Recently, we had a Bloat scare with one of our Homeward Bound dogs. We found that even some of our well-seasoned volunteers had little familiarity with Bloat. Once you have experienced it, you’re not likely to forget it.

When Bloat occurs, the stomach fills with gas, but without torsion (twisting) of the stomach. Gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV) occurs when there is torsion of the stomach blocking outflow and inflow, resulting in gas and bloating. Both can be life-threatening.

As the stomach enlarges, pressure grows resulting in difficulty breathing, reduced blood supply to vital organs and/or rupture of the stomach wall. The reduced breathing and blood flow compromises the entire body. Rotation of the stomach can cut off the blood supply to most abdominal organs. The spleen, liver, stomach and bowel are primarily affected. Pets can quickly go into shock. Even with immediate treatment, many dogs still succumb. Bloat and GDV are truly medical emergencies that every dog owner should be able to identify.

Initial signs of Bloat or GDV may include:

– an anxious look or looking at the abdomen
– standing and stretching
– excessive drooling
– distending abdomen
– retching without producing anything

As the condition progresses your dog may:

– begin to pant
– have pale gums, a cold body temperature and rapid heartbeat
– have increased abdominal distension
– be weak, want to lie down, or collapse

The odds of stabilization and survival are best when immediate veterinary care is sought. As the condition worsens, many secondary complications may occur as a result of reduced oxygen and blood to tissues and vital organs. The chance of survival diminishes with each passing minute.


Depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian may take an X-ray of the abdomen to assess the stomach’s position. The vet may try to decompress the stomach and relieve gas and fluid pressure by inserting a tube down the esophagus.

If the stomach has rotated, emergency surgery is necessary. Your vet may recommend that during this surgery, the dog’s stomach be permanently attached to the side of the abdominal cavity in order to prevent future episodes.


Bloat occurs most frequently in large-chested dogs, but it can occur in any dog. Risk factors include: rapid eating, eating one large meal daily, dry food-only diet, overeating, over drinking, heavy exercise after eating, fearful temperament, stress, trauma and abnormal stomach motility (movement).

Suggestions to reduce the risk of Bloat include:

– feed your dog smaller meals throughout the day to avoid eating too much or too fast
– avoid feeding your dog from a raised bowl unless advised to do so by your vet
– encourage normal water consumption
– limit strenuous exercise before and after meals
– maintain your dog’s appropriate weight

Hopefully, you and your dog will never be faced with this emergency. But by being armed with this knowledge, and sharing it with others, you greatly improve odds of successful treatment and survival.

Source: ASPCA and American College of Veterinary Surgeons