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gut feeling: dr. kim smyth on preventing bloat in dogs

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Bloat is a subject that we’ve talked about before, but it’s been awhile. It’s a subject that is near and dear to my heart, because it caused the death of my own beloved dog last year at the tender age of 15.


While we don’t know what causes bloat in any one dog on any one particular day, we do know that there are risk factors involved that can contribute to bloat, so today’s blog will focus things you can do to try to reduce the chances that your dog will bloat.


If you recall from previous blogs, bloat (also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV) is the life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air and/or fluid and then twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach. Dogs who are bloating will often have a distended abdomen and will wretch as if trying to vomit but will be unable to bring anything up. Bloat is a medical emergency that requires quick intervention. If your dog shows signs of bloat, get to your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately.


Any dog can bloat, but we see this condition more often in large-breed dogs. Furthermore, we see it in dogs who are deep-chested, meaning that their chests are larger than their waists. The dog breed most often affected by bloat is the Great Dane, who is a great example of a deep-chested dog. The risk of bloat increases in older dogs, too, regardless of their breed.


Things like breed and age are out of our control. But there are a few risk factors that we can control.


Factors that increase the risk of bloat include:

  • Eating once a day
  • A family history of bloat
  • Eating rapidly
  • Eating from elevated food bowls*
  • Eating dry food that has been moistened*
  • Eating dry food with a high fat content


The two starred factors are controversial, as up until a few years ago the recommendations were to feed dogs from an elevated bowl and to moisten dry food with broth or water. These things have since actually been implicated in causing bloat rather than preventing it, though the recommendations are still often given.


Knowing these risk factors, here are a few things you can do to decrease the risk that your dog will develop bloat:

  • Feed small meals three to four times a day.
  • Encourage your pet to slow down when eating. You can buy “portion pacers” or special bowls that make dogs work harder for their food, thereby increasing the time it takes to eat.
  • Feed a combination of wet and dry food.
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat. If fat is in the top 4 ingredients of your dry food, ditch it!
  • Never exercise your pet after a meal.
  • Avoid stressful situations, especially in pets prone to stress.


One of the best precautions you can take in dogs who are prone to bloat is a surgical procedure called a gastropexy, which tacks your pet’s stomach to his or her abdominal wall. This can be done at your dog’s spay or neuter, and while it won’t prevent your dog’s stomach from filling with air, it will prevent it from twisting and may just save your dog’s life. If you have a deep-chested dog, it’s worth looking into.


I cannot stress enough that bloat can happen to any dog, regardless of how hard you try to prevent it. If your dog shows signs of bloat, get him or her to your veterinarian immediately!

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Posted by Cindi Lambert
on May 23 2015 22:37

I have had Great Danes for more than 40 years and love the breed. I have lost 2 to bloat. One was 9 and it was many years ago before bloat was common knowledge for Danes. The last one I lost to bloat was 2 years ago in May of 2013. This dog was 6 and was a rescue so no indication of heritage. We had the surgery and after $7,000 he had developed an infection in his gut that was slowly killing him so we had to have him put down. The current rescue has been tacked and eats from elevated bowls like all the rest have. Does not eat fast, is not overly active before or after meals but I must say at 6 years old I'm watching him.

Posted by Megan Kenwabikise
on May 21 2015 21:59

Are there any studies being done at this time to see if there is any reason to believe there is a genetic link? I know with danes in particular if one family member bloats others tend to bloat as well. I've owned danes my entire life and only one bloated he was 13 going on 14 and any surgical intervention probably would have killed him so we chose to euthanize him. However after condicing some research I found out his parents and his siblings all suffered from bloat at some point in their lives.

Posted by Julianne Meisner
on July 16 2014 14:33

Hi Dr. Smyth, Thank you for this article! With regards to the "starred" factors and their recent implication as a cause of bloat, are you referring to Glickman et al. (2000)? As I understand it, this study demonstrated a correlation between elevated feeding and GDV, but not causation. If, for instance, owners of dogs that are at risk of GDV due to their breed or conformation feed their dogs out of an elevated bowl to reduce the risk of GDV, and this measure does not succeed in preventing GDV, the end result may be a correlation between elevated feeding and GDV incidence. If you are indeed referring to a different study, I would greatly appreciate a link to that abstract. Many thanks, Julianne

Posted by Susan wise
on June 28 2014 11:00

I'm so glad I read this. My friend bought me the raised bowls I thought it was great to help a large dog not bend so far. Now I will just use them for water. I'm learning a lot on this site. Thank you

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