The Bloat Issue - Prevention & Education
Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV), commonly called bloat, is a severe health complication for dogs. Sadly, many pet owners do not understand the risks of bloat until it is too late. Pet Insurance Australia catches up with the experts to discover the breeds most at risk and how pet owners can take simple steps to prevent their dogs from succumbing to this life-threatening condition.
“GDV or bloat is caused when a dog’s stomach becomes twisted when filled with food, fluid, or gas,” Nadia Crighton from Pet Insurance Australia says. “It can often come on very quickly and cause a terrifying emergency for dog owners; as a pet owner myself with first-hand experience of this condition, it is vital pet owners understand the dangers of bloat and put in place basic preventative measures.”
A common reason for bloat can be due to a tendency of dogs to eat too quickly and then exercise after mealtimes. Large breed dogs and those with deep chests are more likely to suffer from this condition. However, all dogs can suffer from bloat at any age and breed. From 2022 to 2023, Pet Insurance Australia noticed a 100% increase in bloat-related claims, which tend to peak from May to August.
“Dogs do tend to eat more during the colder months, and this could be one explanation for the increase during the winter periods,” Crighton says. “Bloat can also be very expensive for pet owners – with the highest claims around the $13,000 mark.”
“Our data shows that larger deep-chested breeds are most at risk, with the Great Dane being the most suspectable to the condition. Dogs in puppyhood are also most likely to suffer from GDV, and this highlights the importance of slowing their feeding down and restricting excitement and exercise after feeding.”
What Do The Vets Say?
Dr Rebbecca Wilcox is passionate about the health of our pets. Dr Bec is a Melbourne-based practising veterinarian and academic with a special interest in the role of the gut microbiome on health, prevention of antibiotic resistance, clinical trials to develop new veterinary medicines, evidence-based medicine, and animal welfare. She blogs on animal health at www.drbecvet.com
“There are causes of bloat that cannot be mitigated, such as dog breed and genetic propensity. However, rapid eating, one important cause, can be addressed. When dogs eat rapidly, they swallow a lot of food and air (which is called aerophagia),” she says. “This air distends the stomach, causing it to blow up like a balloon, and in many cases, twist around itself and cause the life-threatening bloat and gastric dilatation volvulus or GDV.”
How important is a quick diagnosis with GDV?
“I cannot overstate how critical early diagnosis is,” Dr Bec stresses. “Unfortunately, we often see dogs when they have gone into shock and collapsed because the distended and twisted stomach has cut off blood supply to vital organs and put pressure on the chest cavity and compressed the lungs.”
Bloat is an emergency and, in early cases, if twisting hasn’t occurred, may be treated without surgery.
“Much of the time, we do need to perform an emergency surgery which is lifesaving. It’s critical to understand the risk factors for your dog and the early signs of bloat and know where your nearest vet is, or if after hours, emergency centre.”
Are you seeing any increases in bloat cases?
“Anecdotally, it appears there may be more cases, generally in medium to large breed dogs. That said, smaller dogs can hoover their food just as fast, and develop bloat, and there are some dietary contributors too. More people have dogs, with greater uptake in pet insurance, giving us better data, and the range of food available to pet parents has exploded.”
Some of these foods may not be ideal in composition, which is exacerbated in dogs that eat rapidly and/or have other predisposing traits.
“We are also seeing a lot of anxiety in dogs, and this is an established risk factor for GDV. This anecdotal observation needs to be researched, to validate and quantify the problem.”
As pet parents, we need to understand the factors that contribute to bloat so we can address those that can be modified, such as:
- Giving frequent small meals (not one meal a day).
- Not feeding from elevated food bowls.
- Reducing stress.
- Managing any underlying gut disease with a veterinarian.
- Considering a stomach stapling procedure (gastropexy) that won’t stop stomach distension but will stop the fatal twisting. This is often performed at desexing, the caveat being that large and giant breed dogs are often desexed later than smaller breeds, delaying this preventative procedure.
- Avoiding vigorous exercise around mealtimes.
- Feeding an appropriate diet; and
- Slowing pups’ eating down.
Slowing rapid feeding is an easy factor to modify and provides behavioural enrichment for dogs, which is helpful, too when so many pups suffer from anxiety.
“Bloat is a heart-breaking, excruciating, and often fatal condition. It is very costly to treat, with no guarantees of survival. Even with life-saving surgery, we may lose up to 28% of dogs. We must do all we can to prevent it in the first place.
If your dog has an enlarged belly, is retching but not bringing anything up, is drooling, is agitated, pacing, looking at their belly, or is weak or collapsed, please get them to the vet immediately.
“One other sign I always worry about is a sudden refusal to eat, especially in these record-holding speed eaters,” she says. “Even if you’re not sure, it’s much better to be safe!”
The good news for pet owners is that you can drastically reduce the chances of your pet succumbing to this harrowing and deadly illness with a bit of consideration.
“It’s important right from puppyhood to ensure your pet does not gulp their food,” Crighton says. “The great news is there are now some wonderful products on the market that can make food time slow and enjoyable.”
Ryan O’Neill-Fong, the creator of Super Feedy – a specially designed feeding bowl to help reduce the risk of bloat agrees that education around this topic is critical to allow pet owners to understand the risks associated with fast eating. Super Feedy was created from first-hand experiences with bloat.
“The topic of bloat prevention, it’s so important for all dog owners to be aware of. While large, deep-chested breeds are indeed more prone to bloat; it’s essential to remember that any dog can be affected. We’ve seen it first-hand with our own Cocker Spaniel, Marley. So, this advice applies to all dog parents out there,” he says. “When it comes to recognising the symptoms of bloat, it’s all about paying attention to your furry friend’s behaviour.”
Prevention is key. Slowing your pet’s eating habits and offering smaller meals a few times per day can assist the digestive systems of your dog and not overload their stomach with large meals.
“Remember to be mindful of exercise, too,” Ryan says. “Avoid intense physical activity right after or before a meal.”
Symptoms of Bloat include:
- Excessive drooling
- A hard, swollen belly.
These subtle cues can be early indicators that something is not quite right. Vomiting is often the first sign of dog bloat. Emergency veterinary treatment is paramount if you suspect your dog is suffering from bloat.
Top 10 Large Breeds Affected – Bloat – PIA claims data 2022-23
- Great Dane
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- St Bernard
- Dogue De Bordeaux
- Chow Chow
- German Shepherd
- Alaskan Malamute
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
Top 5 Medium/Small Breeds – Bloat – PIA claims data 2022-23
- Staffordshire Terrier