Time for some real talk. Did you know that bloat, most commonly associated with the food baby you get after a big lunch, is second only to cancer as a cause of death in dogs? Most pet owners are in the dark when it comes to this mysterious condition, so we’re breaking down the knowledge you need to spot and treat bloat in dogs.
To begin with, what exactly is bloat?
Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach is filled with too much food, liquid, or gas, causing the stomach to expand. Typically this poses no real problem since dogs, like humans, have mechanisms to relieve this pressure naturally. You’ve undoubtedly heard, seen, or smelled the effects of a dog that ate his food too quickly. Bodily functions at their finest!
Occasionally, though, dogs are unable to expel the cause of their bloat. While vets are still unsure of the cause, this form of bloat can cause serious trouble if left untreated. In the worst cases, the bloated stomach will continue to expand and put pressure on the heart and lungs, blocking the flow of blood to the heart and spleen and causing cardiac arrest.
Bloat can also sometimes evolve into something called GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus), more commonly known as twisted stomach. With GDV, a dog’s stomach literally flips upside down, wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Without immediate corrective surgery, GDV is fatal, as the impeded blood flow will likely cause a heart attack and the destruction of gastric (stomach) and splenic (spleen) tissue.
Because of the rapid onset and high mortality rate associated with bloat, dog owners should keep a trained eye out for symptoms and take as many preventative measures as possible.
What are the signs of bloat?
The two most obvious symptoms of bloat are a distended belly and unproductive belching. You shouldn’t have to look too hard for the former, and you’ll surely hear the latter. A distended belly will present as an obvious change to the shape of your dog’s abdomen. It’s probably (hopefully) something you’ve never seen before, so if you do in fact notice it you should get your dog to a vet right away.
As for unproductive belching or vomiting, think of how a human might “dry heave.” Your dog is trying to expel the cause of gastric discomfort (i.e. throw it up), but the passage is blocked.
The next thing to look for is rapid, shallow breathing and pale gums. Rapid, shallow breathing is essentially the description of panting – which is a perfectly normal way for dogs to cool down – but if your dog’s gums also look pale and he seems distressed or like he’s in pain, it should be a cause for concern.
How can you prevent bloat?
There is no one foolproof method for preventing bloat, but there are a handful of risk factors you can make sure your dog avoids:
– Feed your dog several smaller meals each day, rather than one large meal. Make sure servings are properly portioned according to your dog’s daily caloric needs to ensure you’re never overfeeding.
– Feed your dog more whole foods. Processed foods turn into an easily digestible porridge, while whole foods require harder work to ensure proper digestion. That hard work actually keeps the stomach wall strong and decreases the likelihood of future gas build-up or torsion. A recent study showed that the inclusion of fresh, human-grade food in a dog’s diet diet was associated with a 59% decreased risk of bloat.
– Don’t let your dog eat too quickly, as they’re likely consuming excess air if they’re gobbling up their meals really fast. (Tip: if your dog tends to scarf his food too quickly, try giving him his meals in a slow feeder.)
– Limit water intake immediately after meals, particularly if your dog eats dry food. Water will make the food expand in the stomach and dilute digestive juices, rendering them less effective.
– Wait at least an hour after meals to let your dog run around and play. (Surely you’ve been told by your grandmother not to swim until 30 minutes after you’ve eaten? Same idea.) When the stomach is full, it is more likely to twist or flip after sudden movements, creating torsion.
– The older the dog, the more likely that he’ll experience bloat. Additionally, bloat is more common in larger breeds with deep chests and small waists, including Great Danes, St. Bernards, Weimeraners, Irish Setters, and Standard Poodles.
Bloat can be a scary topic to think about given the risks, but like so much else in life, preparation and awareness is key. Have you had experiences dealing with bloat in dogs? Share it all with us in the comments below.