So You Think You Know Bloat?

Mojo looks into the distanceI had planned a different post for this week, but a message I received changed my mind. It was from the owner of a dog who had bloated, and died. The woman blamed herself for not recognizing the symptoms sooner and getting her dog to the emergency vet faster. The sad truth is that it could happen to anyone, and besides, many dog owners have never even heard of bloat. Millions of dogs die from bloat every year, and there’s more to it than the “usual” symptoms. And so, below is a re-sharing of my original blog on the subject from a few years ago, when my soul dog Mojo was still alive. (That’s him in the photo.) Please share this potentially life-saving information with others.

So You Think You Know Bloat?

I thought I did. It’s the second leading cause of death among dogs, after all. I knew that a potentially fatal thing can happen when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and fluid, and that it’s often accompanied by gastric torsion—a twisting of the stomach. If the dog isn’t given emergency veterinary treatment in time, he will die. Bloat happens most often to deep-chested breeds, although the cause is still largely unknown. The warning signs include a stomach that’s bloated and hard, and dry heaving without the ability to vomit.

Well, that was the extent of my knowledge until a few short weeks ago when my own dog Mojo bloated. It was late afternoon on the Friday leading up to Memorial Day weekend. (There seems to be an unwritten rule that dog emergencies happen on holiday weekends and whenever else your vet is closed.) Mojo, my now 14 ½-year-old German shepherd/Rottie/Malamute/wolf mix, began pacing and whining. He vomited a little bit of white, foamy-looking stuff. I called the emergency vet, as my regular vet was already gone. The receptionist, after consulting with the vet on duty, told me to simply fast Mojo for twelve hours. Ten minutes later my husband came home from work and I told him what had happened, and that I was worried. As we were speaking, Mojo went outside and spewed a huge amount of that same white foam. We immediately rushed him to the nearest emergency clinic.

A tech took Mojo to the back room to be examined by the one vet on duty, who was busy trying to save another dog who was also having a very bad start to his weekend. The vet came out and told us that Mojo had bloated. I was floored—bloat had never even entered my mind. After all, he hadn’t been dry heaving; he’d actually been vomiting. But he was bloated, gastric torsion and all, and we were told that if emergency surgery was not performed immediately, he would die. The fee they quoted us was incredibly high and, as they warned, the aftercare was going to be very difficult. And he was fourteen-and-a-half. His chances of making it through the surgery were 50/50. Were we sure we wanted them to try to save him? Of course we were!

It was a very long and very difficult weekend, but thank goodness, Mojo pulled through. The first 72 hours after bloat surgery are critical, as many dogs develop heart arrhythmias during that time and die. Did I mention how long and difficult the weekend was? The following weeks involved, as promised, plenty of aftercare, but as my husband said, “He’s the Mighty Mojo Man, he’s a fighter.”

In the course of telling some of my dog training clients about the experience, I was shocked to realize how little people actually know about bloat. Most I spoke to hadn’t even heard of it. I am now on a mission to inform as many of my clients (as well as dog owners I encounter) about bloat, including the common warning signs, as well as the not-so-common ones.

Mojo is laying at my feet as I finish typing this. He seems very happy to be at home where he surely must know how lucky and how loved he is.

July 2013 Note: My apologies for not including more detailed information on the warning signs in the original re-post. It had included a few links which I believe no longer had the most up-to-date information, and I deleted them. Here are a couple of links to more information. These are just a few. Googling “canine bloat” will bring up more for you to research.

http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/gastric-volvulus-bloat-dogs-life-threatening-emergency
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ffm5WCtl94 (video: makes the excellent point that you should know what your dog’s belly feels like normally, so you’ll know if it becomes hard/distended.)
http://www.caninejournal.com/canine-bloat

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26 Responses to So You Think You Know Bloat?

  1. Michelle says:

    I am glad that U were able to save Ur dog. my Keisha got bloat at age 16 and the Vet said that her heart prob couldn’t take the stress. She had other health issues also. So I made the hardest(but easiest due to the bloat) decision of my life and put her to sleep.

    • wildewmn says:

      I’m so sorry about Keisha, Michelle. I know how difficult that is, when we have to do the last kind thing for our dogs.

  2. Pam McQuade says:

    Our dog Abner bloated. It was the hardest way to lose a dog that I have ever experienced. In a short time you go from a seemingly healthy dog to a dog who’s no longer living. Abner was only 10, but he had inoperable cancer. I could not put him through more surgery, though the ER vet was not discouraging us from it. When I talked to our vet, she told us we made the right decision. It’s been years, but I still feel bad for Abs.

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have always been paranoid about my dog getting bloat so it is good to know that there are “lesser known” symptoms to be aware of.

  4. Dianne says:

    Thanks for posting this again, Nicole! Your re-post just reminded me to print out driving directions to the nearest emergency vet while we’re on vacation, just in case.

  5. Kim Deming says:

    Going to have to go look up bloat and educate myself. This sounds like something I need to be aware of.

  6. Maggi Burtt says:

    I was at a client’s cottage, enjoying a drink on the dock with the hostess when the husband came down and said their doberman was “acting strange”. The dog was up on his toes, panting and pacing. I immediately checked his belly, it was tight. His colour in his gums was okay but not great. He and his owners got in the truck and the daughter and I spent the next twenty minutes trying to find a veterinary hospital nearby that was open.
    He was triaged, a tube was put into his stomach through his ribs and then they drove him the hour and a half to Toronto for the surgery. He hadn’t fully torsed, thank god.
    It’s a scary thing.

  7. Saeed says:

    The cause of bloat is no secret…. it is simply due to unnatural feeding/kibble feeding…..This can happen to any animal fed an unnatural diet. Sheep and cows have been known to die from bloat after eating too much corn/grains since they are grazers and their bodies was never designed to digest grains. The same concept applies to our dogs when we try to raise a carnivore on kibble diet. This is another reason why species appropriate diet (raw feeding) is so important.

    • wildewmn says:

      Saeed, veterinarians still do not have conclusive evidence about what causes bloat. This article covers some possible causes, or at least contributing factors such as being a deep-chested breed, vigorous exercise before or after eating, or drinking a large amount of water after eating: http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/gastric-volvulus-bloat-dogs-life-threatening-emergency. Of course, not all dogs who bloat fit this profile.

      • Denise Flora says:

        Thanks so much Nicole for this information. Around 12 or 13 years ago on a Saturday evening, my Collie that was 6 years old at the time died from bloat. I had never heard of it, so had no idea that she had it. She had the classic symptoms of pacing and dry heaving, but thought she just had an another upset tummy. She stopped the heaving and pacing and looked like she was beginning to feel better so we all went to bed. The next morning, I stayed home from church to be with her and am so glad that I did! She seemed to be feeling better so I sat down to watch TV. She came over to me, put her sweet head in my lap, then went under the table and laid down. I thought she was just sleeping, but when the program ended 1 hour later, I went over to her to pet and talk to her only to discover that she had died and was already stiff. I was shocked and very upset to say the least! When I got hold of my vet, he told me what had happened and that she would have only had a 50/50 chance even if I had gotten her to him. I still get weepy when I think about it, but am so glad that I was there so she could say goodbye! I will always miss and love my Wendy!

      • Tina B says:

        My Lab puppy started bloating shortly after he was neutered at 4 months. The only “common” contributing factor for him is the fact he’s a Labrador Retriever. At about 6 months of age he had to have emergency GDV surgery. He survived surgery, however he continued to bloat. He wasn’t on a very good kibble when he started bloating (my bad, just because a brand has a well known name, doesn’t mean it’s good for your dog). Since he bloated, he has ONLY had premium kibble and canned food. I believe there are many causes for bloat…with stress being his number one contributor. In my dog’s case, I believe I had him neutered at too young of an age AND he received his final puppy shots the same day. Also, the vet had difficulty finding one of his testicles, so surgery took longer, he had several incisions and was simply more stressful on my pup. (He healed perfectly from surgery…I just feel the stress contributed to the onset of his bloating soon after surgery.) My pup bloats during stressful times, one time he puffed up during a theraputic massage with a new technician, and he often bloats before eating as he sits waiting for his meal to be prepared. My pup just turned 4 years old this month, and it’s been 3 1/2 years since he began bloating. Easily he has bloated 100’s of times. Occasionally, he will still bloat and some days I wonder how his stomach does not explode because it’s holding so much air, thank goodness it’s tacked in place and can’t twist. I can usually “burp” him my patting his stomach or by using the acupressure point in his knee. About 2 months ago, I switched to raw feeding to see if that could help with the bloat…so far, so good…only minimal bloating with less frequency and he can burp himself without my assistance.

      • Pam says:

        This is true. Most vets still do not have conclusive evidence about what causes bloat, but those are the ones still selling food with corn, wheat and by-products in it, so they will take a while to catch up.

        However, there are vets in my area that have recognized that high-risk dogs for bloat should be on a raw diet. It’s just makes sense. If dogs get their moisture with their food (raw is about 80% moisture; kibble is 10%) then they have no need to drink large amounts of water after eating or otherwise – which is one of the contributing factors, right?

      • Sherry says:

        Dogs also chew and therefore eat things they shouldn’t no matter how careful we try to be about what they can get ahold of. My Dobe ate a sock and threw it up. The vet thought the force of vomiting up the sock caused the gastric torsion. I had not heard of bloat before this happened so I am glad I got him to the vet in time. The symptoms I noticed were mainly that he would not eat or drink and he wasn’t eliminating either.

  8. Alan F says:

    I hate to be the party pooper, but after reading this, we still don’t know much about bloat – like how to avoid it, or what causes it. Your story is heart-wrenching and has a happy ending, but more info would be helpful. I understand that one cause is exercising too close to feeding time, so I make my dog (a pit bull) rest and hour before and after eating.

    • wildewmn says:

      Alan, you’re certainly not pooping my party, but did you not see the links at the end of the article for further research? THere’s plenty more info there. 😉

  9. LisaT says:

    Saeed, it is not that simple. Raw fed dogs, eating a species appropriate diet, bloat too.

    White foamy vomit is common, but not all dogs that are bloating will have this symptom, and not all dogs that torsion actually bloat. It’s a terrible thing, and very scary.

    Nicole, I’m so glad your Mojo Man made it through!

  10. Angie says:

    My dog was not quite 7 when he bloated. It was several hours after he had eaten dinner and he had been fine all evening. He too started vomitting and it include the white frothy and even bile and a little grass he’d eaten. He NEVER looked bloated and he was relatively thin – he had had an intestinal bug a few years earlier and acted similarly so I was thinking something on those lines. He was very restless and I have learned that is the most important sign. I know about bloat, or thought I did which probably was my problem, He did not fit the classic picture. A few hours later(this started at 11 p.m.) we were on our way to the ER and he died in the car. It remains a very bad memory. I had a necropsy done since I still did not understand what had happened and found out it was bloat/torsion. I felt so guilty but after much reading I now am sure this will not catch me by surprise again. I try to ensure my dogs do not gulp their food, drink massives amounts of water after eating and most especially do not do heavy excercise one hour before or two hours after meals. Though they do not know what precipitates bloat these can be risk factors. Dillon was a GSD, thin and slightly anxious type who inhaled his food. A typical bloat patient.

  11. Rebecca Rice says:

    Warning: There are some graphic videos in this post, but I figure if it helps someone else see what bloat looks like, it’s better than not knowing.

    This is a video of an akita with bloat. The dog had just been dropped off with a foster family, and they were doing the “this is the day we got the dog” video, not knowing that the dog was in the initial stages of bloat when they got him. http://youtu.be/mrrB1ojgK7M

    In addition, it is apparently possible to get the torsion without bloating. An owner on a greyhound list I am on said that the only signs of bloat that their dog had was a general restlessness and inability to get comfortable. No distended belly, vomiting, etc. Although further reading leads me to think that there may have been distension, but that it was hidden up in the ribcage. This is apparently something that can happen with long-chested breeds, where the belly presses sideways against the ribs, so you don’t get the hard belly that is one of the classic symptoms of bloat. This video shows that: http://youtu.be/VG4fYmcNCdM Unfortunately, this dog did not survive.

    And, it is definitely possible to get the gastric distortion without having the stomach flip, so it is possible for the dog to still vomit, etc. Those cases need careful attention so that if the stomach does twist, they can be taken care of immediately. So… best to err on the side of caution and get the dog to a vet if it shows any signs of bloat.

  12. Hilda Spann says:

    I am a dog sitter and would like to know which breeds are deep chested….?

    • found this on another link:
      (ignore “bullet”, that happened when I copied. Looks like just about any dog could be at risk)

      Breeds At Greatest Risk

      Breeds most at risk according to the links below:

      bullet Afghan Hound
      bullet Airedale Terrier
      bullet Akita
      bullet Alaskan Malamute
      bullet Basset Hound
      bullet Bernese Mountain Dog
      bullet Borzoi
      bullet Bouvier des Flandres
      bullet Boxer
      bullet Bullmastiff
      bullet Chesapeake Bay Retriever
      bullet Collie
      bullet Dachshund
      bullet Doberman Pinscher
      bullet English Springer Spaniel
      bullet Fila Brasileiro
      bullet Golden Retriever
      bullet Gordon Setter
      bullet Great Dane
      bullet German Shepherd
      bullet German Shorthaired Pointer
      bullet Great Pyrenees
      bullet Irish Setter
      bullet Irish Wolfhound
      bullet King Shepherd
      bullet Labrador Retriever
      bullet Miniature Poodle
      bullet Newfoundland
      bullet Old English Sheepdog
      bullet Pekinese
      bullet Rottweiler
      bullet Samoyed
      bullet Shiloh Shepherd
      bullet St. Bernard
      bullet Standard Poodle
      bullet Weimaraner
      bullet Wolfhound
      bullet Sighthouds
      bullet Bloodhounds

  13. Dixie Duncan says:

    My mom lost her German Shepherd to Intestinal Twisting which is similar to bloat but without the symptoms. It is very common in German Shepherds and has a 90% reoccurrence rate once they have it once. I was a vet assistant for 6 years and train dogs and never knew this existed until my Mom’s dog died from it. We were drilled on bloat and the signs but not this. I’ve sent your blog to my mom and asked her to comment as well, she may or may not the pain is still overwhelming over losing a young dog so quickly. For more information on this go to: http://www.amysacres.com/docskingshepherd/twintest.htm or google and if you have a GSD ask your veterinarian about it during your next wellness exam. 😦 …In Memory of Alex.

  14. Thank you for this post. A family member lost a Great Dane to bloat. It is important to share this information.

  15. Rebekah says:

    Thank you for this post. Bloat is one of my big fears, and it is always helpful to be reminded of the symptoms.

  16. Thank you Nicole for writing your personal story with Mojo’s bloat experience… we agree with you about the need to continue education and alert all dog lovers of this emergent scenario. And as you have already mentioned, the causes of bloat are still up for debate although all dog lovers can still rely on their keen awareness of their dogs (you are your dogs primary health care coach!) and notice general changes (1. change in appetite 2. change in thirst 3. change in energy and 4. change in behaviour) and then add knowledge in assessing vital signs and circulation efficiency… all of which will be negatively affected by a bloat situation … and while the dog’s human won’t be able to know exactly if the reason is bloat, this potentially life-saving assessment will help the humans make the decision to transport immediately to a veterinarian.

  17. Beth says:

    I am so sorry to hear of everyone’s stories of bloating. I went through the same thing many years ago with my “Soul Dog” Cherokee. He suffered his whole life from it – he showed signs when he was younger than 1 yr (I thought he was having bad dreams and would start from a sound sleep) and through to approx. 12 yrs – He lived to the age of 14 1/2 yrs.
    Purdue University is a good source for more information on bloating. They were one of the 1st veterinary hospitals to look into/research Dog Bloating. I was lucky to have a vet that cared about him and pulled her hair out to help him (She said she had never gotten out her med books and researched as much as she did for him). He never went into full stomach torsion but suffered with *Every* meal. The routine was *1 Prescription I/D food, *2 Propulsid meds (which had been pulled after evidence in humans of heart trouble, I had to have the meds made special by a compound pharmacy), *3 Raised Feeding Bowls, *4 Half of a Gas X after every meal, *5 Burping when he was struggling, he would come sit by me to tell me he was in pain, *6 No exercise like mentioned above for 1 hour after every meal (this was hard bc he was always playing), *7 Made him a house dog bc he used to have a kennel outside and would jump and bark, letting in air to his stomach. All of this was the genius work of my vet to keep him alive and alleviate his pain as best as possible. Then just like Perdue said at 12 yrs, he just stopped bloating symptoms, I am still at a loss for this. He had a quiet life for the remaining 2yrs of his life.
    Now, I have a young dog (my 6th dog) who is suffering from severe allergies and goes to a holistic vet. Brodie suffers from Vaccinosis and I have been on this journey with him, trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. Many holistic vets are saying over-vaccinating a dog through its life could be a reason for bloat in many of the articles I have been reading. When I first read this, I cried because I thought of poor Cherokee.
    I relay this history because i love my dogs, they are just as much a part of my family as my human family are. We are their guardians, and often go above and beyond for them because of One Thing L-O-V-E. I hope this helps others…

  18. Wade McIntosh says:

    Have a rottie that had bloat he could not poop and could not throw up had to have surgery to fix the problem and his stomick was tacked. He is a serviver at 3 years now. If you see this TAKE THE DOG TO A VET…

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