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July 01, 2006

Symptoms and Treatment of Bloat

By: Maria L.E. Faria, DVM, PhD - Small Animal Surgery Resident

Is my dog more at risk for getting bloat simply because he is deep chested? What exactly is bloat and is there any way to prevent it?

Unfortunately, every piece of evidence suggests that the answer to your first question is YES. Compared to other dogs of non-deep-chested conformation, your dog is at greater risk of “getting bloat.”

But don’t give up just yet. If you are considering adopting a deep-chested dog (such as a Doberman, Great Dane or Basset Hound), bloat is just one factor for consideration. It should not spoil your chance to experience life with these adorable breeds. To be deep-chested is not a sentence to bloat! In fact, the majority of dogs with deep-chested conformation go about their normal lives without ever getting bloat. But if you don’t want to take the chance of being caught off guard, let’s start by learning a few facts about “Bloat.”

Bloat is the popular term for a condition called Gastric Dilation Volvulos (GDV) or Gastric Torsion. GDV, as the name suggests, is believed to be initiated by gassy dilation of the stomach, followed by dislocation of the pylorus (the narrow passage from the stomach into the upper intestine), from the right side of the abdomen (where it is normally located) to the left.

The result of this dislocation is that both openings of the stomach (the entrance from the esophagus and the exit into the intestine), twist around their axis, becoming shut to the passage of solid, fluid and even gas. With fermentation of gastric contents, there will be increased gas formation and further dilation. Further dilation stretches the stomach, increasing the tension on the twisted ends, which results in even tighter sealing, preventing the escape of fluids and gas. The vicious cycle has now been established.

From this point on, the stomach balloons up to a point where it pushes against the nearby vessels, obstructing blood flow (especially the caudal vena cava, which is supposed to bring back to the heart the blood that has circulated bellow the diaphragm). The heart receives less blood than required to properly pump forward, and the arterial blood pressure drops.

The organs of the abdominal cavity (including kidneys, liver and pancreas) become “mal-nourished” and poorly oxygenated, and will start dying soon. Meanwhile, the ballooned stomach pushes against the diaphragm, limiting the ability of the lungs to expand. Now, respiration is also compromised and oxygenation is further impaired. The dog is breathing fast and shallow, his belly is distended, his heart is racing, his eyes are spooked and often congested or pale, and he is collapsing. If emergency treatment is not provided VERY soon, he is a dead dog.

This is “bloat.” And yes, it is not pretty! (I apologize to the more sensitive readers for the graphic nature of the description). Bloat is usually acute, happens more often at night and usually initiates within a couple of hours of a good meal.

The first signs noticed at home include a “whining” dog is “not acting like himself” and who might have had a few (generally unsuccessful) attempts of vomiting and burping. She seems to be restless and paces constantly at first. The next sign she will show is a very telling “bloated” abdomen: the dog looks rounded or squared all the way to the waist line. He may look at his own abdomen anxiously, as if asking “what in heavens is wrong with me?” (At this point you don’t want to be more than an hour away from an emergency clinic!)

But can we prevent this catastrophe? Well, we believe we can. A simple surgical procedure called gastropexy, which was once performed only in dogs who already had one episode of GDV, can be offered prophylactically to dogs of predisposed breeds.

The procedure surgically tacks the pylorus to the right side of the abdominal wall, permanently preventing its dislocation to the left. With the pylorus fixed to the right, even if dilation occurs, there will be no torsion of the stomach. And dilation without torsion is not such a serious life-threatening situation.

In addition, dogs of predisposed breeds should be fed smaller and more frequent meals (at least 2-3 times daily, never just once a day). Non-fermentative food is always a better choice (please, keep them away from human food, especially from yesterday’s pinto beans!), and do not exercise your dog on full stomach.

Now, go on and enjoy your beautiful deep chested dog!

Maria L.E. Faria, DVM, PhD - Small Animal Surgery Resident
The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is one of only 28 veterinary medical schools in the nation. It is a resource for pet owners, both through veterinary care of animals with complicated medical conditions, and through advancements in veterinary medical care. It also serves as a training ground for the veterinarians of the future, providing solid groundwork for their careers. For more information on the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, please click over to

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