- Global Canine Health Information




Bloat symptoms, emergency first-aid to prevent deadly twisted stomach (gastric torsion), in-depth info on prevention, dog food, exercise, and breeds at high risk.




First-Aid for Bloat Can Prevent A Deadly Emergency

Barbara J. Andrews, AKC Hall Of Fame Breeder, Publisher, TheDogPlace


Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) commonly called bloat (SEE VIDEO BELOW), occurs when food ferments, air is trapped, and the stomach becomes distended.  If the dog can burp or pass the gas rectally, he may avoid deadly gastric torsion, meaning the stomach has twisted.


a dog's stomach is suspended like a hammockA dog's stomach is suspended like a hammock so unlike humans where a build up of gas can pass up (belch) or down to be expelled, a dog has more difficulty passing gas from the stomach. Some of you are smiling, thinking your dog has no problem passing gas!  But that is when his stomach is not bloated or twisted as in gastric torsion. Passing gas indicates fermentation so you will definitely want to keep reading because if your dog has gas frequently, you need to make changes before it is too late.


Strenuous exercise after eating or gulping water can set off a chain reaction leading to a fatal episode of gastric torsion. Older dogs, a change in dog food, over-eating; many such situations can precipitate an emergency bloat situation.  If you are here because you suspect your dog is bloating, skip below to Emergency First-Aid For Bloat.


Why Is Gastric Torsion So Deadly?

It is impossible for a dog to pass gas when the stomach twists.  When gassy foods, hot weather and excessive water consumption, exertion, or anything else distends the dog's stomach (bloat) if the gas is not passed, increasing pressure will cause the stomach to twist (torsion), at which time it becomes impossible to pass the gaseous buildup.  Gastric torsion sets off an inevitable sequence of events that is always fatal unless there is surgical intervention. It can happen so quickly that every owner of a large breed, a dog with excessive skin, one that is “out of condition” or elderly, or a dog that has gotten in to strange foodstuffs (farm dogs for example) or a dog that gulps a lot of water - in other words, all dog owners (!) need to know how to recognize simple bloat before it becomes gastric torsion.  If the stomach rotates, it can be fatal within an hour!


Emergency First Aid For Bloat

You may want to try emergency measures before leaving for the vet because depending on traffic, distance, and the dog's condition when discovered, you may arrive too late.


I have no degrees but my strong advice is to go to the drug store TODAY and pick up one of the over-the-counter rapid gas reducers such as Gas X.  It's cheap, easily available, and most of all, it works quickly.  The simethicone breaks up the bubbles if given at the first sign of bloat. Administer according to directions and based on the size of the dog.  If unsure, ask your vet.  Surely they make an expensive veterinary prescription that will work as well as Gas X.


Then stand the dog upright and burp just as you would a baby. If you have someone to help hold him, so much the better.  Depending of the dog's size, place his front feet up on the sofa, a chair, your chest, whatever is reasonably comfortable for him.  Using the same force you would use on a person, “burp” him starting low on both sides of the belly, using both hands.  Work your way up the rib cage. If he belches in your face, thank God and keep burping him. You may have to let him down for a minute to relieve pressure on his back legs but continue to burp the dog until he seems comfortable, no more gas is passing, and his stomach looks normal.


If he does not belch and/or pass gas, either the tablet isn’t working, you are not burping properly, or the stomach has twisted.  It doesn't matter why, if his stomach is still distended and he is distressed, rush him to the vet. If possible, have someone call ahead or use your cell phone. This is an emergency situation and any vet should be prepared to take him straight in to surgery.


What Are Symptoms Of Bloat?

In the beginning, there develops a combination of symptoms which include obvious discomfort, restlessness, a “worried” expression, wanting to go out but after the first urination or bowel movement, it becomes obvious he has been unable to relieve or ease the pain.  We chose the video below because it is excellent, live, and the dog survived.


Bloat symptoms progress to aimless pacing and/or panting which will become rapid and shallow. (watch video, link below) By the time you notice his stomach has visibly increased in size, he could be in serious trouble.  He will swallow, salivate, and try to vomit but it will be futile if the stomach has already twisted.  With gastric torsion, his gums will be pale, heart rate becomes rapid and he will progress into shock. At this point, there is NO FIRST-AID, get him to the vet immediately!  The only hope to save him from a gruesome death is surgical intervention.


The expression is unforgettable.  Some call it a glassy-eyed look but other owners describe it as a "helpless, stricken" look, as though the dog somehow knows he is dying.  It isn't the pained look a dog gets from a broken leg.  I hope you never see that desperate, fatalistic expression.


What Causes Bloat?

Some foods contain saponins, a plant or marine-derived "sudsy" substance which "may aid digestion and/or nutrient absorption."  Saponins should NOT be in any premium brand of dog food.


When the dog's stomach becomes distended, it puts pressure on other organs, including the diaphragm. As he becomes more uncomfortable, the dog swallows repeatedly, adding more air and saliva to the stomach.  He will begin to drink more water which adds more weight and hastens the twisting of the ever-enlarging stomach. When the stomach rotates, it effectively shuts off the blood supply. The tissues begin to die and the end is near because unless surgery is done very quickly, organ damage is too great for recovery. Even with fairly prompt treatment, there is an average 35% death rate.  NOTE: dogs are more susceptible to bloat on hot days due to gulping water, see Heatstroke


Is There A Size Or Breed Predisposition For Bloat?

the bloodhound has folds of loose, sagging skinBloating with gastric torsion occurs more often in large and/or loose-skinned breeds but twisted stomachs can also affect small breeds.  Male dogs are more likely to bloat and there is speculation that an excessive skin-to-frame relationship can precipitate calcium and other chemical imbalances that can cause bloat.


Dogs that are fed only once a day, particularly if given foods containing corn, soy or other gas producing grains, are more likely to bloat. In the wild, wolves, coyotes, and the big cats can gorge until they appear “about to burst” with no ill effects because they eat meat and they sleep for hours during digestion.


According to Purdue University Vet School, breeds such as Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Akitas, and Bloodhounds are more susceptible to gastric torsion.  Age, condition, certain behavior patterns, and physical features can also increase the odds of bloat. Active breeds with a deep chest and tucked up stomach such as Weimaraners, Irish and Gordon Setters and Standard Poodles are considered at risk. Basset Hounds have minimal tuck-up but are at equal risk due to the long suspension system for the stomach and their excessive skin.


How Can I Prevent Gastric Torsion?

One of the most common mistakes leading to bloat involves exercise with a full stomach.  Never attempt a mating during the heat of the day. Never use a stud dog when he's just been fed. A stud dog with a belly full of food or water is not at his best anyway but more important, the likelihood of gastric torsion during "the mating dance" is increased for dogs. Remember Hard exercise before or after large amounts of food or water can cause bloat.


Dogs that have bloated and survived need special diets. Your vet will take care of that. To prevent a first occurrence, practice common sense and feed wisely, bearing in mind that no breed is immune to gastric torsion.  Feed smaller meals, twice a day. There is speculation that elevated feeding bowls reduce the incidence of bloat but no proof of that theory. Dogs normally eat from ground level, often in a prone position as in ripping meat from bones, so until there is solid proof that elevating the food bowl is of value, I would advise feeding from the floor.


BLOAT, GASTRIC TORSION, Author Barbara J. "BJ" AndrewsChew-bones promote air swallowing. Real meat "knuckle" or shank bones do not.  A hungry dog gulps or "wolfs down" his food.  This is normal but if your dog seems to swallow air while ingesting dry kibble, put large washable pebbles or decorative rocks in his food or water bowl. Anything to slow him down. The presence of another dog may also cause him to eat too fast. To prevent bloat you must monitor gulping, excessive water consumption, exercise tolerance, etc.


We hope you never need this information. If you suspect your dog may be at risk, talk to your Vet before there is an emergency. A change in diet, feeding schedule and habits can help prevent bloat.

Become an expert by exploring the display links below but first, don't miss this true story by Dr. Lee - Why Dogs Pass Gas...

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