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Sadly, many dogs die because of bloat (the medical term is gastric dilation and volvulus or GDV). Even worse, many dog owners have never heard of bloat and don't know the signs of this potentially fatal crisis.
Bloat is a life-threatening emergency where the dog's stomach expands and then turns or torsions on the esophagus. When this happens, the pressure begins to cut off blood supply to vital organs and without surgery, the dog will not survive. Even with treatment, as many as 25-33% of dogs with bloat die.
However, in most cases, bloat is survivable if your dog gets to the vet very quickly and has the emergency surgery needed to save his or her life. Being aware of the signs of bloat and acting quickly is crucial.
Know that bloat is an emergency! Without immediate medical attention (within about 60 minutes of symptoms), your dog will die. It's that serious. However, if you know the signs and see your dog with them, you have the chance to save his life.
Be aware of the symptoms of bloat. The most obvious one is constant retching, or trying to vomit, with very little or nothing coming up. Your dog will pace and be clearly uncomfortable and agitated. He may try to lie down, but will be uncomfortable and get up again.
As the bloat increases, the stomach will begin to visibly expand. At this point, your dog only has minutes before surgery is needed.
Get your dog to the animal ER ASAP. Don't spend time thinking about what to do. Get your dog in the car and get to the animal ER immediately.
Call the animal ER immediately. If you can, do this while you're getting the dog in the car, or while you're on the way. This is very important, since the ER surgeon may be doing another surgery. If the ER knows you're coming, they will drop everything to tend to your dog the second you walk in the door.
On the way to the ER, make your dog comfortable. Your dog will be very agitated and maybe even fearful. Keep children and others away as he could bite in fear. Don't pet him, but comfort him verbally and keep him as calm as possible.
If you have it, give your dog a homeopathic remedy called "Bach Rescue Remedy." Many have found this works to calm the dog and slow the bloat.
Know what to expect at the ER. Since bloat is an extreme emergency, the ER will need you to make a decision about surgery right away. If you decide against surgery for any reason, the vet will euthanize your dog. Unfortunately, those are the only two options.
Bloat surgery is very expensive and your dog will require a few days at the vet for recovery and costly antibiotics. If the dog arrives at the ER in time, they can avoid damage to the internal organs. However, if there is damage, your dog might not survive. If they do, the costs will be more.
Each family has to make their own decisions about how to handle this. If you are forearmed with the information about bloat before it happens, you can decide what you will do if it does.
Understand that it's rare for a dog to bloat again, but it can happen. When the surgery is performed, the doctor will "tack" the stomach so that it can't torsion again. However, this doesn't keep the stomach from expanding, and it is possible the tack can pull away. It's rare, but know that if your dog has bloated once, it's far more likely to happen again.
Know which breeds are most at risk for bloat. Any dog can bloat, but there are breeds more susceptible to it because they have deep chests and the stomach can turn on itself more easily. These breeds, in order of likelihood, include: Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Weimaraner, Irish Setter, Gordon Setter, Standard Poodle, Basset Hound, Doberman Pinscher, Old English Sheepdog, German Shorthaired Pointer, Newfoundland, German Shepherd, Airedale Terrier, Alaskan Malamute, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Boxer, Collie, Labrador Retriever, English Springer Spaniel, Samoyed, Dachshund, Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, Mixed Miniature Poodle.
Be aware that chronic immune disorders can precede bloat. Dogs that have immune disorders, like Addison's disease, ulcerative colitis, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and others are at an increased risk for bloat.
Be familiar with what causes bloat. It will usually occur after a dog eats and drinks water. But why some dogs bloat and some don't is unknown. Many owners have reported that their dog bloated in stressful conditions, had a chronic disease or bloated in very warm weather or after exercise.