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March 2013

What Is Bloat?

You’ve just come back from that fun lunch with your co-workers; too bad lunch break is so short. You rushed to finish your meal. Now you are standing in front of the grooming table and suddenly you feel funny. You cannot sit, or stand still, and neither can you lie down. You start to pace. Something’s wrong, only you don’t know what. You run over to the bathroom to throw up. Could it be food poisoning from that all you can eat salad bar? But nothing’s coming up from that end except for some foamy stuff. You’re drawing a blank at the other end too. You look at yourself in the bathroom mirror and notice your gums are bright red. Your stomach now feels rock hard. It hurts! You just want to go curl up in a ball and hide somewhere.  The other groomers are looking at you and wondering what’s up with you.

An hour or so later, your mouth feels cold and when you check it out in the bathroom mirror, your gums are now blue. You feel weak. Your heart is racing. You collapse and your co-workers call 911, but it’s too late. You just died.

That’s what bloat does to a dog.




Bloat or Torsion or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) is when the stomach of a dog twists on itself, cutting off the esophagus at one end and all the organs south of the stomach at the other end. There is no longer blood flow to any of the organs, which caused them to shut down. Toxins and gas build up in the stomach. Shock occurs quickly and the stomach may rupture. If it ruptures, it causes peristalsis. Peristalsis is an inflammation of the membrane that lines the stomach. On its own, peristalsis is life threatening.

Large or giant dog with deep chests are most at risk. Dogs with narrow chests are more at risk than those that are wider. The most commonly affected breeds are Airedales, Akitas, Malamutes, Bassett Hounds, Bernese Mt. Dogs, Bouviers, Boxers, Mastiffs, Chesapeake Bay Retreivers, Labrador, and Golden Retrievers, Collies, Dobermans, Springers, Gordon and Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Pointers, Great Pyrenees, Wolfhounds, Poodles, Newfoundlands, Old English Sheepdogs, Rottweilers, Samoyeds, St. Bernards, and Weimaraners.

But, that’s not to say small dogs with deep chests aren’t vulnerable. Dachshunds, Pekinese, and Miniature Poodles have been known to bloat.




There are three categories of causes: genetics, anatomy, and environment. The first is genetics. There are those breeds that are pre-disposed, especially if a close family member has bloated or has untreated Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. The second is anatomy. Dogs with the highest risk tend to be older, are predominately male, mainly underweight, and have deep chests. And lastly are environmental factors.  Dogs that drink or eat fast and excessively especially in combination with activity are most susceptible.  Stress, such as a dog may experience at the groomers can escalate a dog already pre-disposed to bloat.

One, all, or a combination of any the factors can induce bloat.




The signs will vary from dog to dog, but include:


  1. Many attempts to unproductively vomit. It could be foamy or full of mucous. They may drool. - The esophagus is blocked off.
  2. They are not their usual self and are restless and anxious. They are pacing and whining. - They know something is wrong.
  3. They cannot sit or lie down.  - Their stomach is distended.
  4. They hunch up their backs. - They are trying to relieve some of the internal pressure.
  5. Their stomach is hard and distended. - It is filling up with gas and toxins.
  6. Their gums will go from bright red (shock) to pale blue (hypoxic) and their gums will feel cold.
  7. They try, unsuccessfully; to defecate. - Everything south of the stomach is blocked off.
  8. They lick the air. - Dogs lick the air when they are trying to get rid of something internally.
  9. They try to hide. - Instinct, when dogs are dying, it is a natural response to go off by themselves.

10. They glance over at their side or stomach.  - This is where the pain is.

11. They go from heavy panting to shallow breathing.  - The organs are shutting down.

12. They look weak and have a weak pulse.  - No blood flow. Heart is shutting down.

13. Collapse. - Organs have shut down. Death will follow shortly.





Contact your veterinarian first and then transport immediately. Do not try to treat this on your own unless your veterinarian has trained you. Time is of the essence here. Death can occur in a couple of hours. During my research, Mylanta was mentioned as a way to buy time. I questioned my vet about this and her response was “ Using Mylanta on a bloating dog is like putting a band aid on a chainsaw injury. Use your time more effectively by calling us so we can prepare for your arrival.”


Being familiar with the causes, recognizing the early signs, along with prompt veterinarian treatment is your best defense against bloat.


This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Groomer To Groomer and is reprinted with permission.