What Causes Dog Bloat and How to Treat and Prevent It

What Causes Dog Bloat and How to Treat and Prevent It

Dog bloat is a rapid onset condition that can be fatal. Here are the causes and some ways to prevent bloating in dogs.

Dog bloat is a deadly but also preventable condition that all pet parents should be aware of. Understanding what causes bloating in dogs will help you prevent it and know when it is happening, so you can address it quickly and effectively.

Dog bloat, also called gastric dilatation volvulus in more formal environments, can cause death within hours. It’s a relatively simple condition: bloat happens when your dog’s stomach fills with either gas or food. The stretched stomach then twists, trapping the gas and blocking off the blood supply.

It’s extremely painful and, unfortunately, there isn’t a very clear cause of the condition, which affects dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. But there are steps that pet owners can take to protect their animal from bloat and, if possible, get their dog treatment for this condition before it is fatal.

What Causes Dog Bloat

While there is no single cause for dog bloat, there are a few circumstances and conditions that make it more likely to happen:

  • Swallowing large amounts of air
  • Certain breeds are more prone to bloating in dogs
  • Feeding regularity may impact the chances of bloat
  • Age also increases the likelihood of dog bloat
  • Stress is another contributing factor

Swallowing Air Is a Primary Cause of Bloat

While dog bloat can be caused by consuming too much food or water and stretching the stomach that way, another very common cause is the swallowing of air. This might happen if your dog eats too quickly or exercises heavily immediately after a meal.

Genetics: Some Breeds Are More Likely to Experience Bloating

Certain breeds are clearly more prone to dog bloat, especially large and giant breeds such as Great Danes and Saint Bernards. It’s much more common in these breeds and there is also a genetic component – if a dog’s ancestors experienced bloating, they are much more likely to experience it themselves.

Feeding Schedule and Diet May Increase the Likelihood of Bloat

How often you feed your dog and what kind of food you feed to them can impact the likelihood that they will experience bloat. Dogs who are fed less regularly – once a day – are more likely to experience bloat because their stomach has more time to shrink between meals, then get stretched out during that singular feeding time.

The content of your dog’s food may also increase their chances of getting bloat. Rich foods, such as table scraps intended for humans, tend to cause gas in dogs which can result in this condition. A dog with a well-balanced diet, providing the right amounts of protein and fat, will be less likely to suffer from bloat.

A dog with drool coming out of its mouth

Older Dogs Are More Prone to This Condition

Dogs in their middle to senior years are more likely to experience bloat than puppies or young adult dogs. This may be because your dog’s ligaments and muscles around their stomach are less strong and more likely to stretch in later years, but veterinarians aren’t really sure. There is plentiful evidence, though, that older dogs are more likely to be impacted by this condition.

Stress Can Be a Contributing Factor in Dog Bloat

A stressed out dog is more likely to experience a number of health issues that a relaxed pet will be able to avoid. Feeling calm can help your pet in a number of ways. Dog bloat tends to be more prevalent in animals that are hyperactive and stressed because they are more likely to eat and drink quickly and in excess.

Signs Your Dog Is Experiencing Bloat

The symptoms and signs of bloating in dogs are readily recognizable and should be addressed immediately:

  • A distended stomach
  • Dry heaving or retching with no production
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing and high heart rate
  • Restlessness with pacing, drooling or panting
  • Bowel movements are an unreliable indicator of bloat

A Visibly Distended Stomach Can Be a Sign of Bloat

A distended or visibly bloated stomach may be a sign of dog bloat, but it can also indicate a lot of other conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome, ascites, or internal bleeding. If you notice this symptom in your dog, you should call the veterinarian immediately. It’s rare that a distended stomach isn’t an urgent issue in a pet.

Your Dog May Try to Throw Up With No Success

Dry heaving or retching is another common symptom in a bloating dog. Your dog will try to expel the contents of their stomach in an effort to clear their system and feel better, but because of the twist (or because the bloat is from gas, not food), they will not be able to produce anything. They may also drool excessively from nausea and discomfort.

Abdominal Pain and Cramping Are Another Common Sign of Bloat

Your dog will obviously be in severe pain if they are experiencing bloat. The ways this can manifest itself are variable, but your dog will likely communicate with you about their discomfort through whining, crouching, or being sensitive to touch around their abdominal area. You may even be able to see your dog’s stomach clenching.

Look Out for Labored Breathing and Rapid Heart Rate

If your dog is struggling to breathe, they are in trouble. This means the dog bloat has graduated to severe and your pet is struggling to manage the pain and discomfort. Difficulty breathing is often accompanied by a rapid heart rate, which you will be able to feel if you hold your hand against your dog’s chest.

Signs of Restlessness May Accompany Other Bloat Symptoms

A dog who is experiencing bloat might demonstrate various signs of restlessness, such as pacing, panting, or drooling. These are indicators of discomfort and stress from their condition. While these behaviors won’t indicate bloating by themselves, they might if accompanied with other symptoms on this list.

Will a Dog with Bloat Poop?

Generally, a dog with bloat will not be able to poop. If they do, it will be diarrhea and of small volume. But do not assume that because your dog has been able to have a bowel movement they are not experiencing bloat. This is not a good measure of your dog’s experience, and bloating in dogs is generally undiagnosable from just their bowel movements.

How to Prevent Bloating in Dogs

There are a few different precautions that owners can take to prevent bloating in dogs, especially if their pet is a breed predisposed to this condition:

An owner walking their dog outside with a leash

  • Feeding changes
  • Exercise scheduling
  • Monitoring water intake

Feeding Changes Can Help Prevent Dog Bloat

Your dog’s eating habits can play a vital role in their chances of experiencing bloat. You want your dog’s eating environment to be calm and relaxed to help them eat more slowly – meals shouldn’t be a frantic experience. Feed your dog two meals a day for the healthiest outcome. If your dog is still a fast eater, you might consider a specially designed slow-feeding bowl.

Also ensure the content of their food is meeting their nutritional needs and not causing excess gas. You may even consider talking to your veterinarian about a low-carbohydrate diet, which may help with bloat.

Pay Attention to When Your Dog Exercises in Relation to Meals

Strenuous exercise should be avoided in the one- to two-hour window immediately after meals. This invites excessive stretching of the stomach from both food and air intake, which is a prime recipe for dog bloat. Restrict your dog’s activity in relation to their meal times and save hard exercise for when their stomach is relatively empty.

Water Intake Is Also Important When Trying to Prevent Bloat

Similarly to the food rules, water shouldn’t be consumed in great quantities or too quickly – especially around meal times. The general idea is to avoid your dog’s stomach getting too full, too fast. Drinking water not only stretches the stomach but your dog likely intakes a lot of air if they are drinking water too quickly. If you notice them gorging themselves on water, take the bowl away for a little while to let them calm down. Always return it within short order, though, to ensure your pet stays hydrated.

Veterinarians Can Sometimes Treat Bloat If Given Enough Time

Dog bloat is a condition in which time is of the essence. It is possible for a veterinarian to treat bloating in dogs with surgery if they can get to the animal quickly enough, but it can be the difference of a few minutes when it comes to a bloated dog and life or death. Do not hesitate to take your dog to the emergency animal clinic if you think they are experiencing bloat, and take all necessary precautions to prevent this deadly condition.