What is Bloat? And is it a True Emergency?

If you ever hear the term “mother of all emergencies,” you can be sure it’s in reference to gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or “bloat.”

Bloat is a common canine emergency and one of the few that requires immediate surgery.

It occurs when the stomach twists on its normal axis. This pulls the cardia (entrance) and pylorus (exit) around so that the stomach is completely obstructed. Contents like food, gas and fluid cannot move in either direction, so they rapidly accumulate and cause distention. If this is not relieved, stomach rupture will occur.

Further, the spleen is attached to the stomach via small blood vessels, and it will also twist. This can lead to blood being trapped in the spleen and splenic compromise.

Watch for signs of bloat

Bloat often occurs in the evening and after a meal. Why it occurs is poorly understood. Many theories have been proposed but none have been proven. Certain breeds, such as Great Danes, Standard Poodles and Doberman Pinschers, are predisposed. Any dog with a deep chest is at risk for bloat, and indeed, ANY breed can develop bloat. Never assume it isn’t bloat based on your dog’s breed.

The symptoms of bloat are:
✔ sudden onset of restlessness
✔ discomfort
✔ non-productive retching
✔ abdominal bloating
✔ pale gums
✔ heavy salivation

If you notice the symptoms, don’t delay in seeking emergency medical care. This is not a “wait-and-see” scenario. There is no safe, at-home treatment. The sooner bloat is identified and treated, the better the prognosis for recovery.

When arriving at the veterinary hospital, you should expect immediate attention if bloat is a concern. Nothing makes veterinarians and their techni- cians move faster than the “B” word!

The team will start by recommending placement of an intravenous catheter to administer pain medications and fluids, mask oxygen to treat shock (caused by the stomach’s twisting), followed by tro-carization of the stomach to relieve gas distention. An X-ray can quickly identify if GDV is the problem.

Only one option

If bloat is confirmed, decisions must be made very quickly. Surgery is the only option. During surgery, the stomach will be de-rotated and placed back in its normal position. Once replaced, the stomach is sewn to the right side of the body wall. This is called a gastropexy. There are several ways to do this surgery, and each veterinarian has her own preference and experience. If the stomach has been twisted too long, some tissue may have died and require removal. This is called a gastrectomy. In rare cases, the blood vessels coming from the spleen have twisted so much that the spleen must also be removed (splenectomy).

After surgery, you can expect your dog to be hospitalized for one to three days to recover. During this period,
IV fluids, pain medications and other treatments will be given. Heart arrhythmias are a common postoperative complication. The veterinary staff will monitor for these closely and treat as needed. In some cases, a patient may go home on cardiac medications. These can usually be discontinued when full recovery has occurred.

Once, most dogs with this condition died. Now with rapid identification and treatment, the protocol for GDV is actually quite good with up to 80 to 90% of dogs recovering. Gastropexy will prevent future GDV in 90% of patients. Because it doesn’t fully prevent recurrence, however, any dog with a history of bloat should always be monitored for the symptoms.

The cost of bloat

This scenario illustrates why having pet insurance or an emergency account is necessary when owning a dog. GDV surgery can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000, depending on the veterinarian, the severity of the bloat and the necessary postoperative care. A decision must be made quickly — some diseases can wait for morning, but GDV cannot! If left untreated, bloat can be rapidly fatal. As a result, having an emergency fund can be literally life-saving for your beloved dog.

Top photograph: Image Source | Getty Images


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