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Bloat in Dogs


Bloat, or Gastric Torsion, is the second leading cause of canine deaths, following cancer. The technical term is Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (Gastric means pertaining to the stomach, Dilation means getting bigger, and Gastric Volvulus means a twisting of all or part of the stomach). Dogs that are susceptible to this disease include the German Shepherd, the Great Dane, the Rottweiler, and the Labrador Retriever.

Although we use the terms bloat, gastric torsion, and gastric dilation-volvulus somewhat interchangeably, there is actually a difference in what each signifies. Bloat is simply the stomach expanding due to gases, while gastric torsion involves twisting of the stomach up to 180 degrees, and gastric volvulus including twisting of the stomach beyond 180 degrees. Not all dogs that develop bloat will suffer from torsion or volvulus, but almost every dog that gets the torsion or volvulus started with getting the bloat.

Symptoms of Gastric Torsion or Volvulus

The symptoms that could indicate your dog is experiencing bloat/gastric torsion/volvulus include:

  • An obvious swelling of the belly
  • Dry heaves (unproductive vomiting) or retching
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rapid, but shallow, breathing
  • Excessive drooling

Potential causes of bloat

There are both hereditary and environmental reasons your dog may be susceptible to bloat and gastric volvulus. Large dog breeds are more prone to this condition than others, especially if they are deep-chested. Risk for bloat is greater as the dog ages.

If your dog eats large meals rapidly, or drinks excessive amounts of water at on setting, she is increasing her chances of experiencing gastric torsion. Also heavy exercise immediately following eating can increase the risk.

Possible solutions for bloat


If your dog is susceptible to bloat, spread her meals out. If you have only been feeding once a day, try splitting the meal in two parts, with one in the morning and one in the early evening. If you are going to change your dogs diet, make sure you spread that change over three to five days.

Contrary to some myths out there, if your dog is susceptible to bloat, it is important that you feed her at floor level. Do NOT use an elevated feeding bowl.

Avoid heavy exercise or play for an hour before her meal times and for an hour afterwards.


There are no home solutions if your dog is experiencing either torsion or volvulus. It is important to take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

The vets first concern will be to start replacing fluids and attempting to decompress the stomach. IVs will be used along with attempting to place a tube down into the stomach to remove the gasses. If the tube cannot get into the stomach to relieve the pressure, a large needle may be inserted into your dog’s stomach to relieve the pressure.

Once your dog is stabilized, surgery will most likely need to be performed, for several reasons:

  • to determine the health of the stomach and surrounding organs. These may have been damaged during the volvulus, and if so the damage will need to be removed. Note that if this is the case, chances for survival are diminished, and you may want to consider euthanasia instead.
  • to reorient the stomach in the proper position.
  • to stitch the stomach in a way to prevent reoccurrence (this type of surgery is called gastropexy). If this is not done, your dog will almost certainly experience bloat again.

Unfortunately, even with the treatments described above, your dog’s chances for survival are not all that good. It is estimated that 25% to 30% of dogs given treatment for gastric dilation - volvulus will die.

To increase the chance for survival if your dog experiences bloat or gastric volvulus, there are several things you can do:

  • Become familiar with the early signs of bloat, and be ready to contact your veterinarian as soon as you suspect a problem.
  • Develop a good working relationship with your vet, just in case he is needed in an emergency.
  • Avoid stresses for your dog while she is eating. Sometimes a dog will eat much faster if they think their food supply may be in jeopardy.

Bloat or Gastric Torsion, or Gastric Dilation - Volvulus, by whichever name you call it, is a serious, life threatening condition that affects mainly large dogs with deep chests, but no dog is immune. Early recognition and prompt treatment will greatly increase the likelihood of survival.

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