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  • Writer's pictureJulie Reisinger, RVT, LATg

BLOAT: What is it and how is it prevented?

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

What is bloat? Gastric dilatation and volvulus, aka GDV or “bloat”, is a life-threatening disorder that mostly affects large, deep-chested dog breeds, but can occur in any dog. According to VCA Hospitals:

“In its early stage, the stomach fills with gas, causing a simple gastric dilatation or "bloat". Sometimes, the condition progresses no further than a bloat. A GDV is a progression of the bloat into a volvulus, in which the huge, gas-filled stomach twists upon itself so that both the entrance and exit of the stomach become blocked. This is a life-threatening emergency that requires surgery to correct.”

So, what causes bloat? Unfortunately, no one really knows. Again, this can occur in ANY breed, but it is most common in large/giant breeds with deep chests, and frequently occurs when the dog eats or drinks rapidly and then exercises vigorously. According to the VCA article linked above, stress may also be a contributing factor to bloat.

Signs of Bloat: Bloat is a medical emergency, so it helps for all owners to be familiar with the most common signs of bloat. Seek emergency veterinary care if your dog displays any of the following: restlessness/distress; panting and/or salivating more than usual; distended, taut, or firm abdomen; retching or unproductive vomiting; vocalization (whining or groaning) and/or yelping if touched on the abdomen; repeatedly turning to look at abdomen; appears uncomfortable or as if they are in pain; collapse.

Great Danes are one of the breeds most at risk of bloating

Treatment of bloat: Surgical intervention is the only way to treat GVD. Because of the life-threatening nature of bloat, treatment for shock is generally started first to stabilize the dog, then surgery will be required to deflate the stomach and return it to its original position in the body. Because most dogs who bloat once will have it happen again, the stomach is then tacked to the abdominal wall (gastropexy) to prevent future twisting.

Prevention is key: The best way to treat bloat is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Luckily, there are a variety of things you can do to help; here are some of the most common ways to prevent bloat, compiled from, VCA Hospitals, and the AKC:

  • Feed multiple smaller meals each day instead of a single large meal

  • Use a puzzle feeder, Kongs, or feeder balls to slow down fast eaters

  • Add wet food in addition to dry kibble

  • Don’t allow your dog to drink large quantities of water quickly (gulping)

  • No heavy exercise right before or right after eating

  • Preventive gastropexy (requires surgery)

Should my dog get a preventive gastropexy? If your dog is considered to be an “at-risk” breed, this is a discussion that you should have with your veterinarian. Please note that a gastropexy will not prevent bloating, but it will prevent the stomach from twisting, which provides a much better prognosis. As the owner of at-risk breeds, and being a Certified Veterinary Technician, here is my personal insight:

Dolly loves water in all of its forms, except for rain

“With all of our dogs, we practice prevention methods: monitoring water intake to prevent gulping (still a problem Dolly has at almost 13!); meals are fed twice a day, and we moisten the food a bit with water or wet food (let it soak for a few if using only water); monitor their exercise/play schedule so they won’t be eating right before or after play; and we keep a close eye on their behavior before and after eating, drinking, and exercising, to make sure they aren’t displaying any abnormal behavior.

We got our giant schnauzer puppy named Dave in 2016. During a vet visit for his booster vaccines, our vet brought up the topic of a preventive gastropexy for him, as she felt it might be beneficial. We went home and discussed the pros and cons; the only cons for us were about cost (this is not an inexpensive procedure), as well as the question everyone has “but what if he never has a problem with bloat?” Did we really want to spend all that money if it’s not necessary, especially considering we never had a problem with our previous dogs? Wouldn’t all of the other preventive things we were already in the habit of doing be enough? And the answer to that last question was what decided it for us: “Maybe”. Yes, our other dogs never had a problem; yes, it’s possible that this dog will never have a problem; but what if he does? What if our prevention methods aren’t enough for this dog? The cost of emergency surgery and treatment to correct bloat would cost much more than a preventive gastropexy ever would, and even with immediate treatment, there is still a 15-20% mortality rate.

The answer is yes, he knows how cute he is

So we decided to have a laparoscopic gastropexy performed when Dave was neutered, at about 1.5 years old (we waited until he was mostly finished growing, but that’s a different blog altogether). During his puppyhood, we saw how Dave would run hard, play hard, and then go right to the water bowl to try and gulp down water; we were lucky that he was not (and still is not) a fast eater. For us, it was a very stressful time, always being extra vigilant and anxious whether it was just normal, happy, “I’m tired” panting, or excessive, drooly, “I’m about to bloat” panting. Post-surgery, we have been able to relax a little more, although we still practice our preventive measures. For us, and for Dave, I definitely think that the surgery was worth it for the piece of mind it provides.”

Our blog is intended to provide tips, advice, and information to all animal lovers.  While we encourage all pet owners to be well-informed, the advice offered in these pages is not a replacement for veterinary care.  If you are concerned about the health of your pet, please contact your veterinarian!



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