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What Is Bloat?  This Could Save Your Dog’s Life

Bloat is a very serious health risk for many dogs, yet many dog owners know very little about it.  Bloat is the second leading killer of dogs, after cancer.  It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Dobermans are particularly at risk.  If you believe your dog is experiencing bloat, please get your dog to a veterinarian immediately!  Bloat can kill in less than an hour, so time is of the essence.   Call your vet to alert them you're on your way with a suspected bloat case.  Better to be safe than sorry!

The technical name for bloat is "Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus".  Bloating of the stomach is often related to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present).  It usually happens when there's an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach.   As the stomach swells, it may rotate 90° to 360°, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum (the upper intestine).  The twisting stomach traps air, food, and water in the stomach.  The bloated stomach obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs.  The combined effect can quickly kill a dog.  Be prepared!  Know in advance what you would do if your dog bloated.

If your regular vet doesn't have 24-hour emergency service, know which nearby vet you would use.  Keep the phone number handy.  Always keep a product with simethicone on hand (e.g., Mylanta Gas (not regular Mylanta), Gas-X, etc.) in case your dog has gas.  If you can reduce or slow the gas, you've probably bought yourself a little more time to get to a vet if your dog is bloating.

Bloat is a very serious and life threatening condition. Understanding the signs, prevention, and need for prompt treatment will help reduce the risk of mortality if your dog develops this problem.  This information is not intended to replace advice or guidance from veterinarians or other pet care professionals.  It is simply being shared as an aid to assist you with your own research on this very serious problem.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms often include some (but not necessarily all) of the following.  Unfortunately, from the onset of the first symptoms you have very little time (sometimes minutes) to get immediate medical attention for your dog.   Know your dog and know when it's not acting right. 

  • Attempts to vomit (usually unsuccessful); may occur every 5-30 minutes -  This seems to be one of the most common symptoms & has been referred to as the "hallmark symptom".  "Unsuccessful vomiting" means either nothing comes up or possibly just foam and/or mucous comes up.  Some have reported that it can sound like a repeated cough.
  • Doesn't act like usual self.  Perhaps the earliest warning sign and may be the only sign that almost always occurs.  There have been reports that dogs who bloated asked to go outside in the middle of the night.  If this is combined with frequent attempts to vomit, and if your dog doesn't typically ask to go outside in the middle of the night, bloat is a very real possibility.
  • Significant anxiety and restlessness, with a "hunched up" or "roached up" appearance.  This seems to occur fairly frequently.
  • Bloated abdomen that may feel tight (like a drum)
  • Pale or off-color gums
  • Coughing, unproductive gagging, heavy salivating or drooling
  • Foamy mucous around the lips, or vomiting foamy mucous
  • Unproductive attempts to defecate
  • Whining, pacing, licking the air, seeking a hiding place
  • Looking at their side or other evidence of abdominal pain or discomfort
  • May refuse to lie down or even sit down;  May stand spread-legged
  • May curl up in a ball or go into a praying or crouched position
  • May attempt to eat small stones and twigs
  • Heavy or rapid panting OR Shallow breathing
  • Apparent weakness; unable to stand or has a spread-legged stance
  • Accelerated heartbeat (heart rate increases as bloating progresses)

Causes

There is no one particular activity that leads to the development of GDV. It appears that it occurs as a combination of events. Studies of the stomach gas that occurs in dilatation have shown that it is similar to the composition of normal room air suggesting that the dilatation occurs as a result of swallowing air. It is thought that the following may be the primary contributors to bloat. 

  • Stress - Can be brought on by visits to the vet, dog shows, mating, whelping, boarding, new dog in household, change in routine, etc.
  • Activities that result in gulping air
  • Eating habits – Using elevated food bowls, Rapid eating, Eating dry foods that contain citric acid as a preservative (the risk is even worse if the owner moistens the food), Eating dry foods that contain fat among the first four ingredients
  • Insufficient pancreatic enzymes, such as Trypsin (a pancreatic enzyme present in meat)
  • Dilution of gastric juices necessary for complete digestion by drinking too much water before or after eating
  • Eating gas-producing foods (especially soybean products, brewer's yeast, and alfalfa)
  • Drinking too much water too quickly (can cause gulping of air)
  • Exercise before and especially after eating
  • Heredity -  Especially having a first-degree relative who has bloated
  • Build & Physical Characteristics - Having a deep and narrow chest compared to other dogs of the same breed
  • More common in : Older dogs, Big dogs, Males, Dogs who are underweight, Dogs with fearful or anxious temperaments, Dogs who are prone to stress, and dogs who have a history of aggression toward other dogs or people

Prevention

Bloat is a life threatening condition that most commonly affects large-breed, deep-chested dogs over two years of age. Owners of susceptible breeds should be knowledgeable about the signs of the disease, since early and prompt treatment can greatly improve the outcome. By following the preventive measures recommended, pet owners can further reduce the likelihood of their pet developing this devastating condition. Some of the suggestions for reducing the chances of bloat are:

  • Feed 2 or 3 meals daily, instead of just one. Dogs who are fed once a day are twice as likely to develop GDV as those fed twice a day.
  • Do not permit rapid eating. Dogs who eat rapidly or exercise soon after a meal may also be at increased risk.
  • Avoid highly stressful situations.  If you can't avoid them, try to minimize the stress as much as possible.  Be extra watchful
  • Do not use an elevated food bowl
  • Do not exercise for at least an hour (longer if possible) before and especially after eating - Particularly avoid vigorous exercise and don't permit your dog to roll over, which could cause the stomach to twist
  • Do not give water one hour before or after a meal - It dilutes the gastric juices necessary for proper digestion, which leads to gas production.
  • Always keep a product with simethicone (e.g., Mylanta Gas (not regular Mylanta), Phazyme, Gas-X, etc.) on hand to treat gas symptoms.  Some recommend giving your dog simethicone immediately if your dog burps more than once or shows other signs of gas.
  • Allow access to fresh water at all times, except before and after meals
  • Make meals a peaceful, stress-free time
  • When switching dog food, do so gradually (allow several weeks)
  • Feed a high-protein (>30%) diet
  • Feed a high quality diet.  If feeding dry food, avoid foods that contain citric acid, or list fat as one of the first four ingredients.  Whole, raw, unprocessed foods are especially beneficial
  • Avoid brewer's yeast, alfalfa, and soybean products
  • Promote "friendly" bacteria in the intestine, e.g. from "probiotics" such as supplemental acidophilus.  This is especially a concern when antibiotics are given, since antibiotics tend to reduce levels of "friendly" bacteria
  • Don't permit excessive, rapid drinking - especially a consideration on hot days

Hot Car - Cool Dog

When the temperature is in the high 70's and 80's outside, a parked car quickly becomes unbearably hot inside within minutes, even in the shade and even with the windows left open a few inches. If the car is parked in the sun, the inside temperature can quickly reach 160 degrees. Leaving the air conditioner on in an idling car isn't much help as it begins to labor and can shut down the engine. The dog could also knock the car into gear as he struggles to get out. As humane societies, law enforcement agencies, and local media constantly warn pet owners, in just 5 minutes, the temperature inside a car even with the windows cracked can reach 100 degrees or more. In just 10 minutes, the temperature inside a car can reach 120 degrees or more. The dog has a fur coat designed to retain heat, and he cannot sweat when he is overheated. As the inside temperature rises, the dog's body temperature has also risen, and he may have just minutes to live. If not rescued, he will suffer heatstroke, leading to collapse, brain damage, and an agonizing death.

Danger signals of overheating, whether from being in a parked car or excessive exercise in heat are the following: Obvious distress, staggering, heavy panting to eventually struggling to breathe, excessive drooling, vomiting, glassy eyes, dark red to blue or purple gums and tongue, collapse, seizures, and coma.

If you see a dog alone in a parked car on a hot day, go into the store and ask the manager to page the owner. If this is unsuccessful, call the SPCA or the police to free the dog; if the dog is obviously in trouble and in danger of dying before they can arrive, then get the dog out. People are generally not cited for taking that action; instead, the owner will likely be cited for animal cruelty. Once freed, if the dog is suffering, apply the following first aid:

  • Get him into the shade
  • Pour cool (not cold) water on him or use cool towels to gradually lower body temperature
  • Give him cool water or ice cubes to lick
  • Take him to a veterinarian immediately for a thorough examination

Another reason not to leave dogs unattended in locked cars, even with the windows rolled down, is that they can jump out to look for the owner and be lost or worse. Also, dogs have been stolen even from locked cars.

Generally, except for taking your dog on trips where he is welcome inside, do him a favor and leave him home.

Never leave a dog alone in a parked car.

The above information is based on our rescue experiences but also on talking with our clinics. For more information on dogs in hot cars and on heatstroke, see www.paws.org, www.healthypet.com and www.paw-rescue.org. For Texas Animal Cruelty Laws, see www.animal-law.org and www.cap4pets.org


Dog Bite Prevention

There are very few public health crises that can truly be cured by public awareness and education ... but dog bites are one of them. There are 4. 7 million people bitten by dogs every year, and this suffering, injury, disability and mortality is completely unnecessary. It's up to people, not dogs, to stop dog bites.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has joined with the United States Post Office (USPS) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in sponsoring Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 18-24th, 2008, to help prevent dog bites. Small children are the most common victims, followed by older people and USPS employees.

"Every year approximately 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites, and half of these victims are children, so this is a very serious problem," says Dr. Gregory S. Hammer, AVMA president. "About a dozen dog bite victims die every year. What's most important is that dog bites are largely preventable. Through appropriate dog training and education of adults and children, these numbers could be dramatically reduced. That's why Dog Bite Prevention Week is so important, because it brings to attention this preventable medical problem."

"Children are particularly vulnerable to this type of injury because of their smaller size and their inexperience with animals," says Renee R. Jenkins, MD, FAAP, president of the AAP. "Adults should be sure to properly choose and socialize pets, and teach their children how to be safe around dogs-both those they know and those they don't know."

"The Postal Service continues its tradition of joining forces with the AVMA to call attention to one of the nation's most commonly reported public health problems: dog attacks and bites," says Patrick R. Donahoe, Deputy postmaster General and Chief Operating Officer. "From nips and bites to actual attacks, violent dog behavior continues to pose a serious threat to our employees. Last year, more than 3,000 Postal Service employees were victimized by dogs. We hope that by joining forces we can greatly reduce the risk to our employees."

To help educate the public about dog bites, the AVMA has developed a brochure, "What you should know about dog bite prevention," offering tips on how to avoid being bitten, what dog owners can do to prevent their dogs from biting and how to treat dog bites. For more information on National Dog Bite Prevention Week and to access the brochure online, visit www.avma.org/press/publichealth/dogbite/mediakit.asp.

Important dog bite prevention tips include:

Pick a dog that is good match for your home. Consult your veterinarian for details about the behavior of different breeds.

  • Socialize your pet. Gradually expose your puppy to a variety of people and other animals so it feels at ease in these situations; continue this exposure as your dog gets older.
  • Train your dog. Commands can build a bond of obedience and trust between man and dog. Avoid aggressive games like wrestling or tug-of-war with your dog.
  • Vaccinate your dog against rabies and other diseases.
  • Neuter or spay your dog. These dogs are less likely to bite.
  • Teach your child to ask a dog owner for permission before petting any dog.
  • Let a strange dog sniff you or your child before touching it, and pet it gently, avoiding the face, head and tail.
  • Never bother a dog if it is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
  • Do not to run past a dog.
  • If a dog threatens you, remain calm. Avoid eye contact. Stand still or back away slowly until the dog leaves. If you are knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your arms and fists.
  • If bitten, request proof of rabies vaccination from the dog owner, get the owner's name and contact information, and contact the dog's veterinarian to check vaccination records. Then immediately consult with your doctor. Clean bite wound with soap and water as soon as possible. If the attack victim is bleeding from a dog bite, immediately take them to a doctor or emergency room.