It was a little after 9 o’clock at night and I had just started to think about bedtime when my dog made a weird noise. I glanced up from my book to see her standing by the door, doing that weird motion dogs do right before they vomit. Once outside, she retched a few times without bringing anything up, chowed down on some grass before I could stop her and rejoined me in the living room. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
But after a few more bouts of dry-retching, I was seriously worried. She laid down and started panting, which was also a little unusual for her, and I reached down to rub her belly comfortingly. My fingers froze as I noticed a tightness to her abdomen, which on closer examination looked slightly distended.
Luckily for my dog, I knew the warning signs of bloat. We rushed to the hospital, went through an exam and radiographs, and left several hours later with the best diagnosis I could have hoped for: gas. My girl had a bad case of the farts. I laughed with relief and paid the hefty bill, but bloat is a serious condition that every large-breed dog owner needs to be aware of.
What is bloat and why is it a scary diagnosis?
Not many things can kill a dog in a matter of hours, but if you own a large, deep-chested dog, bloat is one of those things. The technical name for bloat in dogs is gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV). It occurs when a dog’s stomach dilates and then rotates on its short axis, resulting in a buildup of gas and a cutoff of blood flow that can lead to death in a matter of hours without intervention. In other words, if you suspect your dog has bloat, take them to the vet immediately. Every minute counts.
Some breeds are at higher risk for bloat than others
In general, large and giant breed dogs and dogs with deep chests are at a higher risk of developing bloat, but there are a few breeds of dog that are especially susceptible:
- Great Dane
- German shepherd
- Irish setter
- Gordon setter
- Basset hound
- Saint Bernard
- Standard poodle
The other factors that increase your dog’s likelihood of developing bloat are genetics, lean body condition, stress, once-a-day feeding, previous GDV, rapid eating habits, spleen disease and a loosening of the gastric ligaments.
Symptoms of bloat
Knowing the symptoms of bloat in dogs could have saved my dog’s life that night. Luckily, her life didn’t need saving, but if you own one of the dog breeds listed above or have a dog that is predisposed to bloat, then you need to know the symptoms to look out for.
- Excessive salivation
- Distended or swollen abdomen
- Rapid heartbeat
- Labored breathing
These are also symptoms of other serious conditions, so calling your vet is the best course of action. Sure, you can Google it, but don’t take too long. The prognosis for bloat cases gets less and less positive the longer you wait. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “Because duration of clinical signs is one of the risk factors of GDV-associated death, it is imperative to recognize and correct this condition immediately.” With mortality rates between 25 and 30 percent, we can’t afford not to.
Can you prevent bloat in dogs?
Bloat is not always preventable, but there are a few things we can do to reduce the risk of bloat in our dogs. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid stress
- Feed multiple meals a day
- Avoid elevated food dishes
- Avoid exercising immediately after mealtime
Avoiding stress, of course, is easier said than done, but the other ways to prevent bloat in dogs are pretty easy to add into our schedules. There are also surgical procedures that can reduce the risk of bloat. Your vet may recommend this if your dog has a close relative with GDV or develops bloat, as the condition is likely to reoccur.
There is no such thing as an overreaction to bloat
I took my dog’s symptoms seriously and paid a pretty penny for the emergency room visit. I would spend it again in an instant because I know that my speedy reaction could be the difference between life and death for my dog. When it comes to bloat, there is no such thing as an overreaction. Don’t hesitate to rush your dog to the vet if you think they may be experiencing symptoms of bloat.