Dog Bloat: Know the Signs of An Acute Abdominal Condition That Can Kill

Pacing, restlessness, excessive salivation, a swollen abdomen and unproductive retching are the classic warning signs of dog bloat. This critical condition can strike at any age, but middle-aged and older dogs are typically more prone to developing complications. Onset is quite sudden, and often develops in pets that are otherwise healthy and active. While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, associated factors have included large-breed dogs with deep chest conformation, eating an extra-large meal, high stress such as change in environment or boarding, vigorous exercise just before or after eating, or drinking too much water too quickly after eating.

This condition can quickly become life threatening, so it is important that pet families recognize the signs. Since gastric volvulus causes death in nearly half of all cases, it is crucial that you seek urgent veterinary care as soon as your pet begins to show symptoms of bloat.

Learn what dog breeds are most affected by dog bloat.

Gastric Dilatation and Gastric Volvulus

Dog bloat as a general term can refer to one or both of two related conditions: gastric dilatation and gastric volvulus. Gastric dilatation describes the sudden buildup of fluid and gas within the stomach. In some cases, the distended stomach and attached spleen also become twisted inside the abdomen, leading to the development of the volvulus condition.

Acute Health Issues Caused by Volvulus

Severe rotation can cause the openings at the top and bottom of the stomach to become constricted, effectively pinching off any release of air or liquid and causing excessive, painful bloating. Pets afflicted by gastric twisting are unable to relieve stomach pressure through belching or vomiting. Additionally, this twisting can cut off blood circulation to the stomach, causing death in the stomach tissues. Once volvulus has set in it can also lead to numerous critical problems, including

  • circulatory shock
  • bacterial septicemia
  • acute dehydration
  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • peritonitis
  • gastric perforation

While not every case of dilatation will also involve gastric volvulus, it is essential that you seek urgent veterinary care at the first sign of abdominal bloating or tenderness. Not all common symptoms will be present in every case. However, a few other signs of bloat to look for include

  • abnormal abdominal tightness or distension
  • a stiff-legged walk
  • lethargic behavior
  • visible discomfort

Seeking Treatment

A veterinarian will be able to determine whether your dog is suffering from dilatation alone or dilatation complicated by volvulus by performing a set of abdominal X-rays. Initial efforts can be made to temporarily decompress the stomach contents. In cases of dilatation and volvulus surgical treatment is recommended to replace the organs in a normal position, remove any dead tissues including portions of the stomach and spleen if necessary, and to perform a gastropexy. Gastropexy involves surgically tacking the stomach to the body wall to prevent future volvulus. Following gastropexy, dogs can have future episodes of dilatation, however the life-threatening consequence of volvulus are prevented.

Preventing Bloat

Bloat is frequently caused by rapid or excessive eating or drinking, especially just before or after strenuous exercise. It is a good idea to keep to multiple, equally portioned meals spaced out over the day. Additionally, prophylactic gastropexy (before the event of dilatation and volvulus) can be considered in dog breeds that may be prone to this condition. This procedure can be performed at the time of other abdominal surgery such as spay procedures. It can also be performed with a minimally invasive procedure using laparoscopic equipment:

Emergency Planning

When it comes to diagnosing and treating canine bloat, time is critical. Even if your dog is currently healthy and happy it is a good idea to have an emergency backup plan in place. For those times when your pet becomes suddenly ill, but your family veterinarian’s office is closed, BluePearl offers emergency services  at these locations.