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Help, My Dog's Stomach is Bloated! Understanding Dog Bloat, Torsion, and GDV

Dog Face


If your dog’s stomach is bloated, or if they’re anxious, pacing, or repeatedly trying to vomit with no luck — or with just a bunch of saliva coming back up — they are likely suffering from Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), also known as “Dog Bloat.” 

It’s important that you recognize this condition and act upon it quickly. GDV is painful and distressing for your dog, and it will be fatal if veterinary evaluation and care are not sought promptly.

Any dog — of any breed, age, or size — can suffer from GDV, and not every dog suffering from GDV has an obviously distended or hard stomach. It’s very important that you know how to spot the signs of GDV/Bloat so you don’t miss the critical window to get your dog to the vet. Dogs with Bloat can be saved, but only if they receive prompt and appropriate veterinary care.

This eye-opening video from the Akita Rescue Mid-Atlantic Coast is so helpful. As a community, we are very lucky that they were able to catch such a clear example of GDV/Bloat in progress! As you'll see, and as they highlight in the voiceover, the poor dog in the video is exhibiting many of the signs outlined below.

Common Signs of “Bloat” (GDV)

  • Distended (“bloated”) stomach.

  • Dog is pacing and unsuccessfully trying to vomit, or just bringing up a bunch of foamy saliva. If you see this, IMMEDIATELY bring them to the vet! 

  • Restlessness, inability to lie down, panicked or distressed, pawing at or looking at their belly, rapid shallow breathing, and pale mucus membranes.

 

What to Do If Your Dog Has “Bloat” (GDV)

  1. Bring in your dog for immediate veterinary attention. If your regular vet isn't open, please seek immediate attention at another vet or find a local Animal ER.

  2. Do not attempt to give your dog any over-the-counter medications or “folk remedies.” This could make matters worse and delay critical treatment.

  3. If possible, call to inform the vet that you are on the way. This will give them time to prepare for your dog’s arrival.

Signs of Bloat: Know what GDV Looks Like

It is important to note that not all dogs with GDV will exhibit all of the following signs, and even some of the “classic” signs aren’t always readily apparent.

  • Hard, distended or bloated abdomen: Note that 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!

  • Unproductive retching: This is where your dog is making repeated attempts to vomit, but nothing (or very little) comes out. You may see small amounts of water or, more often, large volumes of thick, stringy saliva. This is still considered "unproductive retching" and unproductive retching is practically a "telltale sign" of GDV/Bloat.

  • 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 (further described below).

  • 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. Abducting the elbows and pointing them outward can help (albeit minimally) by enlarging 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 within 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 how to check your dog’s pulse in 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 highlighted "can" because multiple other, non-circulatory factors (pain, dental disease, others) can also influence this color. If you notice that these tissues have lost their typical pink color and are now pale, or if it takes more than 2 seconds (or less than 1 second) for that pink color to return following the application of gentle pressure with your finger, this may indicate a problem — especially if accompanied by any of the other signs 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 has been going on for quite some time. At this point the prognosis for survival is getting significantly worse by the second. Many conditions in dogs can result in collapse. However, regardless of the cause, 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. 

Prognosis For Dogs With Bloat

Dogs suffering from GDV can be saved! While the Akita Rescue video above is an important resource, I would like to clarify one of the statements they make at the end of the video. They say that "bloat is 95 percent fatal.” It’s very important to note that this quoted mortality rate (i.e., the percentage of affected dogs that die or are euthanized) is for cases that go undetected and/or where appropriate treatment is declined or unnecessarily delayed. The prognosis for survival is significantly better for cases that are (1) caught earlier and (2) treated appropriately and promptlyMortality rates for dogs treated appropriately and promptly have been reported as low as 15 percent.

Can I Treat Dog Bloat at Home?

The quick answer to this question is no! If your dog is suffering from GDV, no amount of Gas-X or any other at-home treatment will cure or help your dog. In fact, the struggle of trying to get oral medications into your dog when they have a twisted stomach will worsen their discomfort and distress, and also carries the risk that the medication will wind up in their lungs.

The time wasted getting and trying to give any at-home treatments will unnecessarily delay the proper veterinary evaluation and care that your dog truly needs. 

You may have even found this article while searching for at-home treatments to give a dog with a bloated stomach, or ways to treat dog stomach swelling at home. As I hope you now realize, your first priority should be to bring your dog to the vet ASAP for the evaluation and medical treatments that can ease their suffering and save their life.

Anatomy of a DogWhat If My Vet is Closed? Can I Wait to Treat Bloat?

If you suspect GDV, please do not wait until the morning to see your regular vet or to see if your dog is still acting strange. Bring your dog for immediate veterinary evaluation. If your regular veterinarian’s office is closed, bring your dog immediately to the closest Animal ER. There isn’t anything you can safely or effectively do at home in these cases; immediate veterinary attention is the best chance your dog has! Please, don't trifle with or delay in the face of this condition. GDV is no joke!  

Still unsure if your dog has GDV? Even if you think there’s a chance that your dog may currently be suffering from GDV, please err on the side of caution and bring them for immediate veterinary evaluation. The cost of an emergency vet visit will pale in comparison to the peace of mind you’ll get.

True Story

Though the following story sent in by one of Preventive Vet's readers did not turn out to be a case of bloat, it helps demonstrate how everyone should act when presented with such a situation. We were so happy to hear that Kim's dog turned out to be OK, and hope that others will heed her advice.

Just wanted to thank you for sending me this life-saving information. Last Friday, I rushed my dog to his vet after recognizing several symptoms of bloat – restlessness, vomiting white foam, etc. Initially I called the vet office to let them know I was on the way. The receptionist did not understand the urgency of the matter – she tried to set me up with an appointment many hours later. I asked her to explain my dog’s symptoms to one of the vets on staff, and when she got back on the phone, she said to bring him in immediately.

I am glad that this article explained the urgency of this situation, so that I was able to insist that my dog be seen right away. Prior to receiving this article, I had heard of bloat but was unaware of its symptoms. The video footage, although hard to watch, was very informative. When my dog presented similar symptoms, I knew that I was facing a pet emergency and acted upon it right away.

Fortunately, although he was gassy, he did not have bloat – confirmed by a physical exam and x-ray. 

Again, thank you for providing me with this information. The vet visit was a minor cost, but I knew the only way to rule out possible GDV was with a vet visit and X-ray. I am so relieved that he didn’t have bloat, and even more so that I didn’t wait until it might have been too late had GDV developed. My dog is doing fine now, but I am watching him like a hawk! 

Kim,

Everston, WA
 

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Topics: Stomach Bloat, Torsion, Dog Emergency, GDV, Bloat

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Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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