The unofficial start of summer has arrived, and with that comes new fun, new playtime, and unfortunately, new dangers. Bloat is a dangerous condition that can be deadly in under an hour, and is more common in summer.
A teammate of mine tragically lost her dog a few weeks ago to bloat. Bloat actually refers to two separate conditions, gastric dilation and gastric volvulus.
In the first phase the stomach distends with gas and fluid- that feeling of being “bloated” that humans refer to. It usually develops suddenly, and in healthy active dogs. Bloat is caused by eating too fast, drinking large amounts of water too fast, or exercising too much before or after eating. These acts cause the dog to ingest or gulp air quickly. Deep chested dogs such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, St. Bernards, Labradors, Irish Wolfhounds, Greyhounds, Standard Poodle, etc. are predisposed to this condition. Small dogs are rarely affected by bloat. Signs of gastric dilation are a distended stomach, salivation, pacing, restlessness, attempts to vomit. If you tap the dog’s stomach it may sound hollow. The dog may walk in a stiff-legged kind of wobble, uncomfortable, be lethargic. To relieve the gas, a veterinarian must pass a tube down the dog’s throat into the stomach. There will be an immediate rush of air and possibly fluid bringing relief, and the veterinarian will “wash out” the dog’s stomach. When a dog has bloat they have a 70% chance of having bloat again.
Quite frequently, once the stomach distends with gas and fluid it rotates on its long axis which is called volvulus. When the stomach rotates it closes off the duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine) and prevents fluid and air from escaping the stomach. This also prevents the dog from being able to vomit or belch. The stomach becomes hugely distended, and any material trapped in the stomach ferments. Because of the twisting there is interference with blood circulation which results in necrosis of the wall of the stomach. If a dog is at the volvulus stage he might be approaching shock; weak pulse, labored breathing, weakness, delayed capillary refill time, and pale gums and tongue. The only way to correct volvulus is by emergency surgery and reposition the stomach, and possibly remove part of the stomach if some of the tissues have died (necrosis).
This is incredibly serious, both stages are. If you suspect your dog has developed gastric volvulus, you probably have one hour. I was shocked to learn that. How many of us could recognize the signs of bloat and rush our dogs to the ER in less than an hour? Mortality rates can be as high as 90% at this stage, 50% with dilation. Many dogs don’t present with typical symptoms either. Dogs are known to be stoic creatures that don’t show pain. If you have a deep chested dog, feed your dog several smaller meals in a day, don’t let them drink large amounts of water at once, avoid fat and citric acid in your dog food, don’t exercise on a full stomach, and pay attention to the symptoms. And the most important- if you suspect bloat, take your dog to the ER. For additional reading, check out this informational article from the ASPCA.