Dog Bloat, or its medical term, Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), results from the stomach filling up with a large amount of gas, causing the stomach to flip or rotate on itself, causing the “volvulus” part of GDV.
Once the stomach has flipped or rotated, this completely blocks the escape of gas, liquid, and other gastric contents from the stomach. This then results in a further buildup of gas within the abdomen, which then continues to expand like a balloon known as “dilatation" – hence the bloated stomach appearance, which continues to worsen without treatment.
However, it's not just the inability of gas and liquid to pass from the stomach that causes major consequences with cases of GDV. It's that the stomach is twisted, and therefore so are blood vessels that supply it. They are now compromised, and because of this, blood cannot deliver vital oxygen and nutrients to the stomach tissue, which can and will start to die.
On top of that, as the stomach continues to expand, this puts pressure on the large blood vessels that supply the rest of the body, decreasing their ability to distribute blood around the body and return blood to the heart. This deprives other vital organs of blood and oxygen, resulting in the buildup of toxins, ultimately sending a dog into shock. The enlarging stomach also puts pressure on the diaphragm, reducing the space in the chest and lungs, resulting in labored, difficult breathing. In some cases, the stomach can even rupture.
GDV is a life-threatening condition, and if your dog is suffering from it, they must be taken to the vet for medical treatment right away. See what you should do right away.
For more detail on bloat symptoms, skip to the section below.
Preventing Dog Bloat
Attempting to prevent your dog from developing Bloat/GDV, particularly if you have a large or "at-risk" breed for this condition, is a good idea. Stomach bloat (GDV) is a life-threatening condition. Here are a few medical and lifestyle choices you can make in an attempt to prevent your dog from developing this potentially deadly condition.
Preventive Gastropexy Surgery
A gastropexy is the surgical treatment for a dog suffering from GDV, but it can be performed as an elective surgery – as a preventative measure prior to a dog developing GDV.
During a gastropexy ("pexy" for short), the stomach is surgically "tacked" or sewn to the inner surface of the dog's abdominal body wall, the idea being to make a permanent adhesion that will ultimately prevent a future episode of torsion (turning or twisting of the stomach). However, a stomach that has been tacked can still bloat or dilate; it just can't rotate or torse, which is the dangerous result of GDV.
Typically, this surgery is recommended when a dog is spayed or neutered, as they are already going to be under anesthesia for these surgeries. And, for female dogs, their abdomen is already going to be opened. So, any increased risk is typically minimal, particularly if performed when a dog is young and otherwise healthy. However, it can be scheduled at any time if your dog is already spayed or neutered. Your veterinarian will advise you whether this surgery is right for your dog.
Depending on the size, sex, and possibly other factors (complications, etc.) the typical cost of a ‘healthy’ gastropexy surgery may range between $2,000 and $3,500 depending on your veterinarian, their expertise, and location.
Find Out the Medical Reason for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)
If your dog has already suffered from GDV, work with your veterinarian to determine if there are identifiable (and treatable) conditions that may have contributed to the bloat episode. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, or other disorders that slow down gut movement may contribute to the development of GDV.
Decrease stress for your dog, especially around eating time. If your dog is protective of their food and scarfs it down to prevent other dogs, pets, or you from getting it, feed them in a separate gated-off area or in their crate where they won't be bothered. Learn more about addressing this in our resource guarding article.
Feed & Hydrate Your Dog Differently
Feed smaller portions
Feed your dog multiple, small meals throughout the day, rather than one large meal. This causes the gastrointestinal system to function throughout the day, rather than asking it to digest one large meal, resulting in the development of a large amount of gas which may build up and result in the stomach rotating.
Do elevated dog bowls work to prevent GDV?
It used to be said that feeding dogs from an elevated dog bowl could help prevent GDV, as they possibly swallowed less air when eating. However, this has not been proven to be true and even may increase the risk. Studies are still being done. So, for now, it is recommended to continue to feed your dog as you always have, provided there have been no issues.
Slow down eating
If your dog scarfs down their food rapidly, even in the absence of any other dogs or other perceived threats around them, slow down their rate of eating by feeding them from an interactive/puzzle feeder. The food puzzles and feeders below are some of our favorites. They are easy to wash, durable, and should slow down your dog's eating significantly. Plus, they present a variety of difficulty levels, so you can find a feeder for your dog that won't be too frustrating.
Don't Do This: It used to be recommended to put a brick or large rock in your dog's bowl to slow them down. You'd be unnecessarily increasing your dog's risk of breaking a tooth, which is another painful and expensive condition to treat.
There are many interactive dog feeders and food puzzles to choose from. Here are some of our favorites.
West Paw's Toppl is our ultimate favorite – made of toxic-free materials. It is soft on teeth and easy to clean in the dishwasher. It works well with soft food as well as kibble. For best results with kibble, we suggest combining a large and small Toppl together, so the kibble trickles out more slowly.
Other good choices of slow feeders are Northmate's Green Feeder, seen in our video of Loki below, and the Kong Wobbler.
Do not feed before or after exercise
Not feeding your dog immediately before or after exercise, especially if it's a vigorous activity, is recommended. Waiting 30–60 minutes is best, so they are not panting and taking in air while they are eating. It is the potential gulping of large amounts of air that can cause your dog to develop GDV if fed immediately after or before exercise.
Slow down water intake
Slow down your dog's water intake, particularly before, during, and after vigorous exercise. You still want your dog to stay hydrated, but you don’t want them to gorge themselves on water.
While out and about, at the dog park, or on a run, have your dog only take frequent small sips of water at a time. It is the best way to manage the amount of water they consume. Make sure to monitor them at the ‘free access’ water bowls or better yet, bring your own fresh water and doggy water bowl with you, and train your dog to come to you when they need a sip of water.
There are dog water bowls that help slow down drinking. This bowl is lower to the ground and more ideal for smaller dogs, whereas this bowl is for larger dogs, and an extra feature we like is that the basin is stainless steel and can go in the dishwasher.
Some of our Preventive Vet team's dogs love their "gerbil water bottle." It drips out the water as they lick it and is a great attachment for a crate. See Finnegan enjoy his, in the video below. He also has a water bowl but seems to prefer the drip bottle. To get your dog used to using it, dab something yummy on the nozzle, like pet-safe peanut butter, to entice licking.
Now that you are aware of some of the ways you may be able to prevent the development of GDV in your dog, it is important to learn how to recognize some of the symptoms that are associated with this condition just in case it happens to your dog.
Detailed Symptoms of GDV 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 spot.
Hard, Distended, or Bloated Stomach
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 out this video.
A dog suffering from GDV/bloat may try to vomit without anything or very little coming out. You may see small amounts of water or, more often, large volumes of thick, stringy saliva. Unproductive retching is almost always an urgent sign of GDV/bloat in dogs.
Pacing & Restlessness
Dogs affected by 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 are often some 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.
The amount of saliva a suffering dog produces is sometimes quite a lot. 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 Elbow 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 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. The pain and distress caused by the condition also contribute to these breathing changes.
Rapid Heart and Pulse RatesThis 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 for instructions.
Normal dog respiratory rates in breaths per minute (bpm)
No matter the size of your pet, the average respiratory rate is the same, between 15 and 30 breaths per minute.
- Small dog/puppies: 15–30 bpm
- Large dogs: 15–30 bpm
Normal dog pulse rates in beats per minute (bpm)
- Small dog/puppies: 100–140 bpm (+/- 20 bpm)
- Large dogs: 70–120 bpm (+/- 20 bpm)
Pale Mucous Membranes and 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 emphasize "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.
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.
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