Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) in dogs is a serious medical condition that can be deadly.  We recently had a student go through this with her Golden Retriever.  Thankfully she has beat the statistics and is doing well.   Her owner knew what to look for, which saved her life!   In an effort to save more dogs lives from bloat we asked Dr. Anita Patel, DVM from Suwanee Animal Hospital to give us valuable insight into bloat.

  • Bloat!? What is it?
    • Bloat is a broad term used to refer to gastric dilatation (dilation of the stomach with food and/or gas) and volvulus (rotation of the stomach). Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is a serious life-threatening condition that requires emergency surgery. The stomach can become dilated with food and/or gas which can lead to compromise of major blood flow, death of cells due to lack of blood flow, decreased abdominal space leading to increased difficulty breathing, and potentially even rupture of the stomach. Volvulus occurs when a dilated stomach is rotated on its axis cutting off major blood supply within the abdomen and thus the return of blood flow to the heart.
  • How serious is bloat?
    • Bloat is a RAPIDLY PROGRESSIVE condition that is LIFE THREATENING. The longer bloat goes untreated, the longer blood flow and organ health are compromised and may lead to irreparable damage to internal organs and an overall poorer prognosis. Potential signs of bloat should NOT be taken lightly as TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Minutes and hours can change your pet’s prognosis and outcome of treatment.
  • What causes bloat? Are there certain risk factors to avoid?
    • While bloat can happen at any age in any animal, studies have found that certain risk factors increase the potential for your pet to bloat.
    • A single large meal once daily versus multiple smaller meals throughout the day has been linked to increased likelihood of causing bloat. With a single large meal, animals are much more likely to have sudden distention or dilation of the stomach with food and gas which is the first step in a series of cascading events that can lead to gastric volvulus.
    • Rapid food consumption leads to increased gas intake into the stomach along with food leading to further gastric dilation.
    • Older dogs tend to be more at risk, though bloat can occur AT ANY AGE!
    • The American College of Veterinary Surgeons also sites a 2006 study that showed dogs consuming dry foods with oils or animal fat listed within the first four ingredients of the label were at increased risk of bloating.
    • Deep chested dogs are also at increased likelihood for having GDV (bloat). The increased depth of their chest versus a smaller width creates an environment in which the stomach can more easily be rotated leading to volvulus.
    • A first degree relative with a history of GDV/bloat makes its more likely in related animals.
  • Are there specific breeds that are more prone to bloating?
    • Bloat can occur in all sorts of breeds, not just deep-chested dogs. With that said, we do tend to see more incidence of bloat in the following breeds:
      • Great Danes
      • Weimaraners
      • Bernard
      • Irish and Gordon Setters
      • Standard Poodle
      • German Shepherd Dog
    • Are there certain ages we should be aware of bloat in our dogs?
      • Bloat can occur at any age but is seen more commonly in middle aged to older animals.
    • What are some preventatives to consider in order to avoid bloat?
      • Feed multiple meals rather than one large meal
      • Slow down rapid eaters with slow feeder bowls
      • Avoid exercise after your pet has consumed a meal
      • Don’t feed from raised bowls as they are more likely to take in more gas while eating.
      • Prophylactic tacking of the stomach during sterilization surgery (spay/neuter) in predisposed breeds or in dogs that have a known relative that had GDV/bloat. (We will discuss this in more detail later!)
    • What are early symptoms of bloat?
      • Retching or attempting to vomit without producing anything
      • Pacing, panting, and drooling excessively
      • Inability to get comfortable and looking back at their abdomen repeatedly
      • Distended and painful abdomen
      • Some dogs that are beyond early signs may be recumbent (laying down) with a distended abdomen.
    • Do you know of any statistics on how many dogs survive bloating?
      • The mortality rate associated with GDV/bloat is about 15-30%. Certain factors predispose to increased mortality and overall poorer prognosis. One of the biggest factors associated with prognosis is duration of clinical signs. Dogs that were found to have clinical signs for > 6 hours led to increased mortality post surgery due to more prolonged compromise of blood flow to the entire body as well as increased likelihood of having to remove a portion of the stomach that was no longer viable as well as the spleen. Dogs that had an arrhythmia prior to surgery (due to alterations in blood flow) were also more likely to have increased mortality rates post surgery. All of these factors lead to a more guarded prognosis and make post-surgery complications much more likely.
    • I’ve heard that you can tack the stomach, does that always prevent bloat?
      • Tacking the stomach during sterilization surgery (spay/neuter) in a dog of a predisposed breed (or with a relative that has had GDV) is also an option. For a spay surgery (sterilization of a female dog), veterinarians are already entering into the abdomen providing an opportunity to do a preventative surgery to tack the stomach down to the abdominal wall in order to attempt to prevent rotation of the stomach in the future. There are also minimally invasive methods of performing a gastropexy via laparoscopy (scope-guided surgery). This preventative surgery is not always successful, however. This is a decision that should be discussed with your veterinarian in detail. Many studies have found that prophylactic tacking of the stomach is not always successful in prevention of a possible future GDV but that tacking of the stomach in response to a GDV is usually successful in preventing subsequent episodes of GDV/bloat.

As a pet owner, the most important thing you can do is take the preventative measures listed above especially in predisposed breeds. More than anything, however, its knowing the signs of bloat and acting QUICKLY which will affect your pet’s survival should bloat occur. Diagnosis of bloat can be done quickly with radiographs which help determine if both gastric dilation and volvulus have occurred and allow your veterinarian to make quick life-changing decisions regarding your animal’s care.


1) American College of Veterinary Surgeons

2) Merck Veterinary Manual