Bloat in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

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    What is Bloat in Dogs?

    Bloat in dogs is the build-up and expansion of the stomach due to food, gas, or fluids. As the stomach expands, the usual blood flow from the hind legs and abdomen is severely restricted from traveling back to the heart, causing some dogs to go into shock due to limited blood volume and blood pooling at the back of the body. Known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, the twisting and rotation of the stomach is a medical and surgical emergency. Other complications can include tears in the walls of the stomach and a harder time breathing. . In some cases, the spleen and pancreas can be dragged along with the stomach when it flips, causing the oxygen-starved pancreas to release toxic hormones that can stop the heart.

    What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

    Vets are unsure as to what exactly causes bloat in dogs but there are a few things that can increase risk such as eating from a raised bowl or consuming one large meal a day. Other causes of bloat in dogs include: 

    • Taking in a lot of food or liquids in a short period of time
    • Weighing more than 99lbs as it may increase the risk of bloat by 20%
    • Exercising immediately after a meal
    • Older age
    • Having a large chest
    • Having a hereditary history of bloat
    • Consuming dry food with fat or oil as one among the first 4 ingredients 
    • Eating from a higher-up food bowl

    Who’s at Risk of Developing Bloat?

    Large, deep-chested breeds have a higher risk of experiencing bloat. This includes Akitas, Boxers, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherds. Some are more susceptible, including Great Danes, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, and St. Bernards. 

    What are the Symptoms of Bloat?

    The most obvious sign of bloat in dogs is a distended and hard abdomen and belching. Other bloat symptoms include:

    • Retching
    • Salivation
    • Restlessness 

    Dogs will typically display stomach pain symptoms right away and may drool, act restless, pace, try to vomit or stretch with their front half down and rear end up. As the condition worsens, they may collapse, have pale gums, have a rapid heartbeat, or have shortness of breath. It is critical that owners take their pets to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect bloat. 

    How Can Bloat Be Prevented?

    Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution for preventing bloat, there are a few risk factors you should make sure your dog avoids:

    Feed Small Meals

    Instead of one or two huge meals each day, feed your dog numerous smaller meals throughout the day. To avoid overfeeding, make sure meals are correctly portioned according to your dog’s daily calorie needs.

    Slow Down Eating

    Don’t let your dog eat too rapidly; if they’re eating too quickly, they’re likely ingesting too much air. You can put your dog’s food into a slow feeder or get a slow feeder insert for their current bowl. 

    Photo Credit: Outward Hound

    Increase Whole Food Intake

    Processed meals break down into porridge that is readily digested, but whole foods need more effort to digest properly. That hard labor actually strengthens the stomach wall, reducing the chances of future gas build-up or torsion. According to a recent study, including fresh, human-grade food in a dog’s diet was linked to a 59% lower incidence of bloat.

    Limit Water Intake

    Limit your dog’s water intake after meals, especially if they eat dry food. Food will expand in the stomach as a result of the water, and digestive fluids will be diluted, making them less efficient.

    Restrict Play Time Up

    Keep your dog from exercising, running, and playing for at least an hour after meals. This is the same concept as being told not to swim for 30 minutes after eating. Torsion is more common when the stomach is full because it is more prone to twist or flip in response to unexpected movements.

    How is Bloat Diagnosed?

    A veterinarian should be consulted in all cases of bloat to determine the severity. If found early enough, bloat may typically be treated. A blood test may be done to get a better look at the dog’s health. Abdominal x-rays may be taken to verify the diagnosis and determine the severity. If a dog has simple bloat, then the stomach will appear to be very distended and full of food or gas. If the bloat has progressed to GDV, then the stomach would appear extremely distended and look like there is a bubble on top of the swollen stomach.

    What is the Treatment for Bloat?

    Vets will usually treat the shock first to stabilize. Simple bloat that hasn’t twisted the dog’s stomach can be managed without drugs in certain cases, but it may also require fluids or other treatments. If caught early enough, other kinds of bloat, such as GDV, can also be treated. These conditions are usually treated as soon as feasible with surgery. 

    • Surgery to deflate the stomach and put it back into place.
    • Remove any stomach wall that was damaged.
    • Tack the stomach to the abdominal (called a gastropexy) to prevent relapses.


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