What you Don’t Know about Bloat can Kill your Dog

 How much do you know about canine bloat? It’s a life-threatening condition, and yet many dog owners don’t even know it exists. Bloat is also known as GDV, or gastro dilation and volvulus. Gastro dilation refers to the dog’s stomach filling with air or food, and expanding. Volvulus, which occurs as well in many cases, is where the stomach rotates, cutting off the blood supply. As the pressure inside the stomach builds, the tissue begins to die. That also affects the heart and lungs, and many dogs will begin to have trouble breathing, develop an abnormal heart rhythm, and go into shock. This is clearly an emergency condition; a dog can die in hours, or less. One little-known fact is that even after a dog pulls through surgery, he’s not out of the woods yet. Many post-operative complications can occur; many dogs die of heart arrhythmias in the week following surgery, so careful monitoring is key.

Some early warning signs of bloat are a hard, distended abdomen, abnormal restlessness or lethargy, drooling, heavy panting, dry heaves, and pale gums. But when my soul dog Mojo bloated at the age of 14, he had abnormal warning signs. He was restless, a normal sign of trouble, but he also began to vomit white foam. No one had ever mentioned white foam in regard to bloat. I thought hmm, he wouldn’t be bringing anything at all up if it was bloat…still, my Mom radar caused me to rush him to the emergency clinic. Sure enough, it was bloat. Regardless of the traditional warning signs, if your dog is acting strangely and you believe something may be wrong—even if you just “have a feeling”—bring him in to vet. Mojo, by the way, recovered and went on to live for another six loving, tummy rub-filled months.

Although large, deep-chested dogs are the prime candidates for bloat (think Danes, Dobermans, Standard Poodles, Boxers, among others), it can happen to any dog. Years ago, it was thought that elevating a dog’s food dish would prevent bloat. Many owners of Great Danes, a bloat-prone breed, followed this advice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t true. We now know that elevating a dog’s food dish may, in fact, increase the chances of bloat. It is also now believed that feeding two meals a day rather than one can help to decrease the chances of bloat.

As bloat can be caused by great amounts of air in the stomach (among other things), food-gulping can be to blame. If your dog inhales his food, there are various ways to address the problem:

1. Feed in a bowl such as the Brake-Fast bowl that has built-in obstructions to slow your dog down. Alternately, place a large object such as a ball or toy (too big for your dog to swallow) in the middle of the bowl, and pour the food around it. It will take some time for your dog to eat around the object.

2. If you feed dry kibble, do the Kibble Toss: measure out the kibble, but instead of putting it in a dish, fling it far and wide! You can do this in your back yard or your living room. (If you have multiple dogs who fight over food, separate them first.) As a dog trainer who recommends the Kibble Toss regularly to my clients, I can tell you that dogs absolutely love it. Even picky dogs become involved in sniffing out the tasty tidbits, and a gulp-fest is avoided.

3. Feed the meal in a kibble-dispensing toy such as the Atomic Treat Ball, Kong Wobbler, or Dog Pyramid, or pack it into a Kong, using a bit of healthful wet food or other mortar. You can even freeze the Kong so it takes  longer to excavate. The added benefit is that mealtime quickly becomes “getting some of that crazy energy out” time.

The good news about bloat, as reported in a recent CNN article, is that “Twenty years ago, the survival rate was 25 percent”…but “With surgery and care, especially if treated early, about 80 percent do pretty well.” Let's all spread the word and help save a life.


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Positively Expert: Nicole Wilde

Nicole Wilde is the author of ten books and lectures worldwide on canine behavior. She is a columnist for Modern Dog magazine, and blogs for Positively, the Huffington Post, and her own blog, Wilde About Dogs. Nicole runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in southern California.


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28 thoughts on “What you Don’t Know about Bloat can Kill your Dog

  1. Beth Brocchini

    I unfortunately lost a young wolfdog to bloat. He progressed rapidly from the first sign of dry heaves and died enroute to the vet. We knew about bloat and knew that he could be at risk as he had a very narrow and deep chest. We were careful about what we fed him, when we fed him and what he did before and after he ate. We had read and been told to avoid play and movement especially right after eating as this cold increase risk of bloat. (Our dog's episode came in the early morning while on a hike in the woods with no recent meal.)
    I'm writing because I'm concerned about recommendation #3...feeding with a toy. This sseems to go against advice we were given and could put dogs at increased risk. Just a thought.

  2. ryancoulson

    hi, I am ryan coulson and i would like to no about how to stop a dog barking whilst your out because the nabiors have complained and i would like to know tips

  3. D

    Sad that a lot of people think it's okay to have a fat dog. Just as dangerous for a dog to be fat as it is for a child to be fat... or an adult.

  4. Ruth

    I had noticed my 4 month old boxer mix's stomach after she ate one night. Suddenly she looked like a tube from front legs to hind legs. I knelt down to check her out and she had vomited just as I went to touch her belly. I didn't sleep that night because I was worried to death about her. I did take her the next day to the vet's and they couldn't find anything wrong with her. I had for another two months until I regretfully took her back to the shelter to find a more suitable home for her. She just wasn't getting along with the foster dog I had brought in, and he had been abused and fought, the pup was young enough to find a new home where she didn't have to compete with anyone for attention. I had no idea what was 'wrong' with the pup that night, but I figured it was something serious and began feeding her differently and that seemed help.

  5. Debbie

    We lost our 12 year old German wirehair to bloat a few years ago. It was such a horrible death and
    a horrifying experience.

    Buddy was always a gassy hound.

    I'm angry about Buddy's death because bloat is so common, why don't vets bother to educate us? All I ever heard from my vet about my dogs was teeth, we have to brush their teeth.

    Nothing about bloat.

  6. lindy gee

    thankyou so much for posting this information i have got a mongrel dog and because she is such a mixing pot of breeds it is hard to know what health problems she is prone to, i am planning to have her DNA done she is so precious to me and as a first time dog owner i had not heard too much about bloat befor so thankyou very much for the info .. lindy gee UK

  7. Patti

    When i first got my dog she'd been in a shelter environment for 4 months, and was a stray before that. Since she was food-insecure, she gobbled down everything in sight.

    I feed my "inhaler" dog on a cookie sheet. At first I'd only give her 1/4 cup of food at a time until she had eaten 1-1/2 cups. Two months later, I can put down all the food at once, as she's slowed down considerably. In fact, this week she actually left some food on the cookie sheet and walked away.

    I taught her to sit using tiny dog treats. Now she'll sit, watch me, and wait using the treats. Sometimes we play 'hunt', too. I get a small handfull and ask "Who wants to hunt?" then toss them all over the kitchen floor. She absolutely loves this game.

  8. Terry

    I never walk my shepherd an hour before or after a meal...especially don't let them run around around feeding time...mine enjoys just relaxing after a meal and I'll walk him maybe 2 or 3 hours after, but let him out to do his business after dinner.

    Very scary thing!

  9. Heather Harris

    This is very informative. I was unaware that elevating the food bowl to prevent bloat was a myth. I really like the idea of feeding fast eaters in a kong. I give my dog a kong from time to time and she loves it! Thank you so much for the information!

  10. Tonya

    Ten years ago at the age of 10, our collie woke me with his "have to out yip." I got out of bed to find his acting as if he were gasping for air and white foam all over the place in small puddles. Our vet met us, while we were waiting for the x-ray his tummy distended. He made it through the surgery but suspect he had a heart attack during the night. We fed two meals a day. We have always felt the arthritis meds we had put him on caused it but will never know. Horrible to not be able to help our babies.

  11. kelly

    i have a basenji dog, are they prone to this bloating?? he eats fast when i feed him! ,can that cause bloating??

  12. Summer

    lindy gee- I wouldn't spend your money on the DNA test. I am a vet tech and we did the DNA test on the doctor's dog. He is a mutt, but looks most like a mix between a Cairn terrier (Toto from the Wizard of Oz) and a dachshund. The DNA test came back for sharpei, dalmation, and pug!

    Just love your mutt for how cool he is, don't bother with the breed DNA test!

  13. Nicole Wilde

    Although I answered Beth's comment on FB I wanted to respond here as well, for those who read these comments. I understand that the concern with recommendation #3 had to do with the wording, as it had given the impression that the dogs were frantically running around scarfing down the food. It's actually the opposite. If the dogs are getting a meal in a frozen Kong, for example, they are lying down and taking things slow. Even if they are moving around finding treats during the Kibble Toss, it's also pretty sedate, and they are only getting at most a few pieces of kibble at a time.

    I am saddened to hear the stories of those who have lost dogs to bloat. Sometimes it is unavoidable no matter how well informed we are, but I also wish more vets would routinely educate owners about bloat.

    Take care,
    Nicole Wilde
    http://www.phantompub.com
    https://facebook.com/NicoleWildeAuthor

  14. Victoria Thomas

    I have two deep chested dogs and I don't exercise them for two hours before or after a meal. Both are steady eaters, but one is gassy, (Boy is he gassy !).
    I've been feeding them both on raised feeders, should I stop feeding this way?

    By the way, the dog in the photo is a ringer for my late Jack, lost to cancer at six years old.

  15. Rita J

    It is often overlooked that small breed dogs can also suffer bloat. Many small breeds have large chests,
    and the narrow sloping bodies in proportion to smaller size. .

  16. Nicole Wilde

    Victoria, first the common advice was to feed on raised feeders. Then studies came out saying that raising the feeders could actually increase the risk of bloat. There is some disagreement on this point, though. I don't personally use raised feeders.

    I'm sorry to hear about Jack. The dog in the photo is Mojo, my soul dog mentioned in the blog.

    Take care,
    Nicole

    http://www.phantompub.com
    http://www.wildewmn.wordpress.com
    https://facebook.com/NicoleWildeAuthor

  17. Millie

    Excellent, excellent article. I had to put my first GSD, Boss, down due to bloat at age 9. He also threw up white foam and had trouble moving due to pain. I had him at the vet that same day and I told her I had never seen him that sick. She gave him a shot for naseau and sent him home, unbelievable. I had to take him in later to the emergency vet and that was where I found out what was wrong with him. I miss him to this day and will never forget my first German Shepherd, my Boss Boy.

  18. Stephanie

    My Miniature Schnauzer has been vomiting foam once in a while. The episodes are accompanied by very loud gurggling in her intestines. she recently had her tummy scoped for obstructions, cancer, tumors, etc.. So far NOTHING. We hve started to portion the bites of food smaller and no one can tell us what the problem is so far.

  19. Sharon

    WOW! I knew about bloat as we lost an Irish Setter to it about 20 years ago, but didn't know about the white foam. Vets never educate on these things.

    Our lab often eats grass and then vomits what looks like bile. This has been happening since we first got her. She sometimes also vomits white foam. Yes, she does inhale her food and it seems like she's always hungry. Our vet says there is nothing wrong with her. Also, we do not give her bones. She would throw up every time we gave her one...only large thick bones like ham bones (from a half ham, not the skinny ones from a ham steak) or the really thick soup bones...never chicken or thin bones. She would even inhale those bones and within a few hours throw up.We feed her twice a day with half a vegetable can of dry mixed with half a can of veggies and she's overweight at 110 pounds! We've tried all kinds of food on her from Blue Buffalo to Taste of the Wild to RR's Nutrish, but she didn't like any of those. She will eat Beneful so that's what she gets.

    Thanks for the info on the white foam. Her vet appointment is next month and I will be sure to talk to him about these findings. She also eats out of a raised bowl, which will now be changed. We had read about the raised bowl but thanks to you, it will be gone. Thank you, thank you. You may have just saved our baby's life!

  20. JJ

    For food dispenser toys, I *highly* recommend the TreatStik. Here's an example at Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Treatstik-Large-Blue-Treat-Dispensing/dp/B000A65O50/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318968272&sr=8-1

    This is my Dane's favorite food dispenser. It perfectly dispenses one or two kibbles at a time. Duke lies down and pushes the stik back and forth between his front paws, occasionally picking up one end or the other. I feel like I've gone through most of the food dispenser toys out there. This one is great for the way it dispenses and how easy it is to load and for being dishwasher safe.

    As for bloat, I'm very interested in the latest information but feel that we still need a lot more research. I could be wrong about the following, but I believe: there are plenty of examples of dogs who were not exercising and who got bloat. There are dogs who are given two meals a day who get bloat. There are dogs who eat elevated who get bloat and dogs who do not eat elevated who get bloat. And there are dogs of owners who are as educated as possible who still get bloat.

    It seems like we really don't know what causes it or how to prevent it. I'm grateful for this article, which tries to educate us as much as possible on what we do know. But I'm taking it with a perspective of: we don't know what to do, but here's something you can do that might help and hopefully won't hurt. At least you can feel like you are doing something.

  21. Shawn

    I lost my 12 1/2 year old female boxer to bloat on 11/22/11. This came to me as a shock because she had not done any rigorous exercise before or after consuming the food. I was always careful to avoid that situation. She did however gulp down a significant amount of water while eating that day. That is probably what caused it. I ended up having her put down instead of surgery. I could not bare to see her suffer. It was a very difficult decision. I will forever love her. She was my baby.

  22. Bailey

    My 3 year old Newfoundland/Golden Retriever cross got bloat last week. He eats 3 meals a day out of a dish filled with non-porus river rocks. We don't use an elevated feeder, though he does have a tendency to eat fast. That particular day we hadn't done much excercise as I am still recovering from gallbladder surgery. That night he started acting very restless. When I let him outside after he ate, he did not want to come back in. Every time I called him he would run back to his potty area.

    I knew his breeds are prone to bloat, so I have made it a point to know how his stomach feels when he is healthy. The local vet wouldn't take us in as an emergency case since we weren't established clients, so I had to drive 45 min over a mountain pass to get to a vet. Fortunately I noticed his symptoms early enough to get him to the vet in time. He burped while he was in the car, but when we got to the vet his stomach had twisted.

    He made it though the surgery, and came home after 1.5 days. Now we are both on the road to recovery. I think Iggy is healing faster than I am.

    I am amazed that many dog owners I know don't know what bloat is. Educate your friends with dogs so that they can recognize the symptoms.

  23. Barbara

    I have a 10 yr. old Red Bone that is gorgeous and full of muscle. Last Thursday afternoon it was noticed that he was foaming at the mouth and had some projectile vomiting. I thought he had gotten another frog as he is prone to catch them and release them right away leaving the same noticeable drooling and foaming symptoms. At this point it was not of grave concern to us based on past experience with him and frogs. On Friday am I noticed he was stilling drooling profusely and was getting a distended abdomen. I took him to our local animal hospital and was told by the Dr he expected he was bloated (never heard of it before other than in Cows) He had an x-ray and lab work done. At this point I was given an option to put him down or have emergency surgery that would be expensive, invasive and painful for the dog. Without hesitation, I chose the surgery as the Dr said he was only hrs away from death and a choice could not wait. By this time a few hours had already lapsed due to travel, lab results, x-rays etc; and he was getting more distended, lethargic. vmoiting etc; Lab's showed his heart was enlarged and kidneys showed signs of failure. He came through the extensive surgery well and now has a life style change he must make according to the Dr if he survives post op surgery. However, we are 5 days post op and he is not getting increasing better. He has an open abdominal would thats still bleeding and very with drawn. Had I realized what I was putting this 10yr old (70 in dog years) through I am not sure I would have done such. It was our blessing though that we had a local veternarian skilled in this area of surgery upon arrival at the animal clinic and yet greatful we allowed the surgery instead of increasing painful death for him of not knowing what and why it happened. Anyone considering this surgery procedure done for there beloved pet get an extimated cost first as it is an expensive procedure/hospitlization.

  24. Reina

    I took my beautiful 7month old German sheppard cross to the vet to be cremated this morning. he died of bloat he was fine at midnight and by 3:30am he was gone it was so quick and unexpected. I had heard of bloat before but didn't know much about it I just wish I had know all of this before maybe I could have saved my Boss baby I and not had to watch him die in my arms waiting for a cab to the emergency clinic. miss you so much Boss baby

  25. Gayatri

    I just lost my baby on 19th Jan,2013.... m in shock...Gruffy was just 3 yrs and 1 month when he left us. He was more than a family member to us. Much as I take care of him, much as I give him to eat anything he likes(though in limited amts.) i never understood what was wrong when he started vomiting. I just thought it was normal like before...but 1st when he started not to eat and vomit(for 2 days) I had contacted the vets and all possible help, no one mentioned bloat... Again he started eating normal and hpy. Then again he started to puke white foamy liquid without eating anything for 2 days...the 2nd day was when I took him 2 the vet and he gave him injection. Gruffy kept drinking water continuously like mad the whole day..and then late evening he left us suddenly without any warning or nothing. God he was so cold. I had contacted the doc the whole day. He kept telling me it was normal and to take gruff early next morning...never was i able to understand what went wrong. He died enrute 2 the vet's house that night itself.... now i know...I love you so much Gruffy baby....m sure u r hpy wherevr u r & b able to brng smile on any1 who have u n b alwaz smilin urself... miss u beta...tk cr n God Bless u..RIP
    N frnz plz take good care of your pups..hope none of you lose urs like i did mine ( whom i could not help survive)

  26. Naomi

    My 6 year shitz-zu is sick.Her stomach feels tight and she's not moving much.She's been walking around so weird.I don't remember her eating fast but we don't have insurance on her.I'm really terrified. Everything crossed: hope she'll be o.k.

  27. Jackie

    I lost my dog today because of Bloat I believe. I had never been educated about this at all. Sam started acting funny after he ate this morning. I called the vet and the earliest they could get him in was 4 p.m. I left work and came home to find him dead by my front door. :( After reading this post, I believe this is what killed him. He was fine when we got up this morning....ate his food REALLY fast and then started acting strangely. I wish I had known about Bloat before today, I would have found an emergency clinic to take him to instead of waiting til this afternoon.

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