Is your canine partner a large breed, deep chested dog, such as Great Dane, Shepherd, Doberman, Labrador Retriever, Akita, St. Bernard, Irish Wolfhound or Setter, Weimaraner, Bloodhounds, or similar?

If so, you need to be aware of a condition that is rapidly fatal if not treated emergently. Know and look for the following symptoms: Restlessness with pacing and excessive drinking, standing with an arched back and often eventually assuming a ‘sphinx’ position, drooling, retching and unproductive attempts at vomiting. These are the cardinal signs of bloat, also known as gastric torsion or gastric dilatation-volvulus. Call it what you will, treatment of this serious, life-threatening condition is complicated, expensive, and not always successful. In fact, bloat is the second most common fatal condition in dogs, after cancer.

So what is bloat? The term essentially describes twisting of the stomach following distention. The result is restricted blood flow and organ damage, which in turn leads to sepsis and shock. Needless to say, this is a true emergency. Immediately seek veterinarian emergency care if you even have the slightest suspicion. Do not wait, but take the time to call ahead so staff can prepare for your arrival. Your veterinarian will attempt medical therapy first, but in many cases only surgery offers a chance to save your dog.

Can you prevent bloat? Probably not entirely, but you can take certain measures to minimize the risk as prevention is absolutely preferable to treatment. Most experts agree that bloat risk clusters with certain breeds and is also associated with some degree of heritability. Therefore, prophylactic gastroplexy (surgically anchoring the stomach) is encouraged for some dogs that are at high risk. Contributing factors in a dog at risk include bolting food, drinking large amounts of water after eating, and strenuous exercise after feeding. Some sources describe food bowl position (elevated vs. on the floor) and type of food (dry vs. wet/raw) as potential culprits, but there is little evidence to support that claim.

There are a few measures you can take on a daily basis if you have a susceptible breed dog: (1) Feed two or three smaller meals in a day and discourage rapid eating, (2) Don’t allow excessive drinking, especially after feeding, and (3) don’t exercise before feeding and for about two hours after feeding. Most importantly, be aware of the condition, recognize the symptoms and act immediately.