We all know that feeling after finishing a big holiday meal. You feel stuffed, and you probably regret eating that last piece of food. Your belly may become swollen or bloated, and it may be difficult to breathe. While these still might be good memories for us, dog bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus) is very different from ours.

When your pet experiences dog bloat, it'll be far from a holiday memory. Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) is very dangerous for dogs, and even in mild cases should be considered a medical emergency.

What Is Gastric Dilatation Volvulus?

Dog bloat happens when their stomach fills with too much gas and as a consequence expands abnormally. If the stomach is bigger than it usually is, it pressures other vital organs surrounding it, and disables the regular blood flow.

Gastric dilatation volvulus condition also includes the twisting of the stomach. Such twisting together with swollen stomach prevents blood from going back to the heart and other vital organs, and they stop functioning properly. Since the gas cannot escape the stomach in these conditions, the situation is getting worse by the minute. If this state lasts for a couple of hours, your dog will go into shock.

Pancreas will be left without oxygen. This means that it may start producing toxic hormones which are harmful for the dog’s body. Even if your pooch has a mild version of dog bloat, you should treat it as an emergency and immediately take your dog to the vet or emergency pet clinic.

Who Is at Risk from Dog Bloat?

There is a lot veterinarians and scientists still don’t know about this condition. However, there's been tons of studies done on different cases of GDV in dogs, which managed to narrow down the group of dogs who are likely more at risk than the others, and what else may cause animals to be more at risk of dog bloat.

Both males and females are equally at risk for this condition, and studies also found that spaying/neutering does not increase or decrease the chance of dog bloat.

When it comes to breeds, some large breeds are more at risk. One large study with 1,934 dogs found six breeds to be most at risk of GDV. Generally, if the canine has deep and narrow chest, they will be more likely to get dog bloat, although there have been examples of small or medium breeds being affected. The breeds which most commonly face GDV are:

  • Great Danes
  • Irish Setters
  • St. Bernards
  • Dobermans
  • Weimaraners
  • Gordon Setters

Another two important factors that increase the risk of gastric dilatation volvulus in dogs that the same study found was the dog's age and weight. It was observed that older dogs are more likely to develop dog bloat. Or, when the dog is overweight, that could be a risk as well. However, scientists found that genetics and family history was of much bigger importance than a dog's weight or age.

The chances of your dog getting GDV are greater if it runs in the family (Glickman, 2000). If your dog’s parent or a sibling had dog bloat, it suggests that your pooch is possibly prone to this condition too (Harkey, 2017). This is one of the major reasons why it's useful to know a dog's family tree and the history of family illnesses (using dog DNA tests), so you can be on the lookout for the symptoms or take preventive measures.

Never undermine the seriousness of dog bloat because statistics speak for themselves. The above two studies found the mortality rate of 30-33% among the 40,000 – 60,000 dogs that experienced GDV. Then, in yet another GDV in dogs study from AVMA where 105 dogs were treated, 30% of those dogs died, even when the vets and surgeons performed all the necessary procedures. A more recent 2014 study found the mortality rate of dogs after GDV treatment to be around 10-28%.

How to Recognize Gastric Dilatation Volvulus in Dogs?

If your dog gets GDV, you will be able to see the symptoms very quickly. They can be mild in the beginning, but they progress fast. Your dog will get anxious and you will see the common signals of distress such as walking nervously, whining, growling and restlessness.

The dog's belly will be noticeably swollen and possibly painful if you touch it. The common symptom is also an urge to vomit but nothing comes out.

As the state progresses, your pup may feel disorientation, exhaustion and weakness. Check the dog's gums and if you see they are pale. Your pet can also have a rapid heartbeat and he might feel difficulty breathing. This condition in the acute phase will lead to the animal eventually getting into shock and collapsing.

RELATED: How to Massage Gas Out of a Dog

6 Ways to Prevent and Treat GDV in Dogs

6 Ways to Prevent and Treat GDV in Dogs

While dog bloat is a very serious and potentially fatal condition where sometimes it is impossible to save the dog, there are a few things you as a pet owner can do to reduce the risk of GDV or to help your pooch when the condition develops.

1. Pay Attention to the Symptoms

Since it is not yet determined what exactly is causing the state of gastric dilatation volvulus in dogs, technically there is nothing you can do to be sure that your dog won’t get it. There are some anecdotal evidence that grains may be causing this, but there isn't enough evidence on that. Eating and drinking from an elevated food bowl was shown to potentially cause GDV in dogs.

As with many diseases, early detection is of paramount importance, even more since this potentially fatal condition develops quickly and has greater consequences as time passes. Bear in mind that if you disregard the early signs, the outcome can be fatal.

2. Feed Your Dog Accordingly

It’s been confirmed that dogs that eat a large meal once a day are more likely to get dog bloat. One large study with 1,634 dogs found that those fed a large meal were at a significantly higher risk of developing GDV. Therefore, it's best to give your pooch two or even three meals a day, and not feed them too much per meal.

We all know that our pets won’t limit themselves when eating, so we need to make sure that the portions are suitable for the dog's size and age (follow packaging instructions). Even a large amount of water taken at once can cause this condition, so give water to your pet more often but in a smaller amount.

How to feed a dog to prevent bloat?

Here are the main few “rules” on feeding you should probably follow:

1) Smaller and more frequent meals through the day;
2) Dry kibble must be kept separately from water (no water in food);
3) Foods that are too high in fat/oil are more dangerous (avoid brands that list fat or fatty/oily ingredients as the first 2-3 on the list);
4) Provide only the essential amount of water for your dog;
5) Let your pet rest for 1-2 hours after eating (no physical activity);
6) Avoid raised dog food/water bowls;
7) If your dog gulps down food to quickly, force them to slow down by using specially made dog food bowls that slow down eating.

These few small tips are easy to implement but are effective at preventing dog bloat.

3. Keep Your Dog Stress-free

Dog bloat can also be psychosomatic. This means that if your dog is unhappy or in fear or under stress, he will be more likely to get dog bloat.

Avoid giving him the food just after he has been scared or annoyed. Let him eat it and don’t distract him by inviting him to play or do something else. This can urge him to eat the portion more quickly, which is not good for his stomach.

Doing any type of physical activity such as running, training or playing can also have a bad effect and lead to this condition. Make it a habit to let your pet rest for at least half an hour after he’s eaten.

4. Do a Preventive Surgery (Gastropexy)

Studies found that one of the more effective ways to prevent gastric dilatation volvulus in dogs is by doing a preventive surgery called gastropexy, or tacking the stomach. This is especially important if your dog belongs to a breed (mentioned above) which is more prone to dog bloat since the procedure can prevent the stomach from twisting.

A lot of research has been done on the subject of gastropexy for GDV in dogs, most notably the Przywara/Abel/Shott study. The results showed that gastropexy surgery is effective for preventing gastric dilatation volvulus in dogs; however, it does not give a 100% guarantee that the dog will not develop GDV again in the future. Some instances of re-occurrence was observed in the study. There are also some risks of perioperative complications, according to this AVMA study.

Also, keep in mind that the surgery can be costly, but it is can also be very effective. The costs vary, and there are several ways to approach the surgery. In one case described by Whole Dog Journal, the patient was quoted $1,500 for a “quick” 15 minute surgery.

5. React Quickly

Even if dog bloat happens to develop, bear in mind that in many cases it is treatable as long as you take quick actions. If discovered on time and if the dog responds well to the treatment, the prognosis is very good.

This is why the most important thing is to take your pup to the vet immediately. Even if you are not sure whether it's dog bloat or some other condition, it is better to check.

6. Let the Vet Help

In most situations of dog bloat, the treatment is surgery. Occasionally, the vet might opt for inserting the tube through your dog’s mouth and into his stomach to release the gases and see if this helps.

If the tube is too tick, a needle can be of use. If your dog is unconscious, the vet will try to bring him back by giving him fluids and antibiotics. In case the vet is not sure whether the stomach is twisted, he can verify this on an X-ray scan.

Still, quite possibly your dog will need the surgery. Luckily if you take your dog to the vet on time, it will be a routine procedure and the dog will recover quickly. The vet will place his stomach into the normal position and check other vital organs.

In advanced stages, the veterinarian may need to remove part of your dog’s stomach to save your pet's life, in which case the recovery process is longer and the quality of your dog’s life can decrease in the future.

Bear in mind that emergency procedure for dogs with gastric dilatation volvulus is not cheap, so you will need to allocate a considerable amount for the treatment. Some sources have estimated that the price of medical costs can reach $5000 to $7000, which include hospitalization, monitoring and surgery.

Bowls to Slow Down Your Dog's Eating

Here are some of the best dog food bowls that slow down eating and may help to force your pooch to consume dry kibble, wet food or homemade meals while pacing themselves, and potentially prevent dog bloat.

At the Tail's End…

Top 6 Ways to Prevent and Treat Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Dog Bloat)You need to take dog bloat seriously. It is one of the potentially fatal conditions which appears and develops quickly and time is of the essence in these cases.

The best option is to prevent it by giving your dog food and water more often but in smaller portions, and avoiding the physical exercises and stressful situations around the mealtime. You can also choose to get a preventative surgery, which decreases the chance of gastric dilatation volvulus in dogs, but still not a 100% guarantee.

If your pooch does get dog bloat, the most important thing is to recognize the signs and symptoms, react quickly and take your dog immediately to the vet’s office.

READ NEXT: 5 Reasons Your Dog Has Canine Bloat and How to Prevent It

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Dana is a qualified veterinarian with background in animal care and training sciences and an avid writer on the topics of dog health. Her range of expertise is wide but her primary focus in on animal nutrition and specifically dog foods.