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Dog Bloat: How to Protect Your Pup

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on January 08, 2023

Dog bloat is a common condition that can be dangerous, even deadly. Dogs who have it need treatment right away. Know the signs so you can recognize when your pup needs help.

What Is Dog Bloat?

Bloat happens when a dog's stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid, making it expand. The stomach puts pressure on other organs. It can cause dangerous problems, including:

  • A decrease in blood flow to their heart and stomach lining
  • A tear in the wall of their stomach
  • A harder time breathing

In some cases, the dog's stomach will rotate or twist. Vets call that gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV). It traps blood in the stomach and blocks it from returning to the heart and other areas of the body. This can send your dog into shock.

Dog Bloat Symptoms

Bloat from GDV usually comes on very quickly. At first, your dog may show signs that their stomach hurts. They may:

  • Act restless
  • Drool
  • Have a swollen stomach
  • Look anxious
  • Look at their stomach
  • Pace
  • Try to vomit, but nothing comes up
  • Stretch with their front half down and rear end up

As the condition gets worse, they may:

  • Collapse
  • Have pale gums
  • Have a rapid heartbeat
  • Be short of breath
  • Become weak

If you think your pet has bloat, get them to a clinic right away. If dogs don't get treatment in time, the condition can kill them.

Dog Bloat Causes

Vets aren't sure what causes bloat, but there are some things that raise a dog's risk for it, including:

  • Eating from a raised food bowl
  • Having one big meal a day
  • Eating quickly
  • A lot of running or playing after they eat
  • Other dogs they are related to have had bloat
  • Eating or drinking too much

Some conditions can cause your dog’s belly area to look bloated. It’s important to see a vet to figure out what is causing the swelling. These conditions include:

Peritonitis

This is a serious infection usually caused by a puncture or rupture of your dog's stomach or intestine. It could come from splinters from a bone, ulcers, or tumors. Peritonitis can also happen if the gallbladder or urinary bladder ruptures.

This is an extremely painful condition. A dog with peritonitis may: 

  • Be limp
  • Not want to move 
  • Have a swollen belly
  • Vomit 

Shock is likely, so it’s important to get the dog to emergency treatment quickly.

Treatment for peritonitis may include intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics, and pain relief. Surgery will also be necessary to repair the puncture, remove the infected fluids, and flush out the belly.

Cushing's syndrome

A dog with a pot-bellied look may have hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing's syndrome. It’s a condition that happens when too much of the hormone cortisol is produced. It’s most common in dogs 6 years or older. Signs of Cushing's syndrome include: 

  • Eating and drinking a lot 
  • Peeing more than usual 
  • Hair loss 
  • Increased panting

Cushing's syndrome is usually caused by the pituitary gland over-producing a hormone. Or sometimes a tumor on one of the adrenal glands causes it. One medication treats both forms of Cushing’s syndrome. And your dog can have surgery to remove the tumor associated with the adrenal form of Cushing’s syndrome.

Ascites

Ascites is the buildup of fluid in the belly, which can lead to swelling. A wide range of problems can cause ascites, including: 

  • Heart failure
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney problems
  • Severe intestinal disease. 

Treatment for ascites depends on the condition that’s causing it.

Other causes of dog stomach swelling

Stomach swelling in dogs can also happen if the dog eats too much all at once. Or the belly could be swollen because of internal bleeding from an injury or a ruptured mass, intestinal blockage, or tumors. Very serious roundworm infections in puppies can also cause a swollen belly.

Any dog can have bloat, but it's much more common in deep-chested, large breeds, like Akitas, boxers, basset hounds, and German shepherds. Some are at a higher risk than others, including great Danes, Gordon setters, Irish setters, Weimaraners, and Saint Bernards.

Dog Bloat Treatment

The treatment a dog gets depends on how bad their condition is.

First, the vet may put a tube into your dog's throat and down to their stomach to release the pressure that has built up. Sometimes, a twisted stomach can keep the tube from passing through. If that's the case, the vet may put a large, hollow needle through their belly into their stomach and release the pressure that way.

If your dog is in shock, the vet will start giving them fluids through an IV right away, usually with antibiotics.

The vet will take X-rays to see if their stomach is twisted. If it is, your dog will have emergency surgery to untwist it and put it back into its normal position. The vet also will fix the stomach to prevent GDV in the future. They'll also check to see if the condition damaged any other parts of their body.

Dog Bloat Prevention

To help prevent stomach problems in general, make sure to take your dog in for regular checkups. That lets your vet keep tabs on how your pet's heart, lungs, stomach, bowel, and other organs are doing.

You can do a quick exam of your dog's belly, too, to see some of the signs of stomach trouble. To examine your dog's stomach, feel for tenderness to touch, heat, stickiness, lumps, and, of course, swelling. Take your dog to the vet right away if you notice any problems.

Bloat can be scary, but there are ways you can keep it from happening to your dog:

  • Don't use a raised bowl unless your vet says your dog needs one.
  • Don't let them run or play a lot right before or after meals.
  • Feed them a few small meals throughout the day instead of one or two big ones.
  • Make sure they drink a normal amount of water.
  • For breeds that are more prone to bloat, your vet will sometimes tack the stomach when your dog gets spayed or neutered. That means the vet will tack or stitch the stomach to the inside of the abdomen (belly) to keep it from twisting.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: “Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs.”

American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: “Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus.” 

American Kennel Club: “Bloat (or GDV) in Dogs: What Is it and How Is it Treated?”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: “Bloat.”

American College of Veterinary Surgeons: “Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus.”

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: “Soft Tissue Surgery: Medical Conditions.”

Carlson, L. Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, 3rd edition, Howell Book House, 2000.

Michelle Kenna, DVM, veterinarian, Eugene, OR.

VeterinaryPartner.com: "Bloat: The Mother of All Emergencies," "No Bones About It: Bones are Unsafe for Your Dog."

Fogle, B. Caring for Your Dog: The Complete Canine Home Reference, DK Publishing Inc., 2002.

Mehus-Roe, K. The Original Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog, 2nd edition. BowTie Press, 2009.

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: "Cushing's Disease."

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