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What is Bloat in Dogs?

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Bloat is a very dangerous condition in which a dog’s stomach becomes expanded, putting pressure on their organs. In some cases, a dog’s stomach will twist or rotate, which traps the blood in the stomach and prevents it from moving back to the heart and the rest of the body. Additionally, bloat can tear the stomach wall, cause breathing complications, and send the dog into shock.

If not treated right away, this life-threatening condition can be fatal, and it’s sometimes fatal even with treatment. Because this condition is so serious and comes on very quickly, it’s essential to know what causes it, how to tell if your dog has bloat, and how to prevent it.

What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

Bloat is thought to be caused by a buildup of gas in the stomach. This buildup may be due to your dog being unable to release swallowed air or bacteria fermenting in their tummy. The exact cause is not known.

There are five potential factors that could contribute to your dog’s inability to release the air trapped in the stomach:

1. Age

Dogs over seven years old may be more likely to have bloat than younger dogs.

2. Gender

Male dogs are twice as likely to experience bloat than female dogs.

3. Genetics

Dogs with deep, narrow chests are thought to be in greater danger. Veterinarians believe that the depth and width of a dog’s chest closely correlate to their risk level for bloat.

4. Eating Habits

Dogs that eat one larger meal a day rather than two or three smaller meals may be at greater risk for bloat. Eating and drinking too quickly and exercising right after a meal can also cause bloat in dogs.

5. Breed

Veterinarians also believe there is a strong link between breed and bloat. The condition appears to occur more often in large or giant breeds.

Based on a study conducted by The University of Purdue, the following ten breeds are most at risk to experience bloat:

However, it should be noted that just because your dog’s breed may not be listed above, that does not mean that they cannot suffer from bloat.

Signs of Bloat in Dogs

Take your dog to an emergency animal clinic right away if you notice symptoms of bloat in your dog. It’s always better to be safe because bloat can affect your dog very quickly.

The following are signs of bloat in dogs: 

  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Non-productive vomiting (this is when your dog looks like they’re vomiting, but nothing comes up)
  • Pale nose, mouth, and gums
  • Pacing, anxiousness, and look of panic
  • Drooling
  • Collapsing

It is crucial that you become familiar with the signs of bloat, particularly if you have a dog with a higher disposition to developing this condition.

Labrador retriever dog with a black collar lying on a wood floor

Treatment for Bloat in Dogs

When your dog arrives at the clinic, they will most likely be given intravenous catheters to increase their fluids. This is typically the first recommended step in treatment because they are at risk of going into shock or may already be in shock.

Pain relievers or antibiotics may also be administered.

After your dog is set up with catheters, the air will need to be released from their stomach. There are two ways in which this is typically done. One way is to put a tube down your dog’s throat to the stomach. The other way, which may be done if your dog’s stomach has flipped, is to place a hollow needle through the stomach. 

Once your dog has been stabilized, your veterinarian may recommend abdominal surgery to reposition the stomach properly or prevent it from twisting again by suturing it.

How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs

Bloat can be tough to prevent because the exact cause is not always known, and your dog may get it even when you take precautions to avoid it.

To be on the safe side, you might want to try these five tips to prevent bloat in your dog:

1. Break up meals
You don’t want your dog’s belly to be too full, so it’s recommended to portion their meals into two or three smaller ones rather than one big one. A big meal can mean a greater risk for bloat.

2. Help them slow down
Overzealous eaters may be at risk for bloat. When they inhale their food, they could be inhaling excess air as well.

My dog, Dakota, eats in this way, and his veterinarian thought it was concerning. So, it was recommended that we place a tire toy in his food bowl with the food pushed around it. Having to eat around the tire forces him to slow down a little bit. The tire trick might be worth trying for your pup if they’re always in a hurry to finish their food.

There are also special bowls designed to slow down your dog’s food intake. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations. 

3. Let them eat alone
Dogs with furry siblings sometimes eat like they’re in a race. It may be because they want to be sure they finish their food before their brother or sister comes along and finishes it for them.

If you think competition could be contributing to your dog’s rushed eating, try feeding them in a separate room than your other pets. This may eliminate some of their anxiety and help them eat more slowly and relaxed.

4. Limit water after eating
Water should always be available to your dog, but if they tend to lap up the entire bowl after a meal, you may want to put it up temporarily while their tummy digests their food. Excess water on a belly full of kibbles could contribute to twisting.

5. Avoid exercise right after meals
Encourage your dog to take it easy after eating. If they start getting riled up, try coaxing them to curl up next to you for some cuddles. Vigorous activity on a full stomach can be bad news for our canine friends.

By taking some preventive steps and familiarizing yourself with dog bloat symptoms, you can help protect your pal and lower your dog’s risk of developing this condition. Remember, if you believe your dog is showing signs of bloat, it is critical that you contact your veterinarian or a nearby animal hospital as soon as possible.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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