Bloat is a leading killer of dogs, second only to cancer. It can strike suddenly in dogs of any age or breed, but is more common in larger, deep-chested dogs. Signs of bloat should be taken very seriously, as dogs can die in less than an hour from this condition.

  • Fits of dry heaving / attempting to vomit / vomiting only mucus every 5-30 minutes
  • Unusual behavior, restlessness, anxiety, hiding, trembling, shallow breathing, panting, whining
  • Urgent eating of twigs or rocks
  • Hunched or “roached” posture, standing wide-legged, other unusual posturing
  • Lack of normal digestive sounds in abdomen
  • Bloated abdomen, or any unusual firmness, tightness, or guarding of the abdomen (not the most common sign)
  • Pale or off-color gums, cold mouth
  • Coughing, gagging, drooling, foaming
  • Unproductive attempts to defecate
  • Racing heart, weak pulse

Bloat describes the swelling of the stomach, usually from air, which causes it to twist and “kink” passage of air or solids. The abnormal organ position puts pressure on blood vessels that run near the stomach. The lack of circulation to vital organs causes low blood pressure, shock, and eventually tissue death in the blood-starved organs. It is an urgent condition that requires surgery. Dogs can die within an hour of symptom onset. Some people rely on simethicone products (Mylanta Gas, Gas-X) to slow production of gasses in the stomach, in case that is a cause of the swelling, but this is not a replacement for surgery. It may buy time in a few cases but should only be administered if advised by the veterinarian preparing to operate.

Avoiding bloat

Stress is believed to be a significant factor in bloat. Traveling, shows, mating, whelping, boarding, newcomers, any change in routine, is a potential aggravating factor. Exercise and healthy body weight may improve GI health.

Also avoid:

  • Bolting large amount of food. This can be discouraged by feeding in small handfuls or feeding 2 or 3 times a day, and reducing stress and multi-dog competition around meal times
  • Excessive water drinking, especially right before or after a meal
  • Vigorous exercise less than an hour before or after a meal
  • Sudden changes in diet
  • Boarding kennels

Avoid feeds with

  • a fat product in the top 4 ingredients
  • citric acid
  • soybean
  • brewer's yeast
  • high carbohydrate content
  • low in meat-based protein
  • less than 3% crude fiber

There are various herbs, enzyme products, probiotics, and home remedies such as apple cider which promote healthy pH and intestinal flora that may help reduce gas. Dogs recently on antibiotics may benefit from probiotic supplements.

Stomach tacking is a preventative surgery which fastens the stomach to the rib cage so that it cannot torsion. It is very popular with large, deep-chested breeds such as Great Danes and working shepherds.

As much as you do right, sometimes bloat still happens. Know the location and phone number of a 24-hr clinic and speak to your vet about his readiness to receive bloat cases. If you live far from a clinic, think about what level of symptoms will be your cue to load-and-go as a precaution. Although it may be unpleasant to think about, visualizing a well-laid plan of action beforehand saves dithering and impulsive mistakes in the stress of an emergency. As with most medical emergencies, the longer treatment is delayed the more extensive and expensive the fallout will be.

Watch a webinar on bloat