July 10, 2017

General Medical Issues

Bloat or stomach ache? Knowing the difference can save your dog’s life!

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

Imagine this: You just get home from work and notice that your normally bouncy and happy Great Dane is slow to come greet you. You offer him a treat, but he turns his nose up at it.  Then, he looks like he is trying to vomit but nothing comes up.

Great Dane - prone to bloat


Worried, you go to rub his belly and realize that it looks bigger than normal. Does he just have an upset stomach or could it be something worse?

Bloat and GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus) can have some of the same symptoms as an upset stomach.  However, these two conditions are very different. An upset stomach can be uncomfortable for your dog; GDV can be deadly. Understanding bloat and GDV and knowing what to do if it occurs can mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

What is bloat/GDV?

Bloat refers to the condition in which your dog’s stomach can become filled with air.  The air can, in turn, cause pain and additional gastrointestinal problems. GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus) occurs when you pet’s stomach is not only bloated but also then twists on itself. When the stomach twists, this stops the flow of food and water and it also restricts the necessary blood supply to the stomach and other vital organs.

Are all dogs at risk?

Any dog, in theory, can develop bloat or GDV.  However, we tend to see it affect the larger breed dogs or those that are barrel/deep chested. These dogs include the following:

  • Akitas
  • Boxers
  • Dobermans
  • German Shepherds
  • Gordon Setters
  • Great Danes
  • Irish Setters
  • Newfoundlands
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Saint Bernards
  • Standard Poodles

    German Shepherd - prone to bloat


Please keep in mind that if your dog’s breed is listed above, it doesn’t mean that your dog will suffer from bloat or GDV. It simply means that due to the body confirmation/style, your dog may be at a higher risk for GDV than some other breeds.

What are symptoms of bloat/GDV?

It is important to be able to recognize bloat/GDV.  Some signs to watch for include:

  • A bloated appearance or swollen belly
  • Episodes of retching or non-productive vomiting
  • Intense belly pain
  • Shallow breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pale gums
  • Restlessness followed by extreme depression or extreme lethargy

You know your dog better than anyone else does.  If you notice these signs or feel that something is not right with your dog, please call your veterinarian or go directly to the emergency vet clinic for care.

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

With bloat or GDV, time is of the essence. The sooner you can get your dog to a veterinarian, the better the chance your dog has for a positive outcome. If your vet is not available, go to the nearest emergency clinic for immediate care. Remember a GDV can be life-threatening and it is very painful for your dog!

What will my vet do?

This will depend on how your dog is doing and what signs he is showing when you arrive at the vet clinic. Your vet will examine your dog.  The vet will, most likely, take an x-ray to look at your dog’s stomach to determine if there is excessive air present or if the stomach appears to have twisted.

Your veterinarian may decompress your dog’s stomach by inserting a tube through his mouth to relieve any trapped air.  If the stomach is twisted, your dog will require emergency surgery to correct the problem.

In addition, your dog may require blood tests and pain medications.  If your dog is dehydrated, he may need fluid therapy.  All treatments will depend on your dog’s specific situation.

How can I help to reduce my pet’s risk of bloat or GDV?

This is sometimes a difficult question to answer.  There are still many questions in the veterinary community as to why some dogs get bloat/GDV and others don’t. However, here are some general tips to help reduce your dog’s risk.

  • Feed your dog a good quality diet
  • Feed multiple smaller meals rather than one large meal (to decrease the amount of food in the stomach at one time)
  • Use slow feeder bowls to help slow down your dog’s eating reduce the amount of air he ingests
  • Avoid exercising your dog after eating
  • Avoid allowing your dog to drink a large amount of water after eating
  • Prevent your dog from rolling around after eating

Bloat/GDV is a scary condition, but you can take steps to minimize your dog’s risk. If your pet is one of the breeds most predisposed for GDV, you may want to consider a prophylactic stomach tacking surgery (gastropexy).  With this surgery, a dog’s stomach is affixed to the abdominal wall to prevent twisting.

Talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s risk for bloat/GDV.  If you take proper precautions, your dog can live a normal, healthy life without ever encountering this life-threatening condition.

Dr. Heintz is Dr. Heintz and her dog, Mimia small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.