What is it? Bloat occurs when food ferments, or air is trapped, or the dog is playing with a full stomach and for whatever reason, the stomach flips or twists. A dog's stomach is suspended like a hammock so unlike a human where a build up of gas can pass up or down from its vertical outlets, a dog has more difficulty passing air or gas from the stomach. Some of you are smiling, thinking your dog has no problem passing gas..... That is when his stomach is in the normal position but it does indicate there is fermentation going on so you will definitely want to keep reading. His diet or habits may cause him to get into a chain reaction situation as we are about to describe and you could loose him. Older dogs, those recovering from illness, a dog suddenly engaging in strenuous physical activity; many situations can precipitate an emergency situation.
Why is it so serious? It is more difficult for a dog to pass gas and when the stomach twists, it is impossible to relieve the increasing pressure. Torsion sets off an inevitable sequence of events that is almost always fatal. It can happen so quickly that every owner of a breed over 50 pounds or one with excessive skin or one that is "out of condition" or elderly, or one that has gotten in to strange foodstuffs (farm dogs for example) or one that chronically drinks a lot of water - in other words, all dog owners need to know what it is and how to recognize it immediately as any delay is treatment can be fatal within the hour!
What causes it? A number of different conditions can bring on bloat. Humans can pass gas in either direction but you know what it feels like when you have really, really overeaten. You wish you could get rid of the gas faster! Imagine how you would feel if you could not relieve the pressure. That is what happens as a dog's stomach fills up with air and begins to put pressure on the other organs and diaphragm. As he becomes more uncomfortable, the dog swallows repeatedly, adding to the problem or he begins to drink more and more water, both of which hasten the twisting of the ever-enlarging stomach. When the stomach rotates, it effectively shuts off the blood supply. The tissues begin to die and the end is near because unless surgery is done very quickly, the damage is too great for recovery. Even with fairly prompt treatment, estimates run as high as 35% death rate.
Will it happen to my dog? Male dogs are more likely to be affected and there is speculation that an excessive skin-to-frame relationship can precipitate calcium and other chemical imbalances that bring on bloat. Dogs that are fed only once a day and particularly if given foods containing corn, soy, or other gas producing grains are more likely to bloat. In the wild, canines can gorge until they appear "about to burst" with no ill effects.
Some breeds are more susceptible than others and as mentioned, age, condition, certain behavior patterns, or physical features can increase the odds of bloat. Great Danes and Saint Bernards top the list of most likely victims according to a study conducted at Perdue University. Those are followed by active breeds with a deep chest and tucked up stomach such as Weimaraners, Irish and Gordon Setters and Standard Poodles. Basset Hounds are right up there, possibly because of the long suspension system for the stomach and the excessive skin.
Can I prevent it? One of the most common mistakes leading to bloat involves exercise with a full stomach, particularly during mating. Never attempt a mating during the heat of the day. Never use a stud dog when he's just been fed. Never allow him to "tank up" during or immediately after a mating attempt. A stud with a belly full of food or water is not at his best anyway but more important, the likelihood of gastric torsion brought on by the mating dance is a very real danger.
A dog's stomach that is "suspended" is very prone to twisting when it's overly full and jostled about during exercise. Whether you own a stud dog or not you should be aware. Any form of hard exercise immediately before or after food or in conjunction with the consumption of large amounts of water is likely to produce bloat.
Dogs that have bloated and survived need special diets. Your vet will take care of that. To prevent a first occurrence, practice common sense and feed wisely, bearing in mind that no breed is immune to bloat. If possible, feed smaller meals, twice a day. There is speculation that elevated feeding position reduces the incidence of bloat but to further confuse, there is adamant opposition to that theory. Dogs normally eat from ground level so until there is solid proof that elevating the food bowl is of value, I would advice feeding from the floor.
Some chew-bones promote air swallowing. Some dogs are gulpers when they eat and while this is normal for the canine, if your dog seems to swallow air and become uncomfortable, put large pebbles or those smooth washable decorative rocks in his food bowl. Anything to slow him down. Remove any other dog that may cause him to eat too fast. Re-read the above about excessive water consumption, exercise, etc.
How will I know if he is bloating? You will know if there develops a combination of symptoms that include signs of discomfort, restlessness, a "worried" expression, wanting to go out but not really doing anything when you take him to relieve himself. Symptoms will progress to aimless pacing, panting which will become rapid and shallow. He will swallow, salivate, and he may try to vomit but it will be futile if the stomach has already torsioned. By the time you see that his stomach is visibly increasing in size, he will be in serious trouble. His gums may become pale, heart rate becomes rapid and he will progress into shock if the stomach has turned.
What should I do if I think he is bloating? You can try emergency measures before leaving for the vet because depending on traffic and distance, and his condition when you notice, you may be too late. Prevent him from drinking any more water.
If you have a dog that would be considered at risk, you should have on hand one of the over-the-counter rapid gas reducers such as Gas X, any product with simethicone that breaks up the bubbles. If unsure, ask your vet. Administer according to directions and based on the size of the dog.
Stand the dog upright and burp just as you would a baby. If you have someone to help hold him, so much the better. If not, place his front feet up on the sofa, a chair, your chest, whatever is reasonably comfortable for him. Begin to "burp" him starting low on either side of the belly and working your way up the rib cage. If he belches in your face, thank God and keep burping him. You may have to let him down for a minute to relieve pressure on his back legs but continue to burp until he seems comfortable and no more gas is passing.
If he does not pass gas, it is because the tablet isn't working, you are not burping properly, or the stomach has twisted. In either case, stop what you are doing and rush him to the vet. If possible, have someone call ahead or use your cell phone. This is an emergency situation and they should be prepared to take him straight in to surgery, not leave you in the waiting room while they prepare.
We hope you never need this information. If you suspect your dog may be at risk, talk to your Vet before there is an emergency. A change in diet, feeding schedule and habits can prevent bloat.
More information on this and many other conditions can be found at the Canine Inherited Disorder Database