Understanding Bloat: A Life Threatening Condition for Your Dog

GDV in dogs
Typically, when we hear the word bloat, we often think of an icky, inconvenience we feel after we eat too much, too quickly. When it comes to our canine companions however, bloat is not a simple, minor inconvenience. Formally known as gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), bloat in canines is a serious condition that can life threatening if not immediately treated.

What is Bloat?

A canine’s stomach maintains a balanced harmony of gas, mucus, and food during digestion. However, in a bloated stomach, an imbalanced increase of either gas or food occurs, causing the stomach to stretch beyond its normal size. This leads to significant discomfort and abdominal pain. Though the exact mechanism is not fully understood, the bloated stomach twists and flips over. This rotation cuts off its blood supply and obstructs the exit route for its contents. Consequently, the stomach continues to swell, eventually compressing the large veins along the back responsible for returning blood to the heart, resulting in circulatory shock.
How Serious is Bloat?
The progression of events will happen very quickly, within a matter of hours. If not intervened promptly, GDV will lead to death.
Bloat is the second leading cause of death in dogs behind cancer.
It is likely that owners unable to identify the seriousness of their pet’s symptoms leads to lethal consequences. It is important that dog owners understand the symptoms of bloat, and seek emergency veterinary care as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of bloat?

Symptoms of bloat include:
·         Swollen, firm abdomen
·         Painful abdomen
·         Excessive salivation, drooling
·         Retching, unable to vomit
·         Lethargy, malaise, discomfort, restlessness
The onset of bloat can be sudden and without cause. However, in some cases it may occur after your dog has recently eaten a large meal, and then proceeds to exercise shortly after. It was once thought that eating from a raised food bowl would reduce the chances of bloat, but further studies suggest that a raised bowl may actually increase the risk.

GDV risk factors

When it comes to bloat, there are several significant risk factors to consider:

  • Dogs who eat rapidly
  • Dogs who consume exclusively dry food with fat or oil listed as one of the first four ingredients
  • Increased age
  • Genetic history of bloat
  • Deep-chested dog breeds such as the Great Dane, Greyhound, Saint Bernard, Setter breeds, Doberman Pinscher, and Mastiff

Additionally, there are various other risk factors to consider. To determine if your dog is at risk for bloat, it’s best to consult your veterinarian.

How is Bloat treated?

Upon identifying bloat in the patient, the veterinarian will promptly initiate procedures to decompress the stomach. This may involve using a stomach tube and pump, or in some cases, opting for surgical decompression. Additionally, they will promptly administer IV fluids to reverse circulatory shock. The veterinarian will also assess and treat the patient’s heart rhythm if necessary, as circulatory shock can disrupt the heartbeat rhythm, potentially leading to fatal consequences if not addressed properly.

Once the veterinarian sufficiently stabilizes the patient, the vet may recommend a surgery to ensure the stomach has successfully untwisted following decompression and to evaluate any internal damage. The surgeon will search for and remove any dying tissue. They will also evaluate any spleen damage, which is situated adjacent to the stomach, and may choose to remove it depending on its condition.

After completing this assessment and removing any nonviable tissue, the surgeon will perform a gastropexy to tack the stomach to the abdominal wall, preventing future twisting. Proceeding with the gastropexy is highly advisable following bloat occurrences, as dogs experiencing bloat have a 76% chance of recurrence.

How Can Bloat be Prevented?

Unfortunately, if your canine companion has a predisposition for bloat, there is no guarantee that bloat can be prevented. However, there are important steps that are worthwhile to take to try to avoid bloat from occurring. Pet owners can:

  • Use slow feeder bowls if their dog tends to be a hasty eater.
  • Additionally, if they have more than one dog, they should separate them at meals to reduce competition anxiety.
  • Keep their dog at an optimal, healthy weight.
  • Feed lower fat diets (veterinarians can recommend suggested diets).
  • Avoid intensive exercise immediately before or after meals.
  • Feed multiple, smaller meals throughout the day instead of one large meal.

Furthermore, owners may opt to proactively address the chance of bloat for their dog by having a gastropexy done. This may be recommended if their dog has relatives with incidences of bloat or if they are considered a high-risk breed. Typically, Great Danes are excellent candidates for considering this procedure due to their high-risk status, with a 42% incidence rate. It’s essential to discuss with a veterinarian whether the canine companion should undergo a gastropexy.


Bloat is a very serious condition, and unfortunately all too common. It is the second leading cause of death in dogs following cancer. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms, and always err on the side of caution if you are ever unsure if your canine companion is experiencing bloat. Try and incorporate these prevention tips in you and your dog’s life, and speak with your veterinarian for more advice on how to prevent and identify bloat – it could save your dog’s life.
Looking for a vet clinic in Newmarket area? Give us a call at 905-898-1010 to book an appointment today!


Bloat – The Mother of All Emergencies (Veterinary Partner)
Bloat (or GDV) in Dogs – What It Is and How it’s Treated (AKC)