"My wife and I are keen to get a pointer puppy with a view to working, but one of her friends says they are prone to bloat..."
Risk and factors of bloat in dogs
A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College’s Veterinary Companion Animal Surveillance System, which looked into the frequency, risk factors and survival of dogs that had bloat, found that of the dogs that underwent surgical treatment, 80% survived. (It should be borne in mind, however, that only around half of owners chose to operate). Larger, older and pedigree dogs were more likely to be affected and bloat accounted for 0.64 per cent of all emergencies.
What is bloat in dogs?
Bloat, or gastric dilatation/volvulus syndrome (GDV) occurs when there is an abnormal accumulation of ingesta and gas (dilatation), which precipitates rotation of the stomach (volvulus). It is most common in giant, deep chested dogs, possibly because they are less able to burp. Other predisposing factors include swallowing air when eating (often due to competition and rapid eating), air production in the stomach from fermentation of carbohydrates (so some cereal-based foods are contraindicated), feeding from a height (yes, that’s right, it actually makes it worse), exercising around the time of feeding and having a first-degree relative that has suffered GDV.
Some authorities actually recommend prophylactic surgery in this instance, so requesting an accurate medical history of dam, sire and previous litters is very important when selecting a pup.
What happens with bloating dogs?
It’s a horrible chain of events…
- The stomach fills with gas and fluid then rotates, effectively preventing emptying.
- The distended stomach presses on the caudal vena cava – the main vein returning to the heart – resulting in reduced cardiac output and low blood pressure.
- The stomach wall is damaged by excessive acidity and poor oxygenation, allowing bacteria to swamp the system.
- The massive stomach prevents normal movement of the diaphragm, so breathing becomes difficult.
- Shock, electrolyte imbalances, acidosis, cardiac arrhythmias and toxaemia put the patient at grave risk.
- Hypoxia, reduced cardiac output and toxaemia cause death.
What do you look out for?
Affected dogs become restless at first. There is retching, unproductive vomiting and excessive salivation. The stomach distends, so that the abdomen is tight like a drum. But not always! Some animals do not look “bloated” due to the position of their stomach. Difficulty in breathing and collapse occurs.
Gundog training: I notice that you often advise the use of food for rewards during training. Shouldn't a dog be…
I'm 15 years old and about to buy a ten week old cocker spaniel bitch. At the moment it is…
What do you do?
Phone your vet and tell them you have a dog with GDV. Make sure you know where their emergency service is based, time is absolutely of the essence!
Once at the surgery, and contrary to popular belief, affected dogs should be stabilised prior to radiography or surgery. This will require decompression of the stomach by passing an oro-gastric tube or placing a wide bore needle into the stomach, fluid therapy to offset shock and improve circulation, oxygen administration if the patient will allow it and the use of antibiotics and other drugs, depending on the circumstances.
Once improved, abdominal surgery is indicated to correct the volvulus, remove any damaged stomach wall (and sometimes the spleen if it has been involved), flush out the gastric contents and to create a permanent adhesion between the stomach and the wall of the abdomen (a surgical procedure known as a “gastropexy”). The latter is essential if recurrence is to be prevented.
Can GDV be reliably prevented?
In short, no. The exact cause of GDV is not clear. Careful selection of puppies, feeding little and often, avoiding exercise for an hour before and after feeding, choosing a proper diet and avoiding feeding from a height can all help.