Abdominal Heath Warnings in Dogs

Puppy Exam

Bloat is a life-threatening condition that acts rapidly and can lead to the death of your dog within hours if the condition is not recognized and treated immediately. Unfortunately, the cause of bloat remains unknown at this time, but you can learn to identify its symptoms before it may follow its deadly course.

It first helps to understand exactly what this condition is and how it can hurt your dog.  Dogs first experience a rapid and abnormal expansion of the stomach with gas. If this happens to your dog, the pressure can be so intense that its stomach could actually rotate. The rotation may then close both the entry to and exit from the stomach. That would put your dog in very serious jeopardy, since blood flow might also be restricted.

What could follow is an increase in pressure inside your dog’s stomach, and compression of its surrounding organs. Eventually, shock could occur as a result of the restricted blood flow. Here are a few key facts about bloat:

  • You should always treat bloat as a medical emergency.
  • Bloat can kill your dog within hours after onset.
  • The cause of bloat is unknown.
  • Bloat affects 36,000 dogs in the United States each year; 30% die as a result of this condition.
  • Bloat can occur in dogs of any age.
  • Certain breeds are more susceptible to bloat, particularly deep-chested dogs. Dogs at particular risk include the following breeds: German Shepherds, Bouvier de Flandres, Great Danes, Boxers, St. Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, Bloodhounds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Borzois, Irish Wolfhounds, Dachshunds, Labrador Retrievers, and Basset Hounds.

Early Warning Signs

Since bloat is a true medical emergency, early identification and treatment is critical to your dog’s survival. If your canine is in the early stages of bloat, it will be feeling a lot of discomfort. You may see your dog pacing and whining and trying unsuccessfully to get into a comfortable position. It may seem anxious, and it may lick or keep staring at its stomach. Your dog may also attempt to vomit, but probably without success. Other signs of bloat can include weakness, swelling of the abdomen, and even symptoms of shock, such as increased heart rate and abnormally rapid breathing. Here are the warning signs to watch for, and if your dog demonstrates any of these, call your veterinarian immediately:

  • Whining
  • Inability to get comfortable
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Pale gums
  • Unproductive attempts to vomit
  • Abnormally rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Pain, weakness
  • Swelling of the abdomen (particularly the left side)

Prevention Pays

There are several steps you can take to help decrease the incidence of bloat in your dog. Feeding management offers the best method available for reducing risk until the exact cause of bloat can be identified. Try these proactive strategies:

  • Avoid having your dog exercise for one hour before, and two hours after meals.
  • Don’t allow your dog to drink large amounts of water just before or after eating or exercise.
  • If you have two or more dogs, feed them separately to avoid rapid, stressful eating.
  • If possible, feed at times when after-feeding behavior can be observed.
  • Try to avoid abrupt diet changes.
  • Feed your pet small amounts of food frequently, two to three times daily.

Amanda Harrison is a writer and dog expert whose work can be seen in animal publications nationwide.

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