a medical emergency. If the abdomen continues to swell, the pressure on the organs, especially the heart and lungs, can reduce the blood flow to the heart and spleen, damaging both organs and leading to cardiac arrest. In some cases the stomach can burst, causing peritonitis. A vet can insert a tube into the stomach to relieve the pressure, but you have to get the dog there fast. And that assumes the stomach has not flipped.

In the most serious stage, the stomach rotates partially or a full 360° on the ligaments that support it. Now the clock is really ticking. The esophagus is closed off, as is the duodenum, the upper intestine, and there is no way to release the pressure. A major vein that passes through the stomach is pinched, cutting off blood to the stomach and other organs, leading to tissue damage and destruction. Worse, blood to the heart is reduced drastically, and a heart attack is imminent if surgery to correct the problem and repair the damage is not done soon. At this point, even surgery may not save the dog.

Bloat, also called stomach torsion or twisted stomach, is the number two killer of dogs, after cancer, yet many, if not most dog owners are not familiar with it or aware how serious a problem it is. There is no direct cause and affect with this problem, such as a bacteria or virus that a vet can treat with antibiotics or vaccinate against. Bloat is usually the result of a combination of factors that might have no affect on most dogs, but can bring about a life-threatening situation in others. Owner awareness of the problem is the first step in preventing its occurrence.

Purdue University Veterinary college has done the most extensive study of bloat and the factors involved. Dogs that seem to be most at risk are large dogs with a deep chest and a small waist. There are some indications that a deep, narrow chest is a higher risk than a deep, wide chest. Among purebred dogs, the Great Dane has the highest incidence of bloat, followed by the Saint Bernard, Weimaraner, Irish Setter and Standard Poodle. Any dog that fits the profile, purebred or mixed breed, may be at risk.

Researchers have found similarities in dogs that experience bloat, some of which include-

Eating one large meal a day of dry food. It is recommended that dogs at risk be fed 2 or 3 smaller portions at various times during the day. Dogs fed once a day are twice as likely to develop GDV Being a fast eater, gulping down the food as quickly as possible. Dogs that eat fast tend to swallow a lot of air while eating.

Drinking a large amount of water after eating. Most dry foods expand when water is added, some more so than others. It is thought that drinking a large amount of water after ingesting a large meal may cause the dry food to expand in the stomach to a mass that the stomach was not intended to hold. Add to this the air that was swallowed and the stomach can swell to a dangerous size. Water may also dilute the digestive juices in the stomach to a point that they cannot do their job, which may cause gas to build up.

Playing vigorously after eating. Running, jumping and especially rolling over after eating increase the risk of stomach twist. A leisurely walk around the neighborhood is fine and may aid digestion, but more active exercise should be restricted for one hour before and two hours after eating.

Dogs that are under stress are thought to be more at risk than those that are calm and relaxed. Boarding, change in routine, and a new dog in the home are situations that can increase stress in a dog. Temperament can also be a factor. Dogs that are more nervous, anxious or fearful appear to have an increased risk of developing GVD.

Food and exercise are not always the problem. Some dogs experience bloat with none of the risk factors being present. The most common age at which dogs get bloat is between 4 and 7 years; younger dogs have a lower risk and older dogs a somewhat higher one. The most common time that dogs get bloat is between 2:00 and 6:00 AM, 7 to 10 hours after eating and while the owner is sleeping.

What should a dog owner do? First and foremost – be aware. Know the risk factors, and if your dog fits the profile for higher risk, make the changes that will reduce the risk. Know the symptoms of bloat so that you will recognize them if they are present. And most important, know what to do if you suspect that your dog may be experiencing bloat.

If you have a large male dog that gulps his food, drinks lots of water after eating, and likes to play actively after eating, you may want to make some changes in his routine. Feed smaller portions two or three times a day, limit water after eating, and prevent vigorous activity for at least two hours after eating, crating the dog if necessary. If you are not already using a premium food, consider switching to one.

The higher nutrient content of these foods allows you to feed smaller portions while still meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Do a ‘kibble test’ with your dog’s food. Place a cup of dry food in a bowl, add water and let it sit overnight. Over time the food will expand, some more than others, and what you see in the morning is representative of what is in your dog’s stomach. If the food expands excessively, you might want to switch foods. Some other ideas are to put water on the food prior to feeding, allowing it to expand before it is eaten, or to mix dry and canned food together.

The first sign that something is wrong is usually swelling of the abdomen. It may be accompanied by an appearance of discomfort often seen on people who insist on getting their money’s worth at the all-you-can-eat buffet. The dog may attempt to vomit or burp in an effort to remedy the problem. If successful, everything should be all right, but often nothing comes out, and the pressure builds. A product containing simethicone, such as Mylanta-Gas or Gas-X, may help if given at this time, and should always be kept available. Simethicone breaks up gas bubbles in the stomach and may relieve the pressure. If it does not, the dog needs to get to the vet now. Waiting can be fatal.

Even if the problem is resolved this time, it will almost certainly happen again. Your dog is predisposed to gastric dilation, which can lead to torsion, a partial twist, or volvolus, a complete 360° flip of the stomach. If this occurs, immediate surgery is needed to save the dog’s life, and unfortunately, in many cases it is already too late. Returning the stomach to its normal position is the first concern, to relieve pressure on the vein that is pinched and return blood flow to the heart. If too much stomach tissue has died from lack of blood, the dog will probably have to be euthanized.

Again, owner awareness and preparation is the most important factor in preventing this problem from occurring, and in treating it quickly and properly if it happens. Bloat, like many emergencies, often happens when the regular vet is closed. Know where the nearest emergency clinic is located, and how to get there. Trying to find a place you have never been on a dark, rainy night during a medical emergency can be tricky. There is a lot of information available about bloat, most of it conjecture, and some of it changes over time. A few years back, it was suggested that high risk dogs be fed from elevated dishes. After observation of the results, it is now thought that raised dishes increase the risk of bloat and should not be used. Type “bloat in dogs” on a search engine and you will have enough reading material to last a long time.

This is dedicated to Dylan, a great dog who died too young, largely because I did not know enough to recognize the symptoms, all of which were there. If even one dog is spared from a horrible death by this article, maybe he will not have died in vain.

We would like to hear from any readers who have had experience with this topic, or just have thoughts on the subject. If you care to send us your comments, we will share them with others. E-mail us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .