For the love of you pet: Bloat in dogs is painful, dangerous

By John Beck

I'm thinking of getting a certain breed of dog but someone told me that they have a tendency to bloat. What is 'bloat' exactly and what should I do to avoid this problem with my dog?

The dog you are considering is probably a larger breed with what we call a deep chest. Typically some of your larger Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, German Shepherds and Dobermans have a higher history of bloating because of their very large chest.

Bloat is actually the accumulation of excess fluid or gas in the stomach. The stomach then rotates itself causing a twist in the esophagus side and the intestinal side, leaving no way for anything to escape.

If you can imagine a person laying in a hammock and then the entire hammock is flipped all the way around, twisting on both ends.

In this case the hammock is the stomach and the person is the food. The veterinary term for this is Gastric Dilatation Volvulus.

The reason this becomes such an emergency so quickly is that the stomach produces a lot of gastric juices that work to digest the contents. When the food is being broken down, gas is released. When the stomach is twisted, there is nowhere for the gas to escape, causing severe swelling and pain for the dog.

The twist can cause a decreased blood supply to the stomach, which can lead to changes in blood pressure and loss of organ function. If the stomach's position is not corrected within a few hours, they can lose their life.

Sometimes the veterinarian is able to pass a stomach tube and force the stomach to rotate back into position and release the trapped air. Even if they are able to get a tube passed, future surgery is usually recommended to help prevent the problem from occurring again. Typically surgery is required.

The vet will go in and untwist the stomach. They will also tack the stomach wall to a nearby rib. This anchors it into place a helps prevent future rotation.

There are a few things you can do to help prevent this from happening. Picking a high quality food and feeding two or three small meals (instead of one large meal) a day is beneficial. Make sure your dog is not eating at a rapid pace. Placing a very large (softball or larger) sized rock in the center of the food bowl will help slow your pet's eating pace.

There are also bowls with the center cut out that will provide the same benefit. You should keep your dog in a stress-free environment before, during and after a meal. No playing after a big meal. Some people used to think elevating the food bowl would be beneficial, but recent studies have shown that it does not help and sometimes hinders the cause.

If you are considering getting a dog that is prone to bloating, just practice safe eating habits.

Not all of these breeds bloat. Some people get their pet's stomach tacked as a preventative measure during a spay/neuter procedure.

If you have concerns, feel free to talk to your current vet or call me.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.