Did you know that bloat in dogs is the second leading cause of death after cancer? It’s a serious condition that requires fast action on your part.

The thing is, many pet parents don’t know what bloat is, or how to recognize the signs. Spotting the symptoms and knowing what to do if your dog is showing signs is critical.

So, what is bloat exactly, what are the causes, and how can you tell if your dog may have it? Being prepared and acting immediately can save your pet’s life!

What is Bloat?

There are two types of bloat in dogs: simple bloat and the more serious gastric torsion or gastric dilation volvulus.

Simple bloat can happen at any time. It’s when the stomach fills up with gas, food, or fluid and causes bloating, just like with humans. It’s uncomfortable, but since vital oxygen isn’t being cut off from the organs, it can continue for hours but may resolve on its own.

However, this simple bloating can quickly become far more serious at any time. When that happens, the stomach actually twists around and cuts off vital oxygen flow. This is gastric torsion or gastric dilation volvulus.

Gastric torsion or gastric dilation volvulus is a condition where a dog’s stomach fills up with gas, food, or fluid but the substance can’t escape. Once the stomach fills up, so does pressure. This pressure builds up and can stop blood from the hind legs and stomach from getting back to the heart. Whatever is caught in the stomach can’t escape and this can causing tearing in the stomach wall. Blood quickly pools at the back end of the dog’s body. At this point the dog will go into shock because it reduces the working blood volume significantly and toxins flow into the bloodstream.

The exact cause of bloat in dogs is uncertain. That said, there are a number of things that experts suggest can predispose a dog to bloat. Body type is the most commonly suggested factor, with deep-chested large breed dogs often at higher risk.

Other possible risk factors include:

  • eating a large volume of food at once
  • eating rapidly
  • exercising vigorously immediately after eating
  • eating only one meal a day
  • being underweight
  • eating out of raised food bowls
  • stress
  • having a fearful or anxious temperament

Bloat in dogs can happen without warning and become a life-threatening emergency quickly.

Recognizing the Signs of Bloat in Dogs

One of the most common symptoms of bloat in dogs is unproductive vomiting. If you notice your dog trying to throw up repeatedly, nothing is coming out, that’s often a very good sign something isn’t right.

Another common sign is abdominal pain, and your dog’s belly may appear bloated and distended.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • anxiety and restlessness
  • pacing and an inability to get comfortable
  • panting and rapid breathing
  • frequently glancing back at their belly
  • stretching out, with their head down and rear end in the air.
  • depression
  • lethargy and/or collapsing

So what should you do if you notice any of these signs?

What to Do

Bloat is often considered “the mother of all emergencies,” and for good reason. It’s a serious condition, and if not treated is often fatal.

If you think your dog has bloat, head to the vet. Right away. This isn’t a scenario where at home care is recommended – medical treatment often involving surgery is required.

If your dog’s stomach is twisted, it must be returned to its correct position as soon as possible. First, intravenous fluids may be given to reduce the symptoms of shock. Then, under anaesthetic, and a tube is put in from the mouth to the stomach to relieve gas and fluid buildup. After the dog is stable, your vet will likely perform a gastropexy to untwist the stomach. In this procedure, the vet sews the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting again.

If caught and treated early, about 90 to 95% of the dogs having surgery to treat bloat survive. 

[RELATED] Following surgery, many dogs receive antibiotics. Here’s how to support your pup after those antibiotics are finished.

Can You Prevent Bloat in Dogs?

Since it isn’t 100% clear what causes bloat to begin with, total prevention is tough. However, experts do recommend a few things that can help reduce the risk.

  1. Feed more frequently. Instead of one large meal a day, feed 2 meals, spread out (breakfast and dinner), of equal size).
  2. Don’t feed before or after exercise. Remember what your mom used to say – “don’t swim for at least 30 minutes after eating”? Follow that mantra. Do not feed your dog for at least an hour after exercise, and do not exercise for at least an hour after a meal.
  3. Slow down rapid eaters. Some dogs attack their food bowl like they haven’t eaten in weeks, and finish int he blink of an eye. Try to slow these guys down. Consider feeding from a puzzle mat or a cookie sheet, or even consider feeding from your hand to help manage how fast they eat.
  4. Reduce anxiety and stress. Dogs who are anxious may swallow more air, eat more quickly, and may be at higher risk of bloat. Try to make mealtime calm and eliminate stressors (for example, separate dogs if they’re food competitive or feed in a crate if it’s a safe space).

Knowing what bloat in dogs looks like, and what to do if you spot the signs is so important. Don’t wait. If you think your dog may have bloat, contact and head to your vet right away.