Bloat, sometimes referred to as gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), is a serious condition affecting the stomach of some larger breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, Dobermans, Old English Sheep Dogs, Blood Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds and German Shepherds. A variety of factors trigger the distension of the stomach with gas, fluid, food and foam and the subsequent risk of stomach rotation (volvulus) and the catastrophic effect this can have on the other intestinal organs, making this a true veterinary emergency.
Not surprisingly there are a number of different trigger factors which underlie the condition apart from breed susceptibility. These are broadly:
Some of these factors are more important than others and for a few, the links with the development of GDV have not been clearly established.
It is very important to be able to identify the symptoms as they develop in order to seek veterinary help as soon as you can. The main symptoms are, roughly in order of appearance:
GDV constitutes a real veterinary emergency, so, if you suspect a problem, contact your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible. The sooner the problem is identified, then the more likely it is that veterinary intervention will be successful.
Treatment will aim to relieve the gas build up in the stomach. Under general anaesthetic the vet will initially try to pass a stomach tube to let the gas out of the stomach. In the early stages of GDV this can be quite easy to do. However, in more advanced cases, this technique may not work due to the degree of rotation of the stomach. An alternative approach is to deflate the stomach using a hypodermic needle inserted through the side of the abdomen. Having released the pressure, the stomach will usually be drained of its contents using a stomach tube. Surgery is then carried out examine the health of the stomach and spleen and to rotate the stomach back to its correct position. Once back in its normal position, an operation called as gastropexy may be carried out to fix the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent future rotation. Damaged areas of the stomach and the spleen may need to be removed surgically. Around 80% of dogs with GDV survive if the problem is identified early on and veterinary involvement is prompt.
It is best to divide the food into 3 or 4 separate meals rather than feeding just once or twice daily. It is generally a good idea to avoid feeding using elevated bowls, as this may increase the risk of GDV occurring. Dogs prone to bloat or at risk breeds should be allowed to feed in a quiet, calm situation away from any potential stressful situations. In addition, they should be allowed to eat slowly, so that they do not rush their food and swallow air. If necessary they should be fed alone, away from other dogs, to avoid causing the dog to rush its food because of competition.
Changes in diet should be made slowly over a few days. Although water should be available at all times, many vets consider it wise to limit water intake after eating in at risk breeds, especially in dogs prone to drink large quantities after eating.
Dry pet foods that contain high levels of fat should also be avoided, as should any foods containing soya products and brewers yeast. High protein foods with a protein content of more than 30%, or feeding a significant amount of raw meat in the diet, are generally acknowledged as being helpful in preventing the condition. There also needs to be a significant amount of fibre in the diet; a minimum crude fibre content of 3% or more is ideal. Reducing the level of carbohydrate in the diet can also help in some cases. Some vets advocate the addition of enzyme supplements to the food, so that it is digested more thoroughly.
Avoid vigorous exercise about 1 hour either side of feeding, bearing in mind that gentle exercise before feeding can stimulate the digestion and help the digestive system to function properly.
Denes has a number of supplements that are known to help in preventing the condition.
Herbs which soothe, calm and protect the digestive system can significantly reduce the chances of bloat occurring in at risk dogs by reducing gas formation. Herbs included in Digestion+ Powder such as Peppermint, Slippery elm and Marshmallow root are all known to be useful.
Probiotics help by stabilising the levels of friendly bacteria in the bowel and reduce the risk of gas formation by the fermentation of dietary carbohydrates in the gut. Adding probiotics on a daily basis is recommended for dogs at significant risk of developing GDV.