Canine Bloat:
Knowing the Signs and Causes
Could Save Your Dog's Life

Canine bloat, also known as torsion or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening condition that is the number one cause of death for certain large and giant breed dogs. Every dog parent needs to know the signs of canine bloat and to react immediately, or else it can quickly lead to a pet’s death.

According to the American Red Cross Dog First Aid Safety Series Volume 2, “Gastric dilation, or bloat, is when the dog’s stomach overfills with air or food. Torsion, or volvulus, is a worsening of this condition in which the stomach turns around upon itself, often misplacing the spleen with it. This cuts off the blood supply to both organs and prevents blood from returning to the heart.”

golden retriever under anesthesia

When the stomach twists, its entrance and exit are blocked off. Gas builds up in the stomach, unable to escape. As the gas compresses nearby blood vessels, blood supply to the affected organs is decreased. This lack of blood flow can lead to tissue death in organs such as the stomach and spleen. Toxins are released into the bloodstream, leading to shock.

Breeds Most Likely to Develop Canine Bloat
Large breed dogs with deep, narrow chests are at the greatest risk of developing bloat. These include:

  • Airedale Terrier
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Basset Hound
  • Boxer
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Collie
  • Dachshund
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • English Springer Spangle
  • German Shepherd
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Dane
  • Gordon Setter
  • Irish Setter
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Miniature Poodle
  • Newfoundland
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Rottweiler
  • Samoyed
  • St. Bernard
  • Standard Poodle
  • Weimaraner

(Source: VPI Pet Insurance)

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Signs and Symptoms of Canine Bloat

  • Heavy drooling or salivation, usually within a couple of hours of eating a meal (dogs with bloat drool because they cannot swallow)
  • Retching and attempting to vomit, but nothing comes up (dogs with bloat cannot belch or vomit)
  • Swollen, distended belly (caused by the pressure from the trapped stomach gases)
  • Heavy panting, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Weakness
  • Sudden collapse
  • Shock

If your dog shows signs of any of these symptoms, rush him to your veterinary clinic for treatment and dog first aid.

Call the clinic when you are on your way to alert them that you are bringing in a dog with canine bloat.

Risk Factors/Causes of Canine Bloat
Although the exact cause of bloat-torsion is unknown, the following risk factors are thought to contribute to this condition:

  • Eating too much food at one meal
  • Eating too fast or gulping food
  • Eating only dry food
  • Exercising to soon before or after eating
  • Age (older dogs are more at risk)
  • Weight (lean dogs are at higher risk than overweight dogs)
  • Temperament (nervous and aggressive dogs are at a higher risk)
  • Stress

Rather than feeding your dog once a day, divide his meals into two or three servings of equal size per day. Do not feed your dog from elevated bowls, as this has been shown to greatly increase the risk of bloat. Also, include some canned food in your dog’s diet.

If you have a dog that seems to attack his food, you can also purchase a special “bloat bowl” designed to slow him down.

Medium Brake-fast dog food bowl (Blue , 7 in. x 2.25 in. inside dimensions)

Also, wait at least two hours before or after he eats to exercise your dog.

Treatment of Canine Bloat
Canine bloat is one of the most serious of all the dog illnesses.

If your dog has bloat, he must be treated for shock with IV fluids and have his stomach decompressed to release the gas pressure. He will also need to be evaluated for heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). Your veterinarian will also have to perform an X-ray to determine if your dog’s stomach is twisted. If the stomach is rotated, your veterinarian will need to perform emergency surgery to straighten it. It is also possible that your dog’s spleen and/or a portion of his stomach might need to be removed if it is damaged.

An important part of canine bloat surgery is gastropexy, whereby your veterinarian attaches your dog’s stomach wall to his body wall to prevent it from twisting again at a later date. This is very important, since studies have shown that 76 percent of dogs that do not have a gastropexy will bloat again.

Breeds that are at a high risk for bloat can even have a preventative gastropexy, which can be performed during spaying or neutering, or at any other time. If your dog is at high risk for bloat, you should discuss this preventative procedure with your veterinarian.

A laparoscopic gastropexy, which is less invasive than the traditional surgery, can also be performed with the same result and will allow your dog to recover much faster and with less discomfort than the traditional surgery.

Canine bloat is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening condition. Even dogs that make it through the surgery are at risk of complications such as cardiac arrhythmias and infections.

If your furry friend is at risk for bloat, be knowledgeable of the signs and follow the proper precautions to prevent it from happening in the first place. Hopefully, then, neither you nor your dog will ever have to face this terrible emergency.

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Legal Disclaimer
If your pet is showing any signs of distress or you suspect your pet is seriously ill, contact your veterinarian immediately. This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.

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