How to Prevent and Alleviate Dog Bloat or GDV

How to Prevent and Alleviate Dog Bloat or GDV

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Audrey has owned and trained Malamutes for over 15 years from puppyhood into adulthood. She has also rescued many other dog breeds.

Bloat or GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) in Dogs

Bloat or GDV in dogs is quite simply when their stomach becomes too filled with gas, causing them to go into distress. On the surface, that does not sound too critical, but don't be fooled! GDV or bloat is the most common cause of death in dogs other than cancer. It is a serious and life-threatening condition, and emergency treatment should be sought immediately because about 10–27% of dogs who get bloat will die.

We lost a dog to bloat, and it is a terrible way for a dog to die. Sadly, no breed is exempt from getting bloat, but large-chested dogs such as my malamutes in the picture are higher at risk, as are certain other breeds.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why you should do everything you can to keep your pup from getting bloated.

Stages of Bloat in Canines

We have personally experienced two stages of bloat in our dogs over the years; unfortunately, the last time was fatal for our black lab Molly. It is a terrible thing to have happen to a good and faithful friend and I urge anyone who suspects their dog is suffering from bloat or GDV to get emergency help from their vet right away.

In Molly's case, it was too late and she had other comorbid conditions. She was almost 14 and had grade IV hip dysplasia. She also had had two bouts of neurological problems she somehow overcame. Even though she was in great health for a dog so battered by life, she never would have survived the operation at her age. A younger dog would have perhaps been able to be saved.

Stage I: Gastric Dilation

The first stage of bloat is when the stomach fills with air, food and liquid and becomes distended. This is a basic gastric dilatation and the dog will become very uncomfortable. I believe Molly had at least the first stage once before when she was several years younger. She was at a kennel and the caretaker caught the signs and symptoms. She was on her way to the emergency vet hospital with Molly when it 'released'. She got lucky that time.

Stage II: Stomach Torsion

The first stage symptoms occur but in addition, now the stomach flips around or twists and almost cuts off entry and exit of anything to the stomach. This results in torsion of the stomach, which is obviously life-threatening. It can happen extremely quickly—moving from just dilatation to strangulation is a matter of degrees.

Stage III: Volvulus

This is the final stage and the most deadly—when the stomach has twisted or flipped over as above but now it is completely cutting off entry or exit of anything into or out of the stomach. This is the stage of the disease called the volvulus.

Each of these stages is a medical emergency for an animal. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from this malady, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. In most cases, if not treated, the dog will experience a very quick and painful death. They say that in most cases, you have probably an hour at most before it progresses to end-stage.

Symptoms of Bloat or GDV in Dogs

Again, stressing the importance of getting immediate medical attention, please be aware that if your dog begins to display any of these symptoms, you may have minutes or a few hours—it is all about how each dog reacts to the torsion, impending or existing so please seek emergency help at once.

  • Attempts to vomit with little to no success, as often as every 5–30 minutes (the 'hallmark symptom' of bloat)
  • Gagging and not producing anything
  • The dog seems 'hunched up' in appearance (you will know he/she is uncomfortable)
  • Dog is just not acting like himself/herself
  • Bloated abdomen (feeling 'tight as a drum')
  • Whining or pacing repeatedly and/or nonstop
  • Refusing to lie down or even sit down
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Weak pulse
  • Coughing
  • Significant anxiety or restlessness
  • Licking the air
  • Drinking excessively
  • Apparent weakness
  • Standing with a spread-legged stance (due to abdominal pains)
  • Pale or off-color gums
  • Salivating or drooling excessively
  • Trying to poop but can't
  • Heavy or rapid breathing/panting
  • Lack of normal gurgling sounds in the abdomen on listening
  • Dog looking at its own abdomen
  • Groaning if you press on the abdomen
  • The ultimate symptom is total collapse as the dog eventually goes into shock

Is Bloat/GDV Treatable?

Yes, but the salient point to make here is you may have under one hour in severe cases.

If the dog has advanced to the third stage of bloat, surgery will be necessary to correct the torsion or twisting. The chance of a recurrence is about 15%, but if the dog is young and healthy, lifestyle changes may reduce that risk. It is important to note that even with proper treatment, as many as 10–27% of dogs with GDV still die.

A qualified emergency vet will need to x-ray the dog and assess its status. If shock is present (as in Molly's case), it may be too late for any treatment. Usually, IV fluids and pain medicines are administered, sometimes along with antibiotics. If the dog has developed a coagulation problem, they will have to correct that before operating.

Once they have stabilized the dog, and if operating seems a viable alternative, they then have to look at the viability of the organs. If the stomach or spleen, for instance, have been too severely damaged by the strangulation or if the prognosis for recovery is poor, it may be that surgery is not possible and euthanasia is the only alternative.

If the stomach and spleen, as well as other organs, are still healthy and viable, and the dog has not experienced any problems with arrhythmia of the heart due to the event, then the vet will reposition the stomach and untwist it.

They can do a suturing of the stomach in such a way as to prevent it from retwisting at a later date; this is called a gastropexy. Note that if this procedure is not performed, 75–80% of the dogs will develop the twisting of the stomach again.

Do not attempt to use an emergency 'bloat kit'. This is highly dangerous, and the minutes you may waste trying this 'at home remedy' could cost your dog its life. As always, get the animal to emergency veterinary services for relief.

Ways to Keep Your Dog From Bloating

Here are some of the most important facts and statistics about minimizing the chances that your dog will suffer bloat.

  • Some breeds are structurally/anatomically built to just be more susceptible. Prevention is truly the best approach here at minimizing their risk.
  • Make sure you always have access to 24-hour emergency veterinary care and know the numbers/have access to them at any time.
  • Exercising dogs at least 1 hour before meals or 2 hours after meals will greatly reduce the risk.
  • Reduce stress if your dog is already a stressed dog. Stresses of several different kinds can bring on an attack of bloat.
  • Dogs that have survived bloat are of course at highly increased risk. Be alert to any warning signs and act immediately.
  • Large dogs should be fed 2–3 times per day rather than once per day.
  • Teach your dog to take his or her time eating—it is a training exercise—or invest in bloat bowls, as wolfing down food is a common cause of bloat in dogs.
  • Do not give the dog access to water right before or after eating. Free water access is important, but you should limit the dog's intake of water for an hour before and an hour after eating.
  • Do a kibble test to see how expansile your dog food is. That same expansion will be happening in your dog's stomach, so be aware of that. Some vets recommend feeding a diet that does not only consist of dry food. We put a wee bit of canned food into our dogs' food and stir it in.
  • Some say that kibble size, fat content, moistening of food containing citric acid promote the occurrence of bloat but there are no hard facts as of yet.
  • Dogs in foster or rescue situations are more prone to bloat. They probably do not receive high-quality food and as well, the stress that they are under probably contributes to this statistic.

Most importantly, know your dog; if he/she exhibits any unusual behavior or just 'does not seem right', get help!

Further Reading and Resources

  • Bloat in Dogs
  • PetCoach
    Ask a vet online for free. Chat live with veterinarians and other pet experts. Find answers to health, behavior and nutrition questions about dogs and cats.
  • How to Prevent and Treat Dog Bloat or GDV
    Dog bloat is a serious condition that can kill dogs. Learn how to recognize the symptoms and also to prevent it.
  • Dog Breeds: The Akita
    An American Akita. The Akita is Japans national dog and is protected by law as a National Monument. The breed was developed in the Akita prefecture, on the island of Honshu, and according to DNA...
  • Alaskan Malamute- Is This The Right Dog For You?
    Rescue - that means that there are a whole lot of folks out there who do not know what they are getting into and turn these dogs over to someone else. As a lover of malamutes - PLEASE take your time and...

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it possible for a dog to have bloat for two weeks?

Answer: I don't think that is possible, but I would certainly get him/her to the vet to see what might be wrong.

© 2009 Audrey Kirchner

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on November 16, 2011:

Thank you Cool Dogs.

Cool Dogs on November 15, 2011:


i am really happy to read your blog you specify many general thing which are noticed by us but dont know about them.I hope that every reader will get benefit and also to protect my dogs from bloat.


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 28, 2009:

I know the laws are improving quality and what they can say is in the food and then what is really in there...but hope it will get better and better!

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on December 28, 2009:

I'm sorry about Molly. You are right, we really don't know what's in the food anymore.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 27, 2009:

I wish I had known about different diets although poor old Molly lasted SO much longer than anyone thought she would. It was just so unfair that she died that way but then there is no 'good way' to lose one of your best friends. We have found a lot of info though over the years as then our malamute was diagnosed with Addison's - so it is all a learning experience. Much like with kids. Our malamute was on sweet potato and rice and that was what turned him around too. I think there are so many things in dog foods that we just do not know about and that is the problem - probably making from scratch is the only way to go after all! Thanks for your info....greatly appreciated. Audrey

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on December 27, 2009:

I had a close call with my 11 year old black lab, Tanya. I immediately switched her (and her brother) to a rice, chicken and either pumpkin or sweet potato diet and gave her probiotics. It worked well, thank God, and the new diet has them both slimmer and healthier. They get very little kibbles anymore. I come home and cook supper for the dogs. Great Hub.

Meet Your Online Vet! Ask a Vet Pet Health Questions 24/7

Dogs don’t really have to chew their kibble if they don’t want to.

Although this is a common characteristic of dogs in general, it is very beneficial to slow down the speed of their ingestion. Large dogs, like St.Bernards, Dobermans, Great Danes, labs, etc. are at risk of bloat and even a more dangerous condition and potentially fatal called gastric dilatation/volvulus (GDV) when a torsion of the stomach occurs. So how, as pet owners, can we prevent bloat and GDV and what are the risk factors?

Risk factors for bloat and GDV:

  • Narrow and deep chest
  • Once-daily feeding
  • Rapid eating
  • Exercise after eating
  • Consuming large quantities of food and/or water
  • Fearful temperament
  • Being underweight
  • Eating from a raised feeding bowl
  • Stress

Strategies to prevent, bloat, vomiting, and gastric dilatation volvulus:

  1. Feed kibble that measures at least 3 cm forces the dog to bite down on the kibble before swallowing, thus limiting the risk of aerophagia (swallowing of air), a known risk factor for gastric dilatation. There are large kibble foods available at leading pet stores
  2. Feed your dog using a slow-eating dog bowl or a puzzle toy. See the bowl recommendations below. They range in quality and price. Be sure that if your dog eats plastic to splurge on the stainless steel versions.

  • Feed smaller portions more frequently. A deep-chested dog should be fed 3-4 times a day smaller meals to prevent bloat. Never feed just once a day.
  • Avoid stressors during feeding time
  • Restrict excessive exercise after a meal
  • If you dog is a female and is a large or giant breed that is not yet spayed, at the time of spaying, you can have their stomach’s tacked to the inside of their abdomen. This is called a gastropexy. In my opinion the best type of gastropexy is an incisional gastropexy. This will prevent to torsion of the stomach around the vena cava and thus prevents GDV but not bloat. It is also recommended that high risk male dogs get the surgery especially if they have already bloated. If male dogs need emergency surgery to correct a GDV, the procedure should end with a gastropexy.
  • Do not breed dogs if they have a history of GDV
  • Every pet owner should have an emergency hospital picked out before their pet needs emergency attention. Here is post to help you evaluate emergency and referral veterinary hospitals.
  • Products that help prevent overly fast eating:

    #1 Bowls that prevent fast eating (shown is the metal Break-Fast-Bowl). Here is a link to one with good reviews on Amazon that we recommend:

    #2 Puzzle Toys (Shown here are the Kong, the Kibble Nibble, and the Premier Twist and Treat Dog Toy)

    Note: Be sure to get the right size for your pet:

    Need recipes for stuffing puzzle toys?Consider reading this article.

    It is recommended that pet owners with dogs at risk educate themselves about the early clinical signs of bloat and GDV. The following video covers the basics. I apologize for the robotic voiceover!

    Even with the proper preventative measures, bloat can still happen. A bloat and GDV are an emergency, so if you see any signs of bloat, don’t wait- take them to the vet ASAP! Lets do all we can to prevent bloat!

    Guess what? We are giving away a Break-Fast-Bowl in a few posts. Stay tuned and don’t forget to donate below!

    This post is part of the 2010 Blogathon Fund Raising Charity Initiative.

    VetLIVE is trying to raise money for National Mill Dog Rescue. National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR) has saved over 3828 dogs and counting. At National Mill Dog Rescue, “It’s all about the dogs.” NMDR has pledged to put an end to the cruelty and evil of the commercial breeding industry, more commonly known as puppy mills. Through educating the public and through the use of their 500 volunteers, NMDR is on the cutting edge of saving mill pets and helping improve the industry. NMDR is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

    Please simply press the “Donate” button below to contribute. All size donations are accepted!

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    What is Bloat in Dogs?

    Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, is a medical and surgical emergency.

    As the stomach fills with air, pressure builds, stopping blood from the hind legs and abdomen from returning to the heart. Blood pools at the back end of the body, reducing the working blood volume and sending the dog into shock.

    If this isn’t enough, there is yet another scary thing that happens, and it is devastating to see. As the stomach flips, it drags the spleen and pancreas along with it, cutting off the blood flow. The oxygen-starved pancreas produces some very toxic hormones. One, in particular, targets the heart and stops it cold. In fact, a dog can go through successful treatment and seem to be out of danger, when suddenly the heart stops.

    Even in the mildest case of bloat, which is extremely rare, dogs die without treatment.

    Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs

    It is important to note that not all dogs with GDV/Bloat will exhibit all of the following signs and symptoms. Even some of the most common symptoms of bloat aren’t always easy to see.

      Hard, distended, or bloated abdomen: This may not be obvious if your dog is very large or deep chested. In these dogs, the area of the abdomen where a distended stomach resides may be up behind the ribcage. This may be even less obvious if your dog is especially furry or overweight. Therefore, the absence of visible bloat does NOT rule out the condition! To see an example of a bloated dog, check the video above.

    Pacing and restlessness: Dogs affected by GDV/Bloat will have a difficult time getting comfortable and lying down. This is because they are in true physiologic (physical, mental, and metabolic) distress and, sadly, are in the process of dying. Pacing and restlessness is often one of the most obvious and early signs , so pay attention to it! In the later stages, your dog's pacing and restlessness will deteriorate to staggering, collapse, and decreased responsiveness.

    Excessive saliva: The amount of saliva in dogs suffering from GDV/Bloat is sometimes quite profuse. This excess saliva may be accompanied by "lip smacking." Both signs are partially the result of the nausea that affected dogs experience with this condition.

    Standing with elbows pointed outward and neck extended: This is your dog's attempt to improve their ability to breathe. This is necessary as the rapidly distending stomach makes it difficult for the lungs to expand. Your dog may instinctively move their elbows away from their chest and point the elbows outward to help (albeit minimally) enlarge the space available for the lungs to expand within the chest cavity.

    Fast, heavy, or otherwise difficult breathing: This isn't just a result of the decreased space in the chest that's available for the lungs to expand it's also because of the acid/base and other metabolic abnormalities that are occurring in your dog's body as a result of GDV/Bloat. The pain and distress caused by the condition also contributes to these breathing changes.

    Rapid heart and pulse rate: This can be an early sign due to the pain and distress associated with this condition. However, it's also typical as the condition progresses, due primarily to the compromised blood flow throughout your dog's body, as they are in a true state of shock. In the later stages of shock, the pulse rate will actually drop — this is a very bad sign! For this reason, as well as many others, you should know how to check your dog's pulse rate, and know what your dog’s normal resting pulse rate is. (See the video below)

    Pale mucus membranes and prolonged capillary refill time (CRT): The color of the tissues above your dog's teeth can be an indication of the health and function of their circulatory system (heart and blood vessels). I've emphasized "can" because multiple other, non-circulatory factors (pain, dental disease, anemia, liver disease, and others) can also influence this color. If you notice that these tissues have lost their typical pink color and have become pale, or if it takes more than 2 seconds (or less than 1 second) for that pink color to return after applying gentle pressure with your finger, this may indicate a problem — especially if accompanied by any of the other symptoms in this list. The return to color — whether it’s too slow or too quick — can vary based on how far the condition has progressed.

  • Collapse: This, as you might imagine, is a very obvious sign — so long as someone is around to witness it. Sadly though, collapse is typically a very late sign of GDV. Often, by the time an affected dog collapses, the condition is advanced and dire. At this point the prognosis for survival is getting significantly worse by the second. Many conditions in dogs can result in collapse, and collapse is always a sign of a serious problem that warrants immediate evaluation by a veterinarian. If your dog collapses, for any reason, bring them to a veterinarian immediately.

  • Preventing Dog Bloat

    Here are a few precautions owners can implement to try to avoid dog bloat.

    • Avoid stress
    • Feed your dog two or more small meals a day instead of one large meal
    • Include canned food in your dog’s diet
    • Limit exercise after meals
    • Avoid using elevated food dishes (which can lead to faster consumption)
    • For predisposed breeds, preventative gastropexy may be recommended

    Is There a Vaccine for Dog Bloat?

    There is no vaccine for dog bloat.

    Watch the video: How to treat dogs bloated stomach at home