Gastric Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs: A Life Threatening Emergency
Signs of Bloat
The classic signs of bloat are restlessness and pacing, salivation,
retching, unproductive attempts to vomit, and enlargement of the abdomen. The
dog may whine or groan when you press on his belly. Thumping the abdomen
produces a hollow sound.
Unfortunately, not all cases of bloat present with typical signs. In early
bloat the dog may not appear distended, but the abdomen usually feels slightly
tight. The dog appears lethargic, obviously uncomfortable, walks in a
stiff-legged fashion, hangs his head, but may not look extremely anxious or
distressed. Early on it is not possible to distinguish dilatation from
Late signs (those of impending shock) include pale gums and tongue, delayed capillary refill time, rapid
heart rate, weak pulse, rapid
and labored breathing, weakness, and collapse.
If the dog is able to belch or vomit, quite likely the problem is not due to
a volvulus, but this can only be determined by veterinary examination.
In all cases where there is the slightest suspicion of bloat, take your dog
to a veterinary hospital immediately. Time is of the essence.
Gastric dilatation without torsion or volvulus is relieved by passing a long
rubber or plastic tube through the dog’s mouth into the stomach. This is also
the quickest way to confirm a diagnosis of bloat. As the tube enters the dog’s
stomach, there should be a rush of air and fluid from the tube, bringing
relief. The stomach is then washed out. The dog should not be allowed to eat or
drink for the next 36 hours, and will need to be supported with intravenous
fluids. If symptoms do not return, the diet can be gradually restored.
A diagnosis of dilatation or volvulus is best confirmed by X-rays of the
abdomen. Dogs with simple dilatation have a large volume of gas in the stomach,
but the gas pattern is normal. Dogs with volvulus have a “double bubble” gas
pattern on the X-ray, with gas in two sections separated by the twisted
If the dog has a volvulus, emergency surgery is required as soon as the dog
is able to tolerate the anesthesia. The goals are to reposition the stomach and
spleen, or to remove the spleen and part of the stomach if these organs have