Signs, Symptoms & Causes of Bloat in Dogs

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Though it may sound simple, bloat is a very serious, life-threatening condition in dogs. In this lesson you'll learn what bloat is, what causes it to happen, and what to look for in your dog.

What Is Bloat?

Have you ever heard someone talk about a dog 'flipping' its stomach? It sounds pretty wild, right? The medical term for this is gastric dilatation-volvulus, otherwise known simply as 'bloat.' Bloat in dogs is a very serious, life-threatening emergency that needs to be treated immediately.

Bloat is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary care.
veterinarian with dog

With bloat, the dog's stomach fills with air, expanding and creating a buildup of pressure (the 'gastric dilatation' part). This pressure stops blood flow and sends the dog into shock. The 'volvulus' part is where the stomach does actually flip, and flipping along with it are the pancreas and spleen. When the pancreas doesn't get enough oxygen it produces toxins, some of which are deadly to the dog even if the bloating itself is treated. For example, one of these toxins travels to the dog's heart and stops it cold.

By now you can see how dangerous bloat is. But what causes bloat? And how do you know if your dog needs to be treated for it?

Causes of Bloat

Let's start first with the causes of bloat. There are certain dogs that are more likely to experience bloat than others. Dogs with very deep chests, like boxers, Great Danes, Weimaraners, and poodles, are at a higher risk than shorter dogs that have a smaller height to width ratio (their height is not much greater than their width). However, all dog breeds and mixed breed dogs can get bloat.

Dogs that have deep chests have a higher risk of getting bloat.

Dogs that are only fed one meal per day, as opposed to two or three, are also more likely to get bloat. How fast the dog eats is yet another factor. My dog has a small height to width ratio, but she inhales her food as if it's her last meal (every time!), so I have to keep an eye on her after she eats because of how quickly she ingests her food.

Age, gender, and family history play a role as well. Older dogs are more likely to get bloat than younger ones, males have a higher risk than females, and dogs that have a sibling that has had bloat are also more likely to get bloat themselves. If your dog has a foreign object in its stomach, this also increases the risk of bloat.

Dogs that are fed multiple times a day and that eat slower are at a reduced risk for bloat.
dog eating from a bowl

You may hear that both putting the food bowl on the floor as well as elevating it can reduce the risk of bloat. However, the jury is still out on how/if the height of the meal plays a role in bloat. One thing that is known is that dogs that get regular, moderate exercise have a reduced risk of bloat. So make sure your pup gets that daily walk!

Symptoms of Bloat

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog it may have bloat, and it's imperative that you get to a vet as soon as possible.

  • Bloated, enlarged abdomen
  • Trying to vomit but nothing comes up (called retching)
  • Dog looks at abdomen frequently
  • Excessive drooling
  • Straining to use the bathroom
  • Whining, crying, groaning
  • Indicates abdomen is painful when pressed

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