Bloat In Labradors: What Are The Risks?

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As a Labrador owner, it is important to be aware of a frightening and potentially fatal condition called bloat.

Bloat in Labs occurs when the stomach of the dog becomes dangerously distended and even rotated.

It is potentially fatal, however there are things that you can do to help prevent it happening to your Labrador.

In this article we are going to look at what Labrador bloat is, the causes of canine bloat, possible ways to treat canine bloat, how to tell is your dog might be affected and which canine bloat preventative measures are actually effective.

Knowing what you are up against when it comes to bloat in Labs will enable you to be best placed to protect your Labrador. And to spot the signs that treatment is needed, before it is too late.

What Is Canine Bloat?

Canine bloat is a term used to describe gastric distension in dogs. This refers to a condition where the stomach swells in an abnormal way.

Find out what you need to know about bloat, and how to reduce the risk for your dogWhen gastric distention is accompanied by the twisting or rotating of the stomach itself.

This is known as ‘torsion’ or ‘volvulus’, and it’s a serious matter.

The medical term for this is Gastric Distention and Volvulus, and you may have heard to it referred to as GDV.

GDV is the condition we are particularly concerned with when we talk about bloat in Labs.

Labrador Twisted Stomach

marvin the mooseWhen GDV is present the dog’s swollen stomach rotates within the body, causing a twisting at either end.

Now the dog may no longer be able to vomit and the twisting, plus the pressure of the large stomach on other internal organs, sets in motion a chain of events which will end in the death of the dog is prompt veterinary treatment is not initiated.

Once blood supply and therefore oxygen has been cut off to your dogs stomach, cells begin to die. There is no coming back from this stage, so every minute counts when it comes to seeking medical attention.

Causes of Bloat in Labs

Some breeds are more susceptible to bloat than others, and unfortunately Labradors are fairly high up on this list.

Any dog can bloat, and the larger deeper chested dogs or middle age or older are the most susceptible.

The causes of bloat in Labs and other dogs are not certain. We do know that there is a genetic element and that bloat in dogs is more likely when a close family member has suffered from it.

Dogs that have recovered from bloat should not be bred from, not only to protect their own bodies but to reduce the likelihood of passing the tendency to suffer from this horrible condition onto future generations.

It is thought that overfeeding, over hydrating and exercising your dog too close to mealtimes could contribute to your dog suffering from bloat.

To understand this condition as best as we can, let’s look at the advice on how to prevent bloat in dogs and where this comes from.

How To Prevent Bloat In Dogs

There is a lot of advice out there regarding ways to prevent bloat in dogs, and some of it gives conflicting information.

The Kennel Club advices on their webpage on bloat that it could be caused by an increased amount of air being inhaled in anxious or over exercised dogs, or as a result of a diet which releases too much gas.

The AKC state in their webpage on bloat that it typically develops after a dog has eaten a large meal, had a big drink or exercised vigorously after eating.

Both of these pages acknowledge that we are unsure of the causes of bloat, and as such we can’t be sure how best to prevent it.

However, we do have some studies we can look to which give a clearer picture of some practical ways to prevent bloat which might make a very real difference.

A study of dogs that suffered from bloat was carried out at the Purdue University from 1998 to 2004, and found that there were two key factors to avoiding bloat.

Prevent Fast Eating In Labradors

Labradors are notoriously fast eaters, and so the risk of bloat from their feeding speed makes sense as a contributing factor.

slow-feederFortunately, there are things you can do to slow down his eating.

For kibble fed dogs there are bowls that you can purchase to help reduce the speed at which your Labrador downs his dinner.

These have raised bumps or mazes that your dog must navigate with his tongue in order to pick up the individual pieces.

Feed On Ground Level

When a dog stands to eat they put their head and body at an unnatural level, which may allow more air to be taken in during the process.

Raised feeders are popular for older and arthritic dogs, so you will need to discuss the potential pros and cons of these with your vets before making a decision. However, if your dog has no other medical ailments to consider, then it would be inadvisable to use a raised feeder due to the potential link with bloat.

The Purdue Study

The Purdue Study also found some types of dry dog food posed an increased risk of bloat. You can read a summary of the information here.

However, with the best will in the world you cannot be certain of preventing a condition. So we must be sure that you know the signs of bloat in dogs, and what to do next if you spot them.

So the KC and AKC’s advice makes sense, based upon what we knew before the Purdue Study was published, however the Purdue Study didn’t itself find any benefits to those practices.

Although it is worth bearing in mind that this was just a single study, and that reducing meal sizes, drink sizes and changing your exercise routines certainly isn’t going to do your dog any harm.

Signs Of Bloat In Dogs

Bloat in Labs can occur at any point in the day, so you should be vigilant for any signs of bloat in dogs at all times.

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Unlike many other Labrador stomach problems, bloat does not cause visible external symptoms like vomiting or an upset stomach, in fact a sign of bloat is the absence of your dog having been sick when he appears to need to be.

Symptoms of Bloat include the following:

  • Swollen stomach (distended to the sides)
  • Hard stomach
  • Retching (trying to vomit without success)
  • Distressed whining
  • Strange behaviour (hiding, shying away from your touch, biting at their stomach)
  • An inability to get comfortable

If your Labrador has a swollen stomach and appears to want to be sick but can’t, then you need to act immediately to save him.

Treating Bloat Quickly

Speed is of the essence when it comes to treating bloat. If your dog is retching or experiencing stomach pains, then don’t hesitiate.

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Take him to your veterinary surgery or nearest emergency vet care immediately. Get in the car, and use your car phone or get a friend to make the call whilst you are on your way. Don’t wait around, act.

Because treatment works best earlier on and the fatality rate of this condition is so high, it really is a case of better safe than sorry.

Any vet would rather see a Labrador who doesn’t have bloat dozens of times over, than miss one that does.

How To Diagnose Bloat In Dogs

Although you can spot visible signs of bloat in Labs without testing, your veterinarian will need to carry out a few procedures to be sure that this is the cause of his illness.

They will most likely take an x-ray to see whether the stomach is rotated, and then run a lactate test.

This will let them know whether cell death, or necrosis, has begun in earnest.

When it is advanced past a certain point there is no return for the dog, a moderate score will suggest some damage which may be reparable.

If the veterinarian believes that the dog can be saved, they will immediately begin treatment.

How To Treat Bloat In Dogs

Treat for bloat in Labs involves making sure that they are hydrated with IV fluids, and given something for the pain.

They may then undergo a surgical operation to empty the stomach of gas and fix the rotation so that the stomach is back in the correct position, and can’t twist again.

Methods of treating bloat can include first feeding a tube down their oesophagus and into the stomach to relieve the air pressure, or puncturing the stomach wall to decompress the air. But these are both also followed by surgery to fix the rotation.

I can’t stress enough that the quicker this surgery is carried out, the higher the likelihood of your dog surviving will be.

Have you had experience of bloat as a Labrador owner? Why not share your thoughts in the comments box below. 

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

12 COMMENTS

  1. this is quite an old thread, I hope Pippa will hear me, although I doubt there are on the spot and good answers:

    my male lab, 3.5 years, showed twice some symptoms near bloat; I’ve never checked the abdomen of the dog, just noticed he vomited almost all kiblle meal I gave him and it happened each time, after an intense period of exercising at about 1.5-2 hours after the meal!
    – the dog has one meal a day in the afternoon
    – the kibble meal is mixed with water
    – the bowl is raised
    all these above, are due to the advices I have received from the initial owner, a renown breeder in Hungary; say owner, not only breeder, because he gave me the dog at 2.5 years, fully trained and (hunting) skilled…

    well, I am considering (1) splitting the meal twice a day, (2) including some smaller qty of water mixed with the kibble and (3) putting the bowl on the floor;
    would these be OK, or better only to avoid exercising a couple of hours after the meal?

    amazingly, but the dog is eating always all, in a convenient time, but calmly enough (not like my previous lady lab I had…)

  2. I am confused here
    Some say floor feeding opposed to raised feeding and some are saying slower eating takes in more air too?
    I started feeding mine on a raised platform so his head and neck is not stretched hoping to make his gobbling up of his food done hopefully with less air intake.
    I also feed him 3 small meals of dry kibble in stead of all at once. And he doesn’t drink right after either.
    He does want to play right after but that has been stopped as well.

  3. My labrador pup is suffering from canine blot his treatment was started in a local vetnary hospital nd after that he is okie but from 2 days tht same problem is arises his stomach become large, heavy like ballon. please help me what to do nd i am belong to India. pleaseeee help me !!!!

  4. Thank you for this great article. I too have found many contradictions with regard to bloat in dogs. We have herding dogs (all Blue Heeler mix) and one of our dogs is Blue Heeler / Labrador.

    We have puppies who are fast eaters and they eat raw, I didn’t think it would be easy finding a slow feeder bowl that accommodates their diet, but they are available.

    I appreciate the information you provided.

    Kimberly

    • Thanks Kimberley. A more recent study has also shown some association between bloat and kibble. It is nice to know that raw feeding may be helping to keep our dogs safe in this respect. 🙂

  5. If there should be a break before exercise does that mean proper meat shouldn’t be used as training rewards? Should they only be tiny pieces and in small quantities? At the moment she’s having one of her meals while exercising to avoid adding to her daily food allowance with treats and to make rewards attractive. Is this actually dangerous then? Oh dear.

    • Hi Rosamund,
      I don’t personally feed dogs just before exercise, or immediately afterwards, but I don’t consider a few training treats to be a meal. Training treats ideally should be very tiny pieces. Pippa

      • Thanks for the advice. I think I’ll reduce the size of training treats by a lot, based on this. Good to know. Thanks. 🙂

  6. Unfortunately we know all too well about both bloat and GDV, fortunately not in my labs but in our wolfhounds who are highly prone to torsion. We lost one to full GDV (aged 8, her heart gave out under the stress) and one who required emergency surgery.
    From our experience, anything that reduces the amount of air your dog takes in whilst eating is good so although ‘proven’ dishes that will slow you dogs eating may do just that watch carefully to see how much air they’re taking in – they could actually be making the situation worse. Again it’s the same with raised or on the floor feeding whichever reduces the air intake, all of mine have off the floor feeding, even from puppies. Do not remove water completely, especially if your dog is kibble fed but if they’re taking on board a lot of water straight after feeding do limit the intake and maybe consider changing food, have you checked by how much the kibble swells (it’s frightening), or adding a wet component such as some gravy (not salty ones though) or dog meat to dry kibble.
    The most important factor in prevention is not allowing exercise or even playing before or after meals, the deeper the chest cavity the longer the break required.
    You can spot the early signs, look for drooling and excessive salivation, pacing and generally being uncomfortable, these usually occur before the vomiting attempts start. For adult dogs one of the best checks is to make your dog lie flat on its side and look at the area directly behind the ribcage, this should curve inward gently down to a nice soft belly, if there’s any swelling watch over the next 10-15 minutes if it goes down fine, if not or if at at any point it increases- phone the vet. It helps to learn the contour of your dog’s ribcage and belly before anything happens then you have a comparison and don’t panic when he’s lying on a toy!
    Sometimes bloat before the twisting can be cured with simple drugs like buscopan so swift action is preferable and might even avoid dangerous, painful surgery.
    Once a dog has suffered from GD even without the final twisting it is more likely to occur again. There are both drug and surgical options, one of our hounds had a ‘belt loop’ tie which effectively attached his stomach to the chest wall so although he could bloat it wouldn’t twist and this gave us more time and the opportunity to deal with the condition with drugs and aspiration before surgical intervention would be required. Another hound had buscopan every day to reduce the volume of gas produced.
    Both GD and GDV are awful conditions which are life threatening (and changing) but with swift action there can be a good outcome.

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