Bloat. The word strikes a note of terror in the hearts of many dog owners. Bloat is a life-threatening, acute condition that most commonly affects large, deep-chested dogs. German Shepherd Dogs, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Weimaraners, and other such large-barreled breeds are more commonly afflicted with bloat than others.
So what is bloat? During an episode of bloat, the dog’s stomach suddenly fills with gas, resulting in intense discomfort and pain. In some bloat cases, the stomach twists on itself, resulting in a condition known as torsion (also known as gastric dilation volvulus, or GDV). This cuts off the blood supply entering the stomach, and the dog will die in a matter of hours if left untreated. It is an incredibly painful condition, causing the animal to suffer intensely in the hours preceding its death. Torsion also greatly decreases the likelihood that the dog will survive an episode of bloat even when rushed to a veterinary clinic right away. Sadly, approximately 20-30% of the dogs afflicted with bloat must be euthanized.
Causes of bloat are not completely understood. The general consensus is that there is an excess intake of air, build-up of gas, or poor food digestion resulting in both of the previous items. Breed and increasing age seem to be a factor, as does temperament. Studies done by Larry Glickman at Purdue University have shown a strong correlation to temperament: nervous, high-strung, anxious dogs are more commonly afflicted with bloat than easy-going, calm dogs. Additionally, a potential correlation exists between dogs with existing gastrointestinal problems such as poor assimilation, poor ability to digest their food, etc. Dogs who had direct relatives suffering from bloat (siblings, parents) also had a much greater likelihood of bloating.
How can the risk from bloat be minimized? There are several key steps owners can take that can help reduce the risk of bloat in their large-breed dogs.
What to avoid:
- Once-a-day feeding
- High-carbohydrate, gas producing diets (such as those containing soy, beet pulp, and other sources of fiber)
- Commercial diets that do not list meat as first few ingredients
- Commercial foods that list chicken fat in the first four ingredients
- Soaking a dry commercial food that contains citric acid—this was associated with a dramatic increase in bloat risk.
- Elevated feeders
- Strenuous exercise before or after eating
- Free access to water after hard exercise—dogs can ingest too much water, resulting in a condition known as ‘water bloat’
- Select and map route to nearest emergency clinic; keep phone numbers in an easily-accessible place.
- Educate yourself on the symptoms of bloat
- Work to calm anxious or nervous dogs, and to reduce the amount of stress they experience.
- Feed an easily digested, meat-based diet, split into two feedings if possible. We feed and recommend raw diets, which seem to greatly reduce the risk of bloat. However, raw-fed dogs can still bloat under the right conditions.
- Keep a first-aid kit with Gas-X and other selected bloat remedies (such as the homeopathic remedies Carbo vegetalis, China, Nux vomica, Colcynthus) on hand. Learn how to use them.
Gastroplexy can be performed on high-risk dogs. This procedure involves tacking the stomach to the interior of the rib cage to prevent torsion. The dog can still bloat, but the stomach will not be able to twist on itself, thus increasing the chances of survival. This procedure can be performed during a spay or neutering operation (after the dog is already anesthetized), or can be done on dogs that have already bloated before. If your dog is a high-risk animal, consider talking with your veterinarian about this option.
If your dog bloats:
- Immediately call the veterinarian to notify them of the situation and of your imminent arrival.
- Consider administering a dose of Gas-X and/or the homeopathic remedy Carbo vegetalis (top remedy for bloating).
- Immediately load your dog up in the car.
- Drive to the vet.