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What is Bloat and Why is it So Serious?

By June 7, 2019June 11th, 2019Pet Emergency, Pet Health
What is Bloat and Why is it so Serious?


Many physical disorders and injuries can be life-threatening to your dog. However, there is a particularly dangerous condition that ranks as number one in terms of how fast it progresses and how much effort is required for emergency treatment. This condition is known as gastric dilatation and volvulus, or, more simply, bloat.

What is Bloat?

If a dog’s stomach becomes bloated, gas balloons the stomach to many times its standard size. The grossly bloated stomach tends to twist, cutting off the exit route (pylorus) for the gas. The spleen, which nestles alongside the stomach, can also twist. The distended stomach can eventually compress the large veins running along the back, creating a circulatory shock. A dog with a swollen, twisted stomach will die painfully within a few hours unless drastic steps are taken.

What are the Risk Factors for Bloat?

Studies have shown that the following large breeds are more likely to suffer from bloat: Great Danes, St. Bernards, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, Boxers. Still, any size of dog can bloat, even Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and Yorkies. In a classic case, the bloated dog has been exercised heavily shortly after consuming a large meal. Increasing age is also a risk factor.

How Can I Tell if my Dog Has Bloat?

The classic presentation of bloat is a sudden distention of the abdomen. Signs of pain and distress include panting, anguished facial expression, guarding the belly, and frequent attempts at vomiting that are often unproductive. However, because of their body configuration, some dogs will not show apparent abdominal distention.

What is the Treatment for Bloat?

The first steps necessary to save a bloated dog’s life should be carried out simultaneously and as quickly as possible.

The stomach must be decompressed – generally, a stomach tube and pump will be used, but sometimes surgery is needed.

Shock must be reversed – intravenous catheters will be placed and life-giving fluid solutions administered.

The heart rhythm must be assessed and stabilized – premature ventricular contraction (PVC), a hazardous rhythm condition, must be ruled out.


Once the dog is stable, surgery is necessary to assess and repair internal damage. Without surgery, bloat may recur even within the next few hours. If decompression has not untwisted the stomach, the surgeon will untwist it. Also, any dying tissue on the stomach wall must be removed, or the dog will die. If the spleen has twisted, part or all of it may need to be removed. Finally, a procedure called a gastropexy tacks the stomach into its normal position to prevent a recurrence of bloat.

Preventive gastropexy – an elective surgery that can be done at the same time as spaying or neutering. The stomach may still distend with gas, but, since it cannot twist, nothing more severe than pain and discomfort is likely to occur.

Be Aware of Bloat

If you enjoy a unique friendship with a big dog, it’s crucial to be aware of the possibility of bloat. Know what to watch for and don’t exercise your dog after a large meal. If your dog needs emergency care, especially during overnight or Sunday hours, know where to take him. We hope you never need us, but if you do and you live in the Columbia, South Carolina area, CVETS provides 24-hour emergency care.