Bloat in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms And Prevention Of Canine Bloat

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bloat in dogs

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

When 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 of it referred to as GDV.

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

bloat in dogsTwisted Stomach

When 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. The twisting, plus the pressure of the large stomach on other internal organs, sets in motion a chain of events. Ultimately, this will end in the death of the dog if 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.

Having said that, it is also true that if you act quickly enough you have a good chance of saving your dog. If a vet can perform surgery in good time your dog has a hugely increased chance of surviving.

What Causes Bloat in Dogs

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

Any dog can bloat. Larger, deeper chested dogs as well as middle age or older dogs 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. That is to say, 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. This will reduce the likelihood of passing the tendency to suffer from this horrible condition onto future generations. It will also alleviate the risk of injury to your dog.

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

bloat in dogsHow To Prevent Bloat In Dogs

There is a lot of advice out there regarding ways to prevent bloat in dogs. However, some of the sources give conflicting information.

The Kennel Club (UK) advises 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. Or, he has had a big drink or been 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.

Reducing the Risk of Bloat

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 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.

One study by Buckley and Lees found that these ‘go-slow’ feeding devices are effective in reducing the speed at which your dog eats his food.

However, they are quick to stress that there is no evidence that the dogs want their eating slowed. Therefore it is important to note that ‘go-slow’ bowls may be well marketed but don’t represent a miracle by any means.

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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. Smaller meal sizes, drink sizes and an improved exercise routine certainly aren’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.

Some signs of bloat in dogs may not be so easy to recognise. For example, an excess of saliva coming from your dog’s mouth may be a sign of bloat. However, we’ve all come across heavy droolers I’m sure! With that in mind, it’s best to keep an eye out for other, harder to detect symptoms.

Unlike many other Labrador stomach problems, bloat does not cause the usual 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

The following are symptoms of bloat in dogs. Contact your vet immediately if you are worried that your dog is presenting with these:

  • 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 hesitate to act.

bloat in dogs

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. It is important that you don’t ignore the symptoms of bloat in dogs.

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 repairable.

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

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

Dog Bloat Treatment

Treat for bloat in Labs involves making sure that they are hydrated with IV fluids, and given something for the pain. If your dog’s bloat includes ‘volvulus’ and is indeed GDV, you vet will have to do more invasive work than providing fluids and painkillers.

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. Alternatively the vet may puncture the dog’s 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.

References & Resources

  • ‘Dog Bloat or Gastric Torsion (GDV), The Kennel Club
  • ‘Bloat in Dogs: A Potentially Life-Threatening Condition’, ACK Staff, American Kennel Club, 2015
  • ‘Diet -related risk factors for gastric dilatation -volvulus in dogs of high -risk breeds: A nested case-control study’ Malathi Raghavan, Perdue University
  • ‘Go slow feeding bowls: how effective are they at getting dogs to eat more slowly?’ LA Buckley & J Lees, 2016, Crest
  • ‘Analysis of risk factors for gastric dilatation and dilatation-volvulus in dogs.’Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Pérez CM, Schellenberg DB and Lantz GC, 1994. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

23 COMMENTS

  1. I just lost my Lab this morning and it was really painful, and still breaking my heart while I type this. I had consulted to the Vet right away but all she did was do fecal test and have my 2 months old puppy take Nematocide. She never did X-Ray with my dog or anything. After reading this article, it leaves me so much accountability and little did I know that this was already a critical case for my dog! What hurts me most is that I can no longer reverse time back and fix this. 🙁

    We love you Potchi. RIP. June 2019 – August 2019

  2. My 3 year old Lab Guide Dog Keira is currently undergoing treatment for bloat. Hers was caused by overeating and drinking. Unfortunately she got into the bag of food by chewing through it and had a feast. I’m really hoping that she pulls through but thinking realistically with the chance of death being so high I know that I will probably lose her.

    • Our 11 year old lab has been to the vet twice in the last 5 days. They explained that currently his condition is unknown. He had antibiotics for a few days. Yesterday (Friday 15 Feb) he received 4 other injections and is on Clopamon now. He has lost all the energy and interest in life around him. The vet said we are to bring him back on Monday. He is pants heavily, drags his body with large swollen stomach around, hardly has been eating for some days, hardly drinks water…After reading this article I think he is seriously ill and has this bloating. I wonder if he will make it till Monday as the vet said I should bring him back then? Any comments will be valued please.

  3. We just lost our Lab this morning from Bloat. My daughter woke me up said he was drooling and not looking good. I got up and immediately saw he was bloated and rushed him to the vet. His stomach had twisted. They attempted surgery but there was too much tissue damage. Tank was 11 1/2 years old. He exercised at 9 and ate at 11. No excitement before going to bed. Sometime during the night it had twisted.

    • I am so sorry to hear this. Our Lab/GSD mix is 8 months old. He goes through growth spurts… falls asleep in a weird position that makes his stomach bulge to one side and I get paranoid about him getting this condition.
      It’s quite obvious, then that the dog is sick? I gave his stomach a few gentle presses and he didn’t seem to mind.

    • I lost my 12 year old this morning in almost the same exact scenario…He woke me up around 5am wanting to go out, once outside he dry heaved multiple times got real unsteady on his feet and just gazed off all crazy like…I was able to get him back asleep and at 7am I noticed his abdomen was distended and at this point he could barley stand…he died at the vet a few minutes after 8am while they did a needle decompression to try and stabilize him for surgery…..perfectly healthy dog, ate at 7pm short walk at 9pm and sleep rest of the night…absolutely heart broken…we did nothing different that night than the previous 12 years…just a freak occurrence

  4. My Lab is 3 and a half year old. Past few days he is having a very less diet. He is keen on having boiled eggs and he eats upto 4-5 eggs a day. Since today morning he is not having anything and lethargic also, which was not the case till yesterday. Though he is drinking water. I am in INDIA and weather here is in transition i.e summers are coming. Could anyone suggest me anything on this.

    • Feeding 4-5eggs per day is not good for your dog and I am Guessing you give something else to him/her to eat, so I am guessing he’s having digestive problem .
      Anyways feed your dog around 2-3eggs per week because that is the limit set by many vets I’ve visited and talked to

  5. Would you recommend the preventative surgery that sews the stomach to the wall so it cannot flip? It’s expensive 🙁

    • Hi Alicia, surgery can be very expensive 🙁 But your vet is the only person who can decide whether or not it is the right thing for your dog at this time. He’ll also be able to tell you how the outcome for your dog might be affected by delaying or avoiding the surgery. Best of luck with this.

  6. 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…)

  7. 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.

  8. 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 !!!!

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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. 🙂

  11. 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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