Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
We’re reader-supported. When you click on our chosen products, we may receive a commission. Learn more.
canine health problems

Dog bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus) in dogs

Key information on severity, symptoms, and treatment

Updated August 23, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,
Dog owner feeling his dog's bloated stomach. Dog bloat in dogs can be painful and needs to be treated.

The essentials

  • Dog bloat is caused by stomach distension The first signs include restlessness and a visibly distended stomach.
  • Dog bloat can be lethal Acute dog bloat can cause the stomach to rotate and is life-threatening.
  • Early treatment of dog bloat could save your dog’s life — The moment you notice symptoms, you should head to the vet.
  • What you feed your dog can help with bloat — Small meals throughout the day can reduce the risks of dog bloat.

What is dog bloat?

Dog bloat is gas accumulation in the body and is sometimes referred to as gastric dilatation. In some cases, bloat can be chronic and last for days. However, bloat can take a turn for the worse very quickly.

Dog bloat can be incredibly severe

It’s important that every dog companion knows how lethal dog bloat can be. When a dog’s stomach experiences distension, it puts pressure on other arteries and restricts blood flow. Blood supply can cut off completely, leading to tissue death in the stomach and a buildup of toxic elements. If it ruptures, pets become septic. When an organ like the pancreas does not receive blood, very dangerous toxins can accumulate in the dog’s body.

The accumulation of gas in a dog’s stomach can sometimes cause torsion of the stomach. This means that the stomach can rotate or twist from its normal position in the stomach. When the stomach flips, the illness becomes known as gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV). Torsion or stomach twists cause shock to a dog’s body and can cause death in only a matter of minutes. This makes dog bloat especially important to identify right away.

🚨Canine bloat is a top killer of dogs. While the mortality rate has lowered in recent years, between 18% and 30% of dogs will have a lethal case.

Symptoms to look out for

The deadliness of bloat makes it important to learn the symptoms and identify them as early as possible. If any of the following symptoms present themselves it is crucial to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Symptoms of dog bloat include:

  • Distended stomach (this may or may not be visible)
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • A hard stomach (we recommend feeling around the stomach area for this)
  • Obvious restlessness and discomfort which may include hunching the back

👉There are particular things you should look for when assessing your dog’s body for bloat.

If your dog’s bloat has already progressed to more severe stages, they may begin to present these symptoms:

  • Pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fainting
  • Weakness

Advertisement

The causes of dog bloat

The causes of dog bloat are often hard to pin-point.

Short term causes of bloat

  1. Stress. Some dogs become stressed around feeding time, especially when there are multiple pets at home.
  2. Quick eating. Dogs that eat their food too fast accidentally consume an excess of air while they eat. This causes increased bloating.
  3. Limited eating. Dogs who only eat once a day are likely to bloat due to the increased amount of consumption.
  4. Over-exercising around meal time. Dogs who do not rest after eating disrupt their stomach’s normal digestive activity.
  5. Drinking lots of water while or after eating. Water can expand the undigested food in a dog’s stomach causing GDV.
  6. Dehydration. If your dog is not drinking water throughout the day, fluids and air will build up.

👉Myth buster: Many people used to believe that food bowls on the floor (as opposed to raised bowls) were more likely to cause bloat. This is false. Dogs with raised food bowls are just as likely to bloat. 

Long term causes of bloat

  1. Old age. Aging causes increased weakness and less ability for a dog’s body to hold organs in place.
  2. Genetics. Dogs with older relatives who bloated are more likely to bloat.
  3. Gender. Male dogs are more likely to experience bloating due to their naturally bigger size than females. Bloat is not caused by neutering.

Deep-chested and large breeds are more prone to bloat

Unfortunately for some dogs, bloat is much more common. In fact, the most common causes of dog bloat are anatomical. At risk breeds are deep-chested, large-breed dogs, or giant-breed dogs. They are the most prone to bloat because they have especially long chests. This creates more space for the stomach to distend and flip. These dogs’ stomachs can stretch over time increasing the chance of bloat.

The following deep-chested dogs are especially prone to bloat:

  • Great Danes (these dogs are five to eight times more likely to bloat than dogs with smaller dimensions)
  • St. Bernards
  • Weimaraners
  • Irish setters
  • Standard poodles
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Labradors
  • Golden retrievers
  • German shepherds

👉Small dogs can also suffer from bloat. It comes up most often in breeds like Yorkshire terriers and dachshunds.

Diagnosing bloat in dogs

Dog bloat can be deadly. 10 to 23% of dogs with GDV do not survive, even when rushed to surgery. However, when diagnosed by a vet the likelihood that a dog with bloat will recover and survive does increase. Therefore, the first step in diagnosis is getting your dog to the vet promptly.

Then the vet may proceed with a variety of tests to diagnosis bloat:

  • Assessing a dog’s body for physical symptoms
  • X-rays of the digestive organs
  • Tapping at the abdomen for a hollow sound

Treating dog bloat is essential

In only a matter of hours without treatment, bloat can threaten a dog’s life. The vet will decide on a treatment method based on the severity of a dog’s gastric dilatation.

Treatment for gastric dilatation (GD)

In cases when a dog’s stomach has not yet twisted, the vet might use a tube to release gas. This relieves pressure to the veins and arteries. They may also use a needle to draw out excess fluids.

Treatment for gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV)

When the bloat has caused the dog’s stomach to turn, the vet will have to turn to an emergency surgery known as gastropexy. In this surgery, the vet will make an incision to enter the dog’s abdominal cavity in what is called a laparotomy. Then they will reverse the stomach torsion. If the stomach is necrosed, gastric resection is necessary. If your dog is experiencing shock, the vet will use fluids or an IV drip.

⚠️If you think the case is severe for your pup, call your local veterinarian ER to get you in ASAP.

Prevention

As always it’s important to decrease the amount of stress your pup faces. You can reduce stress and lessen risk factors by keeping your dog on a regimented routine. Your pup may also be picking up on your stress so do what you can to keep everyone happy.

Diet goes a long way

Because bloat is an ailment of the stomach, most of the short-term causes of bloat concern a dog’s diet. There are a few preventative measures to consider when feeding your dog to prevent bloat.

  1. Feed smaller and more frequent meals.
  2. Feed a mixture of dry kibbles and wet foods.
  3. Do not allow exercise or playing just before or after eating.
  4. Consider a homemade diet. Only recipes created by veterinary nutritionists are recommended.

Dogs can be sensitive to dry food. Some strongly believe that dogs who eat home-cooked meals are far less likely to bloat. Processed foods contain carbohydrates which increase your dog’s risk of bloat. We recommend calcium-rich diets including things like boiled, skinless, and boneless chicken breast. If you don’t have time to prepare meals for your pup at home, consider these dog foods for sensitive stomachs. Large meals should be avoided.

Holistic prevention methods and other at-home remedies

Acupuncture is sometimes used to help dogs with chronic bloat. By utilizing pressure points, it can help dogs pass gas and relieve bloating.

Probiotics and other supplements could help to prevent bloat. The good bacteria in probiotics can help balance out stomach elements. There are also a variety of senior dog vitamins that we recommend for dogs who may experience bloat with aging.

🚨As always, dog owners should not administer supplements or holistic medicines to their pups unless approved by the vet.

Common questions for those worried about their dog’s bloat

We know the severity of GDV can raise questions from worried dog parents. By answering a couple of questions, we hope to calm your nerves regarding dog bloat.

Can dog bloat go away on its own?

While dogs can suffer with bloat for several hours or days before the problem becomes desperate, it can not resolve completely on its own. Get to the vet or animal hospital as soon as you notice symptoms to avoid a twisted stomach.

How long should a dog wait to exercise after meal time?

At least an hour of time should lapse after eating before a dog engages in activity. We recommend walking your dog before meal times.

Can puppies get GDV?

All dogs can suffer from gastric dilation. Never leave bloat in dogs untreated because it is a life-threatening condition.