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What Is Bloat In Dogs?

Brown and white Australian shepherd with one blue eye laying down on a tan couch

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat, is an acute and life-threatening condition in large and giant breed dogs when their stomach flips over on itself and begins to fill up with gas. This rotation (volvulus) can sometimes be greater than 180 degrees and trap gas in the stomach, causing the stomach to become greatly distended (dilatation). GDV requires immediate medical and surgical intervention, usually within six hours from the onset of clinical signs.

It is not wholly understood why volvulus occurs, but veterinarians do know that there are certain predispositions for GDV. Deep-chested breeds and older dogs are more likely to develop bloat. Dog breeds at a higher risk for developing GDV include Great Danes, German Shepherds, Weimaraners, Standard Poodles, and Saint Bernards. Other predisposing factors include fearful or aggressive behavior, once-daily feedings, eating large amounts of food very quickly, and having an immediate relative with a history of GDV. For some dogs, the onset of bloat can be a sign or symptom of a bigger underlying problem, such as splenic disease or cancer.

Symptoms of bloat

Gastrointestinal issues are the standard of GDV, but to most dog owners, the true problem may not always be clear. Initial clinical signs can be as simple as panting and restlessness, but non-productive retching (attempts to vomit but nothing happens), excessive drooling, and a swollen abdomen are significant indicators. Because of the pressure from the gas in the stomach, your dog may be very painful when his belly is touched and start making “groaning” sounds.

Almost all dogs with bloat experience a decrease in blood pressure and shock (sudden loss of blood flow to the body) as a result of GDV’s effects on circulation and loss of fluid in the obstructed stomach. This can make dogs feel very weak and cause them to collapse. The pressure from the stomach on the diaphragm (the muscle at the bottom of the chest that helps with breathing) can cause problems that result in respiratory distress. GDV can also lead to heart arrhythmias that, if left untreated, can be fatal. Death can also result if the stomach ruptures because this can lead to sepsis, which is severe generalized inflammation as a result of the body releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to fight infection.

a golden retriever eating out of a silver bowl

Causes of bloat in dogs

There are numerous factors that can cause bloat in dogs, particularly factors that result in intestinal blockages. If the stomach is not able to pass food, fluid, and gas into the rest of the digestive tract, then it will cause the stomach to fill up and stretch like a balloon. Foreign bodies like clothing, toys, rocks, other solid objects, and even large numbers of intestinal parasites can all cause obstructions. Excessive eating and severe food allergies can also cause dilatation, even if there is no solid obstruction in the stomach’s outflow tract (pylorus). If a dog is greatly stressed and panting a lot, they may be more likely to gulp large amounts of air (aerophagia). This excess of air can cause the stomach to dilate.

Treatments for bloat in dogs

If you suspect that your dog has bloat or has any of the clinical signs mentioned above, then it is important to bring him to your veterinarian immediately! This is a true emergency and should not be postponed until the following day. Make sure to keep your dog comfortable while transporting him, and do not allow him to roll over on his back at any time because this can increase the risk of aspirating some of his stomach contents, causing pneumonia.

A physical examination may reveal a distended stomach and possibly an enlarged spleen because it can be caught up in the stomach and blood vessels during volvulus. Gentle tapping on the belly may yield a sound that “pings” like a basketball. Weak pulses and a heart arrhythmia may be detected when your vet listens to your dog’s heart and lungs. They might also notice that your dog is having trouble breathing and start him on supplemental oxygen therapy right away. Dogs that are in shock need a rapid dose of a large volume of fluids to help stabilize them before testing, and blood work and x-rays are always recommended in order to confirm GDV and rule out other causes of illness.

In cases of mild bloat (without volvulus) and few clinical signs, you may be okay to have your dog hospitalized and focus on medical management with supportive care. However, if your dog has severe clinical signs and/or volvulus is confirmed, then surgical intervention will be necessary.

Surgical preparation starts with decompressing the stomach under light sedation. This can be done through a tube placed down your dog’s throat to release gas from the stomach, but if this is not possible, then your veterinarian will use a long needle to puncture the stomach through the skin. This is a slow but safe way to release air from inside of the stomach.

Once your dog is under anesthesia, the stomach is evaluated, emptied of its contents, and then sometimes surgically anchored to the abdominal wall in order to prevent future bloat reoccurrences. This procedure is called a gastropexy. If there is any part of the stomach wall that is necrosed (blackened and non-vital tissue), then that portion will need to be surgically removed (resection). Also, if there is similar damage to the spleen, then it, too, will need to be removed. Dogs who need to have their stomach resected, their spleen removed, or have any signs of a tumor that caused the GDV in the first place, then there is a higher risk for complications after surgery, including death.

Careful monitoring in the hospital after the first 48 to 72 hours is crucial. Your veterinarian will make sure to check your dog’s blood pressure and heart rhythm often. If he is still having heart arrhythmias, then a medication called lidocaine is administered. Your vet will recommend continued fluid therapy and may need to give medications to prevent vomiting and nausea. If a gastropexy was performed and there are no post-surgical complications, then most dogs have a great long-term outcome.

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Can bloat be prevented?

There are a few things to keep in mind that may help prevent bloat. It is recommended to feed small meals throughout the day, at least two to three, instead of feeding one large meal. Dry kibble and fast eating are more likely to cause problems. This can be helped by softening kibble or adding in canned food, and there are special dog food bowls and toys that can help slow the speed of your dog’s eating. It is also recommended to feed them at the level of the ground instead of using an elevated feeder. If you have a large or giant breed dog with a deep chest, or if there is some other predisposing factor, then a prophylactic gastropexy is recommended at the time that your dog is spayed or neutered.

GDV is a very serious condition that can be fatal if treatment is not initiated quickly. Even with surgery and hospitalization, there are still factors that can negatively impact your dog’s prognosis. Therefore, if you suspect that your dog has bloat, then you should contact your veterinarian right away or head to the nearest emergency clinic. With immediate and aggressive therapy, you can make a world of difference for your dog!


  1. Gastric Dilation andVolvulus in Small Animals,Merck Veterinary Manual

Meet The Author 

Grant Withers

Canine Specialist & Writer

Grant is an award-winning writer for SitStay with a passion for pets and especially dogs! Grant loves writing about furry little goofballs and aims to educate pet parents about anything and everything regarding their dogs.

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