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Bloat: A Canine Killer

BY HEATHER DAVIS

It's true: reading this article could save your dog's life.

If you're a dog guardian, chances are you have at some point heard the term "bloat"; however, many dog lovers still don't understand exactly what this condition is, or how fatal it can be. We hope the following information helps you in understanding how to help prevent, recognize and treat this life-threatening condition to give your dog the best chance at life.

Understanding Bloat

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, more commonly called "bloat", is also referred to as "stomach torsion" or "twisted stomach" and occurs when the stomach becomes overstretched by excessive gas, often twisting or turning on itself as a result. When this happens, the enlarged stomach puts pressure on other organs, prompting a host of bodily complications such as difficulty breathing and lack of blood supply to vital organs.

Once bloat begins, the clock begins rapidly counting down the minutes of your dog's life, making it vital to transport your pet to an animal hospital immediately. Even with treatment, 25% to 40% of dogs die from this medical emergency.

Causes of Bloat

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, bloat in dogs is likely caused by a multitude of factors, but in all cases the immediate prerequisite is a "dysfunction of the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach and an obstruction of outflow." They note that some of the widely accepted factors for developing bloat include eating foods such as kibble that expand in the stomach, overfeeding, too much water consumption in a small period of time and exercising before and after eating. Larger breed dogs with deep chests, as well as dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, are known to be at the most risk.

Predisposed Breeds

While bloat can occur in a variety of dogs, there are several specific breeds that are most at risk. Great Danes are most at risk, with 37% developing bloat at some point. Saint Bernards, Gordon Setters and Irish Setters are also among the top afflicted by this condition, followed by other deep-chested large breeds such as Standard Poodles, Irish Wolfhounds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Weimaraners, Akitas and Boxers. Smaller breeds are not immune, however; for example, Basset Hounds have the highest risk of incidence in dogs under 50 pounds.

Symptoms of Bloat

Knowing bloat as soon as you see it can mean the difference in life or death for your beloved pooch pal. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the signs. At first, symptoms may not be readily visible, so take note if your dog simply seems to become restless, uncomfortable, pacing and/or unable to sit or lie down. 

Monitor your dog's abdomen, posture and behavior. If you begin to see your dog's abdomen swell and distend, get to a veterinarian immediately. Other signs to watch for include:

Hunched posture with tail and head down
Unsuccessful attempts to belch or vomit, or vomiting a milky substance
Excessive salivation and difficulty breathing
Rapid heartbeat
Weakness and/or collapse (in later stages)

Video: Learning the Signs of Bloat

The following video from the Akita Rescue of the Mid-Atalntic Coast provides an excellent example of what bloat looks like in a dog.

Please note before watching that the dog in the video had just arrived at his new foster home, and that the individuals filming the dog had no idea what bloat was or what to look for. Once they finally realized something was seriously wrong, the dog was transported to the vet, where it was saved in time. Not all bloated dogs have such a happy ending, so while it can be upsetting to watch this dog in discomfort, it's vital to understanding what this condition looks like.

Treating Bloat

Once diagnosed by a veterinarian, treatment typically involves resuscitation with intravenous fluid therapy, dissolving the gas and, in many cases, emergency surgery. During surgery, the stomach is placed back into its correct position, the abdomen is examined for any damaged tissue and a partial gastrectomy may be performed if there is any necrosis of the stomach wall.

If the stomach has rotated, emergency surgery is required to correct the torsion. However, complications can occur during and after surgery, including heart damage, infection and shock. Intensive post-operative monitoring for several days is routine. Most vets will recommend that during this surgery, the dog's stomach be permanently attached to the side of the abdominal cavity in order to prevent future episodes.

In the case of bloat, the more immediate the treatment, the greater the chances are of survival.

Preventing Bloat

While bloat may occur even under the supervision of the most dog-savvy guardian, there are fortunately ways to help lower your dog's risk.

As the condition is heavily correlated with dogs who eat too much too fast, switch out once-daily feedings for two or three smaller meals spread throughout the day. If, like many dogs, your pooch prefers to inhale his food quickly, consider purchasing one of the special food bowls designed to slow down eating, such the stainless steel Durapet Slow-Feed Bowl from Doctors Foster and Smith, or these colorful Eat Better Bowls (pictured here) from Contech.

Most experts recommend floor feeding, avoiding elevated feeders unless recommended by your veterinarian. Don't overfeed your pet, and be sure to limit vigorous physical activity for one hour prior to and two hours after your pet eats. It's also important that your pet does not gulp excessive amounts of water, especially after eating. If your pet has a tendency toward this, offer small amounts of water at a time.

Here's to a Bloat-Free Bowser!

Bloat is a common and often deadly condition, but understanding it and knowing how to spot it can give your pooch pal a fighting chance at life. Please share this article with the dog lovers in your circles... this information just might save the life of a pooch you love!

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