Bloat In Dogs


BLOAT can kill a dog in hours and is extremely painful!
It is ALWAYS an EMERGENCY situation!

Tyler on the Bridge

Dedicated to Tyler and all the dogs who have died from bloat.

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or bloat, is a serious, life-threatening condition of large breed dogs. Deep chested dogs such as German Shepherd Dogs are particularly at risk.

Bloating of the stomach is often related to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present). It usually happens when there’s an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach (“gastric dilatation”).

Stress can be a contributing factor also. Bloat can occur with or without “volvulus” (twisting). As the stomach swells, it may rotate 90° to 360°, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum (the upper intestine). The twisting stomach traps air, food, and water in the stomach. The bloated stomach obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs. The combined effect can quickly kill a dog.


Bloated dog getting ready for surgery. The stomach doesn't always fill up like this. Know your dog! Be safe; don't wait!

Bloated dog getting ready for surgery. The stomach doesn’t always fill up like this. Know your dog! Be safe; don’t wait!

Typical symptoms often include some (but not necessarily all) of the following, according to the links below. Unfortunately, from the onset of the first symptoms you have very little time (sometimes minutes, sometimes hours) to get immediate medical attention for your dog. Know your dog and know when it’s not acting right.

● Attempts to vomit (usually unsuccessful); may occur every 5-20 minutes. This seems to be one of the most common symptoms & has been referred to as the “hallmark symptom.”

● Doesn’t act like usual self. Perhaps the earliest warning sign & may be the only sign that almost always occurs.

● Significant anxiety and restlessness. One of the earliest warning signs and seems fairly typical.

● ” Hunched up” or “roached up” appearance. This seems to occur fairly frequently.

● Bloated abdomen that may feel tight (like a drum). Despite the term “bloat,” many times this symptom never occurs or is not apparent.

● Pale or off-color gums. Dark red in early stages, white or blue in later stages.

● Lack of normal gurgling and digestive sounds in the tummy. Many dog owners report this after putting their ear to their dog’s tummy.

● Coughing

● Unproductive gaggingbloat x-ray

● Heavy salivating or drooling

● Foamy mucous around the lips, or vomiting foamy mucous

● Unproductive attempts to defecate

● Whining

● Pacing

● Licking the air

● Seeking a hiding place

● Looking at their side or other evidence of abdominal pain or discomfort

● May refuse to lie down or even sit down

● May attempt to eat small stones and twigs

● Drinking excessively

● Heavy or rapid panting

● Shallow breathing

● Cold mouth membranes

● Apparent weakness; unable to stand or has a spread-legged stance. Especially in advanced stage.

● Accelerated heartbeat. Heart rate increases as bloating progresses.

● Weak pulse

● Collapse

Akir after life-saving bloat surgery. He was back to normal very quickly.

Akir after life-saving bloat surgery. He was back to normal very quickly.

PREVENTION: Because no one understands the cause of bloat, there is no real way to prevent it. However, there are indications that following a few simple measures may help.

Above all, remember –
Bloat is an emergency situation in which TIME is the key to successful management.


  1. Simethicone (store brand-Phazyme) should be kept in your cabinet at all times. It is an anti-gas pill that can help to buy your vet some time should you think your dog is bloating. It may even stop the bloat if in the beginning stages. If you wait too long, the dog will not be able to swallow the pill. Make sure you tell your vet you have given the pills.
  2. Don’t exercise your dog heavily 1 hour before or 1-2 hours after eating.
  3. Avoid single large meals. Instead, feed 2-3 small meals a day.
  4. Don’t let your dog drink large quantities of water at one time.

Studies have shown significant new findings including the importance of what you feed your dog and, surprisingly, that raised dog bowls are related to an increase in bloat also. Purdue University did a study that which indicates that raising your dog’s bowl may actually increase your dog’s chance of getting bloat by as much as 100% or more!

Risk Factor Relative Risk Interpretation
Age in years 1.20 20% increase in risk for each year increase in age
Chest depth/width ratio(1.0 to 2.4)  2.70 170% increase in risk for each unit increase in chest depth/width ratio
First degree relative with GDV (yes vs. no) 1.63 63% increase in risk associated with having a first degree relative with GDV
Using a raised feed bowl
(yes vs. no)
2.10 110% increase in risk associated with using a raised food bowl
Speed of eating (1-10 scale) [for Large dogs only] 1.15 15% increase in risk for each unit increase in speed of eating score for large dogs

Table from Purdue University


Studies are shedding more light on Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), otherwise known as bloat. It is the second leading cause of death in large-breed and giant-breed dogs. GDV strikes suddenly and has a mortality rate as high as 30%.

Research primarily at Purdue University has identified a number of feeding management and dietary factors that increased the risk of GDV. Following are some of the Study recommendations:

● Feed two or more meals a day

● Feed no more than one cup per 33 lbs of body weight per meal when feeding two meals

● Feed an energy-dense diet to reduce volume but avoid a diet where a high amount of calories are from fats

● Feed a variety of different food types, the inclusion of human foods in a dry dog food diet was associated with a 59% decreased risk while canned pet foods was associated with a 28% decreased risk

● When feeding dry food also include foods with sufficient amounts of meats and meat meals, ie: beef, lamb, poultry and fish

● Fat should not be listed in the first four label ingredients, nor should corn

● Citric acid should not be used as a preservative

● Feed a food with larger particles and include larger pieces of meat to the diet

● Avoid moistening dry foods, but don’t restrict water intake before and after feedingbrake fast bowl

● Reduce a rapid speed of eating (Note from GSRNE: Try using a Brake-fast bowl, spreading the kibble on the floor or on a cookie sheet, or splitting up the food into muffin tins to slow the dog’s eating)

● Avoid raising the food bowl

● Minimize stressful events

● Restrict vigorous exercise one hour before and two hours after meals

Learn to recognize signs of GDV. They can progress rapidly to shock and death. Get to your veterinarian or emergency hospital the moment you suspect GDV.

Other sources: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

This information is not intended to replace advice or guidance from veterinarians or other pet care professionals.  It is simply being shared as an aid to assist you with your own research on this very serious problem. As a GSD owner, we strongly urge you to become familiar with this threat.


Below is an article by Laura DiDio, one of our members, documenting her experience with bloat. All 3 of the current Board of Directors (2011) had dogs that bloated. We urge you to educate yourself with hope that this information may save your dog’s life if needed.

Fast Response, Immediate Medical Attention and Surgery are Key to Survival

The ability to recognize symptoms, respond quickly and seek immediate medical attention and surgery are absolutely essential to helping our German Shepherd Dogs survive Bloat.

Large dogs with big, deep chests are especially prone to this condition. Veterinarians say that Bloat most often affects older dogs, 7 to 12 years, but dogs of any age can succumb to it. Most doctors will say that dogs have a 50-50 chance of surviving Bloat if you seek treatment within an hour.

“Gastric Dilatation Vovulus” (GDV), aka Bloat, is potentially life threatening.

I’ve heard many stories from GSRNE members discussing their experiences. It helped me to act fast when my 12 ½ year old Vixen was stricken on Saturday evening, July 23rd. The onset was sudden. Vixen and Gunner, my 7 year old male GSD, had eaten their dinner as usual.

8:30 p.m.: I gave Vixen and Gunner about three ounces each of some finely cut steak-they ate it off the same plate on my coffee table (so it was elevated) as they had done hundreds of times before.

8:45 p.m.: I let both dogs out in my fenced in yard.

8:55 p.m.: It’s a warm, humid night and Gunner, who doesn’t like the heat, scratches to come in after 10 minutes. Vixen is nowhere to be seen. I call her repeatedly but there’s no response. I get my flashlight and check under my deck. Sure enough Vixen is on the far end. She looks uncomfortable. I call for her to come. She stays put. This is very unusual; she’s an obedient dog. I raise my voice shouting for her to come. After a couple of minutes, she comes. I grab her and she just lies on her side on the lawn. I run into the house, get her collar and leash and bring her in; she lies down in the corner. There are no obvious signs of bloat at this point. Her stomach is not distended or tender, her breathing is not labored, and Vixen is not foaming at the mouth or trying to vomit. Nonetheless, I’m convinced she’s having a Bloat attack because of how quickly this came on and the fact that she went to hide in a dark, quiet place. I decide I’m taking her to Tuft’s Veterinary Clinic which is less than six miles away.

9:05 p.m: I get dressed, put Gunner in the yard and phone my neighbors, John and Chris, to tell them I’m taking Vixen to Tufts and ask them to let Gunner in once I leave. They rush over and volunteer to go with me, but I say I’m fine. John gets Vixen into the back seat.

9:15 p.m.: There’s very little traffic but I exceed the 30 and 35 mph speed limit along the local streets. Vixen is quiet in the back.

9:25 p.m.: I arrive at Tufts and get Vixen out. In the approximately 15 minutes it took me to drive six miles, Vixen’s abdomen is distended. The vets come right out, put her on a gurney and take X-rays.

9:35 p.m.: The vets confirm the Bloat diagnosis; Vixen’s stomach is twisted. They have already inserted a stomach tube to relieve the pressure; they have also administered IV fluids and pain medication. Vixen is responding well, they say. Surgery is needed. The estimated cost is $3,000 to $4,000. Tufts is a non-profit hospital and requires 75% payment up front. The vets give Vixen a 50% chance of survival (Note from GSRNE: this is a common diagnosis from vets since each case is different. Most dogs that we know that have bloated have survived, though not all have.)

12:15 a.m.: The head of Tufts ER calls me to say that Vixen’s surgery was successful and she’s resting comfortably in ICU. Because she was in the early stages of Bloat there was no damage to any of the major organs. There was minor tissue damage to the spleen, so they removed it. The surgeons also performed a gastroplexy: sewing Vixen’s stomach to the abdominal wall so she won’t Bloat again.

9:15 a.m.: I get a call from the Tufts ICU. Vixen is bleeding internally and her heart rate has dropped. Bloat can impair the dog’s ability to coagulate blood. They rush Vixen into a second surgery and remove 1.5 liters of fluid from her abdomen. Miraculously she survives and is given a blood transfusion and IV fluids. I visit her in the afternoon and she’s groggy but knows I’m there.

Vixen remained at Tufts for four days. She required a second blood transfusion. Upon her arrival home, she gets plenty of rest. I feed her four small meals of 4 to 6 ounces of food a day for the first five days. To overcome her anemia, I feed Vixen a diet high in protein and fiber: beef liver, beef hearts, chicken, steak, sweet potatoes and brown rice. I take her on short walks in the backyard.

Vixen recovers rapidly. The sutures are removed 10 days after surgery and Vixen’s healed well. Blood tests confirm that everything is back to normal.

Vixen survived Bloat because, thanks to GSRNE, I was well aware of this condition. If your GSD begins acting strangely and you suspect Bloat, don’t wait! Get to the nearest veterinary hospital as quickly as you can. Insist on X-rays to confirm Bloat. Surgery is expensive. Depending on the clinic and the severity of the dog’s condition, and whether or not follow-up surgery and services are needed, you can expect it to cost from $2,000 to $8,000. Immediate medical attention is a must. Dogs that survive Bloat surgery have an excellent chance to make a full recovery.


Recommendations on Preventing Bloat

There are many potential causes for Bloat. And no matter how careful we are and how well we care for our GSD companions, the threat of Bloat is ever-present. Since our GSDs can’t talk, they rely on us to be observant and recognize when something is not right. In the early stages of bloat there is not much to see: the dog may just look funny or uncomfortable without presenting any specific symptoms. You know your dog and its habits best. Trust your instincts. If you think something is amiss, don’t wait for the situation to resolve itself, get to the nearest veterinary clinic. Not all vet clinics are equipped to perform surgery, so ask your vet to advise you on the closest Emergency Animal Hospital with 24-hour service.

Not all dogs will need surgery. If the stomach does not twist you may be able to resolve the issue with over-the-counter medication such as GasX or Maalox Gas based on your vet’s recommendation. However, only an examination by a qualified vet followed by X-rays can absolutely confirm whether or not the dog’s stomach has twisted and whether they will require surgery. There have been many tragic instances where an inexperienced owner or vet has given the dog an anti-gas medication only to have the stomach twist and the dog die hours later.

Finally-and this is a sensitive issue-in these tough economic times, not everyone will be able to afford to spend several thousand dollars for lifesaving Bloat surgery. Cost will vary according to your area and specific circumstances associated with your dog’s Bloat condition. Generally speaking you can expect to pay from $2,000 to as much as $8,000 (if more than one surgery is necessary or if the dog needs blood transfusions).

Some owners will face the heart wrenching choice of euthanizing their beloved companions because they lack the funds. If your GSD is young and healthy, you may want to consider purchasing pet insurance. Or, if you don’t have pet insurance and are short on funds but can’t bear the thought of euthanizing your dog, talk to your Vet or the people in the Accounting department of the Veterinary Clinic. Get a CareCredit credit card for no interest emergencies.

While there’s no guarantee, many of the larger Veterinary Clinics and Hospitals in major cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, etc. do have special discretionary funds that allow them to waive a large portion of the bill or forgive the entire bill for special, extenuating circumstances or extreme hardship cases. This is the exception rather than the rule, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Be honest and upfront with your Vet; most will work with you and help if they can.

Adhering to these simple common sense practices listed above will help to minimize the chances of Bloat.

Below are links to articles on Bloat.

Canine Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat)
Research from Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine

Dietary Risk Factors for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat) in 11 Large and Giant Breeds: A Nested Case-Control Study  Latest findings from Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine

Bloat – the life threatening canine emergency
Overall summary emphasizing high-risk factors

Bru used a Thundershirt to keep from licking his stitches after his Bloat surgery.

Bru used a Thundershirt to keep from licking his stitches after his Bloat surgery.



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