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Dog Bloat: What It Is, How to Treat It and How to Prevent It

Bloat, also known as Torsion or Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV), is a condition that affects large dogs. The dog breeds commonly affected by bloat include Akitas, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St. Bernards, Irish Setters, Pinschers, Dobermans, Sighthounds, Bloodhounds, Weimaraners and dogs belonging in similar breeds.

Bloat is a serious, and even life-threatening, condition. Even though diagnosis of bloat is fairly simple, its treatment can be complicated, costly and not always 100% successful. This is because a dog’s body undergoes pathological changes when it develops bloat.

Causes of Bloat

Bloat is caused by a combination of factors. Bloat often develops in large, deep-chested dogs that are typically fed once a day. These dogs tend to bolt for food, gulp in large amounts of air and drink a lot of water right after eating. They then engage in vigorous activities after eating. The result: bloat.

A Complicated Condition - What makes bloat a complicated condition is that dogs do not get bloat in the same way and it is believed that some bloodlines tend to be more predisposed to developing bloat than other bloodlines.

Any dog, regardless of its breed or age, can have simple gastric distention (pre-bloat, in layman’s term) although this is more common among puppies that overeat. However, pre-bloat disappears after belching or vomiting the food.

If pre-bloat happens more than once to a dog that belongs to a breed that is believed to be predisposed to the condition, it must be taken to a veterinarian, who can suggest ways to prevent bloat. The dog may be fed smaller meals or given Reglan (metoclopramide) to encourage the stomach to empty itself. In some cases, a dog may undergo prophylactic surgery, a procedure that involves anchoring the stomach in place prior to the occurrence of torsion. Prophylactic surgery is often done on dogs that have had several bouts of distention or dogs that have relatives with GDV.

Physiology of Bloat  – The twisting of the stomach after the occurrence of gastric distention is referred to as either ‘torsion’ or ‘volvulus’ depending on where the twisting occurs. The twisting is referred to as ‘torsion’ if it occurs in the stomach’s longitudinal axis while it is called ‘volvulus’ if the twisting occurs in the stomach’s mesenteric axis. The two terms are used interchangeably since the type of twisting in the stomach really has no bearing on the prognosis or the treatment.

When torsion happens, the esophagus closes up and this limits the affected dog’s ability to relieve itself of the distention through belching gas or vomiting food. The spleen can become entrapped when torsion occurs, its blood supply cut off.

Torsion triggers a complex chain of physiologic events. The blood flow to the heart decreases and so does cardiac output, followed possibly by cardiac arrhythmias. Meanwhile, the stomach lining is starts to have a build up of toxins. The pancreas, liver and upper small bowel may also become affected. The dog goes into shock as a result of low blood pressure and rapid build up of toxins in the body. In some cases, the stomach ruptures, and this leads to peritonitis.

Classic signs of GDV include abdominal distention, excessive salivating and retching. Other GDV signs can include depression, restlessness, lethargy, weakness, anorexia and rapid heart rate.


Treatment for Dog Bloat

Bloat is a serious condition that calls for emergency treatment. If you think that your dog may have bloat or if your dog is showing some signs of bloat, take your dog to a veterinarian or call emergency service right away. Do not try to treat your dog with home remedies. Call the veterinarian or pet hospital ahead of time to give staff ample time to prepare. Once you arrive at the veterinarian’s clinic of pet hospital, do not insist on going with your dog to the treatment room as you’ll simply become an impediment and slow down the staff from giving your dog the care it needs.

The veterinarian may subject your dog to x-rays, an ECG and blood tests to get an initial diagnosis although your dog may be given treatment well before the results of the tests are in. Your dog will be given IV fluids and administered steroids to treat shock. Antibiotics and anti-arrhythmics may be administered also. To decompress the stomach, the veterinarian will next pass a stomach tube. If successful, the contents of the stomach such as accumulated food and gastric juices will be flushed out through gastric levage. There are cases when stomach decompression is done by inserting large-bore needles or trochar through the skin and muscle directly into the stomach.

Some cases of bloat only require medical therapy. However, many cases of bloat require that surgery be performed in order to save the dog. Before surgery is done, the dog’s condition will first be stabilized. The stomach twist is then corrected, unhealthy tissues removed and the stomach anchored in place. Anchoring the stomach is known as gastroplexy or anchoring surgery. It is a procedure done to prevent the stomach from twisting again. Gastroplexy has several variations. If your dog requires gastroplexy, the veterinarian will let you know about the procedure as well as the variation that will give your dog the best rate of success.

Dogs that undergo gastroplexy have prolonged recovery times. They may even need to stay in the hospital for a week or more depending on the severity of the bloat and the treatment methods used. During post-operative care, a dog may need to be on a special diet, take medications that promote stomach emptying, and be on routine wound management. Gastroplexy can cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 or up depending the complexity of the bloat.


Preventing Dog Bloat

As the popular adage goes, prevention is better than cure. If your dog is predisposed to bloat, start feeding it two or three meals every day. Try to make sure that your dog eats slowly. Don’t let your dog to engage in vigorous activities within two hours of having a meal.

Talk to a veterinarian if gastroplexy can be possibly done on your dog as a preventative measure. For some dogs, gastroplexy even before bloat occurs is the best way to deal with the condition.

Many breeders and veterinarians think that GDV is inheritable although the genetics of GDV are still rather muddled right now. So while gastroplexy will likely help a predisposed dog, it may be best not to breed dogs that are predisposed to bloat or have relatives that suffer from bloat.

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