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Is your Dog at Risk for Bloat?

Canine bloat is a very serious health condition that affects dogs and can become a life-threatening emergency. Bloat is the second leading cause of death for dogs, after cancer. Understanding warning signs, prevention and treatment is critical to help reduce the risk of death if bloat should occur.

How does bloat occur?

The medical term for bloat is gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) and it is also referred to as ‘stomach torsion’ or ‘twisted stomach.’ In the bloated stomach, gas and/or food stretches the stomach abnormally, causing severe pain. The stomach then has a tendency to rotate and cuts off the blood supply and all possible areas for gas to exit the body.

When stomach gases cannot get out, they expand. If untreated, toxins build up and stomach tissue begins to die because it is too tight to allow blood to circulate. The liver, pancreas and other organs may be compromised and shock from low blood pressure can set in. If the stomach ruptures, peritonitis can result.

Some of the signs of bloat include a rapid heart rate, salivating, vomiting (or retching), restlessness, a swollen belly and weakness. If a dog is suspected to be suffering from bloat, it is critical to get immediate veterinary care. A dog cannot recover until the stomach is untwisted and the gases released. Even after a dog with bloat has been stabilized, there can be many related complications such as shock and heart failure.

Once diagnosis has been confirmed, medical treatment might be sufficient, however, most cases require surgery. If tissue damage is severe, the spleen and part of the stomach might be removed.

When abdominal surgery is performed, it allows an assessment of the stomach and surrounding organs and a chance to reposition and suture the stomach (called a gastropexy), to help prevent twisting in the future. Post-operative care depends on the severity of the disease and the treatment methods used to date.

What causes bloat and how can it be prevented?

Typically, dogs with deep and narrow chests are said to be more at risk, but even small dogs, such as Dachshunds and Chihuahuas, can be affected by bloat. (The depth-to-width ratio of a dog’s chest represents the amount of room for stomach movement in the abdomen, behind the ribcage.) Bloat can occur in dogs of any age or breed, although it usually is found in dogs over the age of seven.

It’s important to note that not all cases of bloat happen in the same way and bloat occurs as acombination of factors. There are several known causes of bloat, including risk factors relating to stress, eating and exercise habits, heredity, behavioral traits, build and disposition. A dog with a first-degree relative that has bloated is considered more at risk for bloat. Male dogs seem to suffer from bloat more often than female dogs. Spaying and neutering does not appear to affect the risk of bloat.

Diet composition is key in avoiding bloat. A dog’s mealtime environment should be stress-free and as peaceful as possible. Discuss with your veterinarian the types of food your dog should eat, (e.g. dry versus moist, raw meat, fiber, etc.) as well as specific ingredients to use or avoid (e.g. protein, fat, acids, carbohydrates, etc.). Every dog is different and should be evaluated individually regarding specific diet needs and his risk of bloat.

Dogs fed only once a day – as opposed to multiple small meals – are said to increase their risk of bloat. And, dogs that eat too quickly or exercise too vigorously or too soon after a meal might also be more at risk. Discuss with your veterinarian your dog’s breed characteristics and predisposition to bloat, as well as how many meals (and what portion size) he should have each day, and the specific recommendations for his exercise regimen.

In addition, some veterinarians believe that there are higher risks of bloat when certain sizes and types of dogs use elevated feeding bowls, while others disagree. Ask your veterinarian about this issue and whether or not floor level or elevated feeding bowls are appropriate for your dog.

Prevention is always preferable to treatment. Avoid situations that can create anxiety and allow your dog access to fresh water at all times. Some veterinarians suggest that owners of ‘susceptible’ dogs keep a product on hand containing simethicone to slow gas, if bloat should occur and to ‘buy more time’ to get to the clinic. A supplement of acidophilus is said to promote ‘friendly’ bacteria in canine intestines which prevents the fermentation of carbohydrates that can cause gas and quickly lead to bloat. Be certain to discuss these options with your veterinarian.

What research is being done?

The AKC Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF) is currently studying ways to prevent bloat as well as genetic factors and other related issues.

One of the veterinarians the AKCCHF has worked with is Dr. Leslie Monroe of the University of California at Davis Veterinary School. Dr. Monroe’s podcast on bloat is posted as part of the AKC’s Genome Barks podcast series. The series provides responsible breeders and pet owners with a close look at the work being done by the foundation.

Many other veterinarian researchers have also conducted comprehensive studies on bloat. Two of them are Dr. Larry Glickman at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Catriona MacPhail of The Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Know the risks and be prepared

Bloat is a serious, life-threatening emergency that can occur quickly. Talk with your veterinarian in advance about your dog’s characteristics and chances of developing bloat — and what steps you can take to avoid it.

Veterinary costs for treating bloat can add up quickly and having pet insurance can help cover the financial expense. Here at PetPartners, the exclusive provider for the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan, a sampling of some recent bloat claims we’ve reimbursed have been for $1,495, $5,000, $3,327 and $1,238. Another bloat claim reimbursement, for $3,572, included a splenectomy (removal of the spleen). For more information on our other illness benefits and entire range of healthcare plans, call us at 866.725.2747 or visit: www.akcpethealthcare.com.

Become knowledgeable about the signs of bloat. If you suspect your dog has bloat, do not attempt home remedies and contact your veterinarian immediately, calling ahead so that the veterinary staff can prepare for your arrival.

Understanding your own dog’s risks, prevention, symptoms and the need for prompt treatment can help avoid the risk of death if your dog should suddenly develop bloat.

 

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