Bloat in Dogs

Bloat occurs when the dog’s stomach fills with air, fluid and/or food.  The enlarged stomach puts pressure on the other organs, causing difficulty breathing, eventually decreasing blood supply to the dog’s vital organs.  Also known as Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), gastric torsion and twisted stomach, the condition causes rapid clinical signs and death in several hours.  Even with immediate treatment, about 25 to 40 percent of dogs die as a result of this medical emergency.

The condition is most commonly seen in large, deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Mastiffs, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.  It can also be seen in small dogs with deep chests, such as Dachshunds and Basset Hounds.  Dogs that have had a direct relative with bloat can be at increased risk, though there is not a proven genetic link.  The most common risk factors are taking in a lot of air, overeating or eating quickly, drinking lots of water quickly, and activity following a recent meal.  There is a debate on whether lowered or raised food bowls are better.  It has been shown that either can contribute.

Food bloat may occur if the dog has access to large amounts of food, such as getting into a whole bag of food or a garbage can and consuming the contents quickly.  The stretching of the stomach can be very painful, not to mention the risk of pancreatitis or obstruction, depending on what is consumed.

Symptoms include a distended abdomen, unsuccessful attempts to belch or vomit, retching without producing anything, weakness, excessive salivation, shortness of breath, cold body temperature, pale gums, rapid heartbeat or collapse.  Timeliness of treatment is paramount.

Radiographs are taken to assess the size of the stomach and to see if the stomach has rotated or twisted on itself.  This is called a volvulus or torsion depending on how the stomach twists.  If GDV does occur, aggressive treatment is instituted immediately for stabilization of shock, arrhythmia, and electrolyte disturbances.  Emergency surgery is required to deflate and untwist the stomach so that pressure can be relieved, organ viability can be assessed, the stomach positioning can be corrected, and circulation restored.  At that time, the surgeon will also use a stabilization technique to essentially tack the stomach so as to prevent future recurrence, a procedure known as gastropexy.

Even after surgery, there is still intensive monitoring and care needed for the next two weeks.  After suffering from GDV, dogs may have abnormal heart rhythms and mobility issues for several days.

To best lower your dog’s risk of bloat, avoid any strenuous exercise or hyperactivity after eating or drinking.  Also try to slow your dog’s consumption of food and water by regulating the portions you offer.  It is best to not offer large bowls of water, especially to a dog that historically tries to rapidly drink a lot.  There is also greater concern if the dog is panting and taking in a lot of air in while eating or drinking.

If your dog is at high risk for this disease, you can decrease the risk by offering multiple smaller meals throughout the day rather than one large meal.  Food bowls with dividers are available which can slow down food intake.  Another method of slowing food consumption is to substitute mini muffin trays for a food bowl.

Any at-risk dog can have a surgical procedure to “tack” the stomach to the inside of the abdominal wall, called a gastropexy.  A minimally invasive surgery using rigid laparoscopy, called laparoscopic gastropexy, allows trained surgeons to perform the procedure with only a small incision at the belly button and a second incision in front and to the right side of the center line of the abdomen.

Talk to your veterinarian about the prevention of bloat, including the use of preventative laparoscopic surgery.

Article from the New Barker’s Summer 2013 edition

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