Bloat in dogs

Bloat in dogs

  • Bloat is one of the most serious emergencies in dogs that vets face
  • The life-threatening condition can kill a dog within hours without treatment
  • It causes the stomach to distend and twist, cutting off the blood supply and filling it with air
  • Symptoms include a swollen tummy, retching and signs of pain and distress and it is vital to get your pet to the vet immediately
  • Large breeds with big chests and dogs that are older or overweight are most at risk
  • It is rare, though, especially among breeds without a genetic predisposition to bloat
  • Steps dog owners can take to help prevent bloat include spreading meals across the day

What is bloat in dogs?

Bloat is a medical emergency and one of the most rapidly life-threatening conditions that vets treat in dogs. It involves the stomach but can quickly lead to life threatening shock if left untreated. But it is rare; Blue Cross has operated on 14 dogs with bloat in the four years between 2013 and 2017.

When bloat happens, the stomach fills with gas and often twists in a way that it cuts off the blood supply to the gut and stops gas and food from leaving. It can also make the spleen twist and lose circulation, and block vital veins in the back that transport blood to the heart.

Bloat is immensely painful for dogs and it can kill in a matter of hours without veterinary intervention, so it’s important that pet owners know the signs and ways to help prevent it. The condition is also known, more scientifically, as gastric dilatation-volvulus.

What are the symptoms of bloat in dogs?

Symptoms can appear quickly, and will usually include one or more of the following:

  • A swollen, hard belly
  • Retching but not able to vomit
  • Drooling
  • Pain in the abdomen when touched
  • Other signs of distress such as panting and restlessness

What should I do if I think my dog has bloat?

Take your dog straight to the vets. Bloat is a veterinary emergency, and minutes can make a difference to your pet’s chances of survival.

How will my vet treat bloat?

There are other potential emergencies that present the same symptoms of bloat, so a scan may be done first of all to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment will then be needed immediately.

Your vet will first release the build-up of gas and air inside the stomach to stop the tissue in the stomach from dying and take pressure off surrounding organs. This can be done using a tube and stomach pump, but surgery is sometimes needed. It’s possible to untwist the gut at this point as well, but not always.

At the same time intravenous fluids will need to be given to reverse the shock and slow down the heart rate to prevent heart failure. This will often require strong painkillers, antibiotics and medicine to correct the loss of blood flow to the heart caused by bloat.

If a dog can be made stable after this initial treatment, it will need surgery to repair the damage to the stomach, which will involve removing any tissue that is dying due to the cut off in blood supply.  There is a high risk that dogs that have suffered from bloat will have further attacks and so usually during the operation vets will try to fix the stomach to the body wall so that it can’t twist again ( an operation known as a gastropexy).

Are certain breeds more prone to developing bloat?

Any dog can suffer bloat but larger breeds with deep chests, such as great danes, St Bernards, weimaraners, German shepherds and Labradors are particularly susceptible. In breeds at risk a preventative gastropexy is sometimes recommended at a young age.

slow feeder bowl
Slow feeder bowls may help prevent bloat as they stop dogs eating so fast.


How do I prevent bloat in my dog?

The causes of bloat are not really understood. It’s thought that feeding little and often may make it less likely and sticking to lower fat food is also recommended.  It’s also advised to avoid strenuous exercise after feeding. Eating rapidly is another risk factor, so it is a good idea to consider using a slow feeding bowl if your dog is a fast eater. Overweight and very underweight dogs are also more susceptible to bloat, so maintaining a healthy weight is also important.

— Page last updated 22/03/2024