What Is Bloat in Dogs?

Learn all about bloat in dogs and how to recognize the signs of this life-threatening (and oftentimes life-ending) condition.

Dec 14, 2023By Natasha Elder
what is bloat in dogs

Being a responsible dog owner means keeping, caring for, and loving a dog for its whole life. Cue long walks, sloppy kisses, and endless cuddles in exchange! But another part of being a responsible dog owner is educating yourself on possible health conditions that your furry friend may experience. One such health condition is called bloat. In this blog post, you’ll learn about what bloat is, how it affects dogs, what the signs of bloat are, and – perhaps most importantly – how it can be prevented.

Bloat Is a Life-Threatening Condition

sad dog close up folds
Image credit: Pexels

Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a serious and life-threatening medical condition that affects dogs. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “bloated” as “swollen and rounded because of containing too much air, liquid, or food,” and this goes a long way to describe what bloat is in dogs. The exact cause of bloat is yet to be confirmed, but the working theory is that eating or drinking too much or too quickly are the most likely culprits.

The dog’s stomach becomes overstretched, and this causes intense abdominal pain and a host of other issues. As the dog’s stomach fills with air, pressure begins to build, and the stomach expands and twists. This can make the blood from the hind legs and abdomen stop flowing and begin pooling in the back end of the body. This blockage sends the dog into shock, and more pressure is placed on the dog’s internal organs. You know how this scenario ends.

Bloat Requires Immediate Medical Attention

bloat xray in dogs
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bloat is a serious medical condition, and seasoned dog owners will wince at the sound of the name alone. To drive home just how serious bloat can be, consider this: untreated bloat is fatal to dogs within an hour or two of it developing. Fortunately, with surgical treatment, the mortality rate sits at between 15% to 33%. Unfortunately, bloat doesn’t discriminate. Any dog breed can develop bloat, but big dog breeds and dogs with deep, narrow chests are specifically susceptible to it.

How Does Bloat Affect Big Dogs?

great dane old boy couch
Image credit: Martin Tajmr from Pixabay

Thankfully, bloat is not one of the most common health conditions in dogs. But that doesn’t mean it’s a rare occurrence. Typically, around 5.7% of all dogs will develop bloat. Bloat affects dogs, both big and small, in the same ways, although it has been proven to occur more in bigger, deep-chested breeds. Big dogs that weigh upwards of 99 pounds (44.9 kilograms) are 20% more likely to develop bloat.

Due to their size and chest build, certain dogs have a higher chance of developing bloat. Some of these unlucky breeds have been identified as:

  • Great Danes
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Irish Setters
  • Saint Bernards
  • Boxers
  • German Shepherds
  • Akitas
  • Weimaraners

Another aspect to keep in mind about bloat is that it has a recurrence rate of 75%, so if your dog has had bloat in the past, there is a very high chance that – unless they’ve had a gastropexy, which you’ll learn about later -- they will have it again. This is why, before adopting a dog, you need to know their medical history so you can be extra cautious in case bloat is a repeat offender.

What Are the Signs of Bloat?

bloat acronym the kennel club
Image credit: The Kennel Club

When a dog has bloat, chances are, you’ll know. The common physical signs of bloat include an enlarged abdomen, rapid or shallow breathing, pale gums, a racing heartbeat, retching or dry heaving, and excessive drooling.

But other signs of bloat are not as obvious and are often confused as symptoms of something else. Restlessness, pacing, whining, and lying down in one position are all alternative signs of bloat.

While there are quite a few signs to remember, you must. To help with this, the Kennel Club shared a helpful acronym:

  • B is for breathing problems
  • L is for large stomach
  • O is for the overproduction of saliva
  • A is for agitation
  • T is for trying to vomit
sad looking mastiff
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

If you think your dog has bloat, know that this is not a time to test out your dog first aid skills; you must take them to the vet immediately. Failure to do so is almost always fatal. With prompt treatment, now up to 70% of dogs can be saved. Your vet will likely treat the dog’s shock first and then, once they’re stable, they’ll be taken into surgery, where the stomach is deflated and flipped back to its normal position.

How Can Bloat Be Prevented?

burgundy french eating close up
Image credit: Pixabay

The exact cause of bloat is not completely understood just yet, which makes preventing it with certainty impossible at this point. Until science catches up and comes up with a definitive way of preventing bloat, there are a handful of tips that can help minimize the risk of bloat developing in dogs.

Decreasing the risk of bloat largely lies in how and when your dog eats. Eating too quickly is thought to be a key contributor to bloat development, so helping your dog slow down the speed at which they eat will be beneficial. You can do this by using a slow-feeding bowl or food puzzles. You could also hand-feed them.

When it comes to bloat, it’s not really important what your dog eats, but rather, what they do afterward. Exercising your dog is important, but not straight after eating. Exercise can increase the risk of bloat by causing the stomach to twist and rotate. It’s recommended to wait at least two or three hours after eating – then you can take them on that lovely long walk.

Bloat-Prone Dogs Can Benefit From Gastropexy

white dog at the vet
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There is a proactive surgical procedure called a gastropexy. In this procedure, the stomach is attached to the body wall with stitches. The idea behind this is that if the stomach is attached to the wall, it will be unable to flip or twist. This is thought to reduce the risk of the stomach flipping or flipping again down to a measly four percent. Still, that four percent could mean the difference between life and death for many dogs.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership