Food Bloat

When They Can’t Eat Another Bite
Jeff Dennis, DVM, DACVIM

Every holiday I overeat. My belly gets a little distended and I feel over full. I recognize my mistake and swear not to eat as much next year. But what if the food you ate at the holiday meal kept on increasing in volume as it sat in your stomach? That could be a problem.

So it is with dogs who get into a bag of dry food. Every dog will eat until they are full; that’s not the problem. It has been reported that the normal canine stomach can accommodate 7-8 % of the dog’s body weight in food. The problem starts when the dry food starts to absorb fluid from the stomach, or the dog drinks. The dry food swells as it absorbs the fluid overdistending the stomach. This condition is known as food bloat.

Signs of food bloat are usually acute in onset. Patients frequently present similar to those with GDV. Dogs demonstrate abdominal discomfort and anxiety. Attempts at vomiting are frequently non-productive, and pressure on the diaphragm from the gastric distention can cause increased respiratory effort. Occasionally, the stomach is distended enough to interfere with blood return by the vena cava causing signs of poor cardiac output.


Food bloat is diagnosed with radiographs. The food-filled stomach, unlike a GDV, is normally positioned.



Treatment recommendations for patients with food bloat vary: 

  1. Some clinicians attempt to induce vomiting; however, this is frequently ineffective. Overdistention of the stomach interferes with its ability to contract and expel its contents. We don’t recommended emesis.
  2. The administration of IV fluids is recommended. Dogs risk dehydration as the dry stomach contents draw in fluid. Furthermore, the stomach contents need to be moist enough to be broken down and passed through the pyloris. Those dogs demonstrating compromise in perfusion from dehydration, or reduced cardiac return from the excessive gastric dilation, could also benefit from fluid therapy.
  3. Providing frequent walks has been suggested as it appears to help stimulate gastric emptying.
  4. Administering pro-motility medications such as metoclopramide may also be helpful.
  5. Analgesics are indicated in painful dogs. It has been suggested that NSAIDs be avoided so as not to further irritate the stomach.
  6. Finally, the resolution of food bloat takes time. Most dogs improve within 12 hours of presentation.
  7. Surgery is not recommended to treat food bloat unless the stomach is torsed.

How about lavaging the food out of the stomach?

Lavage is typically not necessary and would likely prove difficult to perform because of the density and dryness of the stomach contents. The risk of inducing aspiration pneumonia in many cases outweighs any potential benefit you might gain. Lavage might be considered if the stomach is distended to the point where perfusion is compromised.

Note:  The occurrence of food bloat has not been associated with an increased risk of developing GDV.