Bloat can be deadly for dogs. That’s why it’s so important for you to recognize the signs of bloat. And know what to do if your dog gets bloated.
More importantly, you need to know how to prevent it, especially if your dog may be more prone to bloating.
What Is Bloat In Dogs?
Bloat in dogs is also called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). The first stage (dilatation) happens when your dog’s stomach fills up with too much gas, fluid and food. Pressure builds and your dog’s stomach begins to expand.
This can put pressure on your dog’s diaphragm, which can make breathing difficult. If there’s enough pressure, it could cause cell death from lack of oxygen. The pressure can also restrict the flow of blood between the heart, abdomen and hind legs, causing even more problems.
In severe cases, the build-up of pressure will actually cause your dog’s stomach to twist. This is the volvulus stage. And it’s the reason bloat is so deadly.
When the stomach twists, both ends of the stomach close off so nothing can move in or out of it. This causes even more pressure to build and can slow or even stop blood circulation. Organs will stop getting the blood and oxygen they need and shock will set in.
Bloat can be fatal so if you think your dog has bloat ... get to the vet!
Symptoms Of Bloat In Dogs
If your dog has bloat then you’ll see some of these signs …
- Agitation (panting, whining or pacing)
- Head hanging
- Stiff movement
- Shaking or shivering
- Trying (unsuccessfully) to vomit
- Bloated abdomen
- Abdominal discomfort or pain
In some situations, your dog may go into shock, collapse or lose consciousness. Depending on the severity of the bloat, this could happen in as little as 20 minutes. So don’t delay if you think your dog is bloating. Get to the vet.
What To Do If Your Dog Bloats
Bloat is a serious emergency, so every minute matters. The moment you suspect your dog has bloat you need to act fast and head to the vet. If you need to call your vet, do it from the car. You can always turn around if it turns out to be something else.
Natural Remedies To Help Reduce Bloat In Dogs
There are remedies that can help reduce dog bloat. But don’t give them and then wait to see what happens. Instead, give your dog the remedies on your way to the vet. (If you can bring someone in the car to dose your dog on the way, even better.)
Homeopathic remedies can also be an effective way to slow the progression of bloat. There are many remedies for bloat but the best are usually Carbo vegetabilis or Nux vomica. You’ll want to buy 30C or 200C.
- Most common remedy for bloat
- Lots of gas
- Bloated abdomen
- Cramping, flatulence and burping
- Cold breath or muzzle
- Gums and ears may be blue
- Cool air may help your dog feel better
- May be caused by rich, decayed or starchy food
- Lots of cramping
- Trying to vomit repeatedly (hacking but nothing comes up)
- Chilly with cold paws
- Warm drinks make him feel better
Choose the remedy that best matches your dog’s symptoms and give it every 15 minutes while on the way to your vet. If the symptoms change and a different remedy becomes a better choice, switch to the remedy.
Because bloat is an emergency situation, you can put 2-3 pellets directly into your dog’s mouth. Avoid touching the pellets with your hands if you can, as this can negate the remedy. Just tip the pellets out of the container lid into your dog’s mouth.
If your dog won’t take the pellets directly, give your dog these remedies as a wet dose.
- Add 1 to 3 pellets to a dark glass dropper bottle.
- Shake the bottle by striking the bottom of the bottle against your hand 20 times. The pellets may or may not dissolve.
- Put a small amount of the liquid on your dog’s gums. The easiest way to do this is to pull your dog’s lower lip out near the corner of her mouth.
- Shake the bottle 10 times before each dose.
You can prepare wet doses in advance and store them in your cupboard for emergencies. Just replace 10% of the water with brandy or vodka.
Homeopathic remedies can be life saving so you should try to keep them on hand. Especially if your dog is prone to bloat.
If you don’t have these homeopathic remedies, ginger may help your dog at the very early stages of bloat. That’s because it can stimulate the movement of the stomach and push contents out faster. It’s also a carminative herb, which means it can help reduce gas build-up.
In an emergency, the most convenient way to give your dog ginger is as a powder. Give the following amount of powdered ginger based on your dog’s weight.
1 to 10 lbs … up to ⅛ tsp
10 to 20 lbs … ⅛ to ¼ tsp
20 to 50 lbs … 1 tsp
50 to 100 lbs … 2 tsp
Over 100 lbs … up to 1 tbsp
Do not use ginger if your dog is on thinning medications or if she’s going into labor or surgery. You should also avoid ginger if your dog is pregnant or taking treatment for other conditions.
What Happens Once You Get To The Vet
Once you have arrived at the vet’s office, he’ll restore blood circulation using a catheter and decompress the stomach. Decompression is done by inserting a tube into your dog’s nose or mouth so it may require sedation.
Your vet may also do x-rays to confirm it’s GDV. If it is, and the stomach has twisted, your vet will have to do surgery under anesthesia to correct the twisting. Surgery will also let your vet assess any damage to the stomach, spleen or other organs.
GDV and surgery also come with their own list of possible complications:
- Low blood pressure
- Heart arrhythmias
- Bacterial skin infections
- Inflammation of the inner wall of the abdomen (peritonitis)
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Gastric necrosis (death of body tissue) or perforation
- Fluid in lungs or lung injury
- Low blood circulation
- Systemic inflammation
If your vet does have to do surgery to untwist the stomach he may also recommend a gastropexy. I’ll talk about why this isn’t a good idea a bit later but first let’s look at some common risk factors for bloat.
Factors That Increase The Risk Of Bloat In Dogs
Some dogs are more prone to bloat than others. This is especially true for dogs that have a history of bloat in their family.
Older dogs are also at greater risk and usually experience their first episode between 10 and 12 years of age. Male dogs and dogs who are stressed are also more likely to experience bloat.
Large or giant breeds with a deep chest also have a greater risk. But studies show that risk factors between large and giant breeds are different.
In large breeds, the risk of bloat increased when dogs ate out of raised food dishes, ate too fast or had moistened food. Bloat was also more common when dogs didn’t get water before and after their meal. Large dogs who lived in rural areas or showed aggression towards people also appeared to have a higher risk of bloat.
Giant breeds were also at greater risk of bloat if they ate from a raised bowl, but that’s where the similarities stopped. Giant breeds are more prone to bloat if they live in urban areas, have a lean body or have a history of chronic conditions. Dogs that often have a distended belly after meals may also be more likely to bloat.
Breeds At Greater Risk Of Bloat
- Great Danes
- Doberman Pinschers
- Standard Poodles
- Old English Sheepdogs
- Irish Setters
- Irish Wolfhounds
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
- Basset Hounds
Why Gastropexies Aren’t The Best Prevention
I mentioned earlier that your vet may recommend a gastropexy if your dog comes in with GDV. Your vet may also recommend this procedure as a preventative measure in young deep-chested dogs who have never had GDV.
A gastropexy involves sewing your dog’s stomach to her abdominal wall so that it can’t twist. Not only does this procedure sound awful … it also isn’t a 100% fix for twisting. And it comes with its own set of risks.
In one study, researchers looked at 49 dogs who had had a gastropexy. Of the 49 dogs …
- 10% had complications from the surgery
- 2 dogs had major complications that needed further intervention
- 39% had minor postoperative wound-related complications
7 Easy Ways To Prevent Bloat In Dogs
Bloat is incredibly dangerous and the treatment can also be risky and expensive. So it’s always best to focus on prevention. Here are 7 things you can do to help prevent bloat.
1. Change Up Your Dog’s Diet
Experts have pinpointed poor diet as one of the main reasons for bloat in dogs. This is especially true if you feed kibble that lists fats as one of the first four ingredients. In fact, a study at Purdue University showed that this could increase the risk of GDV by 170%.
Kibble may also cause bloat because of its high starch content. That’s because your dog’s digestive tract is better able to break down meat and vegetation that she’d eat naturally in the wild ... not grains, corn and other starchy carbs.
And while you may have heard that moistening kibble can help prevent bloat, this could actually increase the risk of bloat. If you moisten foods with citric acid, it can actually increase the risk of bloat by 320%.
Instead, try feeding your dog raw meat and a fresh whole food diet. This will be easier for her to digest and is much more nutritious than kibble. Freeze-dried, dehydrated, canned and home-cooked meals are also better choices than kibble.
If you must feed your dog kibble, try adding table food or canned food to her dish. This can decrease the risk of bloat in large breeds by 59% and in giant breeds by 28%.
RELATED: How long is kibble good for?
2. Throw Your Dog A Bone
Bones have many benefits for dogs of all ages, but when it comes to bloat they can be especially useful. Chewing on bones isn’t just mentally challenging, it also helps strengthen your dog’s stomach muscles and improve digestion. And that can help prevent bloat in dogs.
Chewing on bones can also help reduce stress, which is one of the many risk factors I mentioned earlier.
3. Ditch The Raised Bowl
You may have heard that raised bowls can help prevent bloat but it turns out that may not be true. Studies show that raised bowls caused bloat in 20% of large breed cases and 53% of giant breed cases.
Instead, you should put your dog’s dish on the ground. After all, eating off the ground is a much more natural position for dogs.
4. Smart Exercise
Exercise is incredibly important for your dog’s mental and physical well-being. But like you, exercising too close to a meal can cause discomfort. For your dog, it could even cause bloat.
So, to avoid bloat in dogs, don’t exercise or play vigorously right after eating. Instead, let your dog relax and digest a bit first.
5. Avoid Stress
Stress is one of the risk factors for bloat, which means keeping your dog calm and relaxed is important. I mentioned earlier that bones can be a great de-stresser. Limiting change in your dog’s routine and environment is also important.
You also want to limit physical stressors like vaccines, medication, poor diet and disease. These all push the body outside of its ability to cope and can cause stress.
You can also consider adding more stress-reducing activities to your dog’s daily routine. This may include an extra walk, game of fetch, swimming or another outdoor activity.
And don’t forget to manage your own stress as well. Dogs are very attuned to their owners so if you’re stressed, your dog will be too.
6. Consider Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeast that travel to your dog’s colon and produce healthful benefits. They also help balance out your dog’s microbiome, which will keep her digestive tract strong and healthy. So it will be able to break down food better and reduce gases that could lead to bloat.
And where there’s probiotics, there should be prebiotics. Prebiotics are soluble fibers that feed probiotics so that they can produce more benefits. So when looking for a probiotic product, try to find one with prebiotics as well.
7. Add Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes help your dog digest her food better. This doesn’t just help your dog absorb more nutrients, it also helps reduce digestive discomfort and gas build-up. And both of these should help prevent bloat.
While your dog makes her own digestive enzymes, sometimes she needs a boost. This is especially true if she is aging or has digestive problems.
But when buying a digestive enzyme, be sure to get a product for dogs. That’s because dogs need different enzymes than humans.
Bloat is a serious and dangerous condition, which is why you should do what you can to prevent it. If you do see signs of bloat in your dog, get her to the vet immediately. Once she’s better, follow these tips to help keep your dog happy and healthy.