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By Kimberly Meenen

Information Specialist

University of Illinois

College of Veterinary Medicine

Large, deep chested breeds of dogs seem to be especially prone to developing bloat, a condition where the stomach fills with air and fluids. If the dog is unable to vent this excess air, the condition can be fatal. According to veterinarians at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, bloat is one of the true surgical emergencies that occurs in the dog. Signs of bloat include an acutely distended abdomen, belching, dry heaves, increased salivation and depression. The dog may repeatedly lie down and get up, pace, whine or stretch. If you notice any of these signs and suspect your dog may be bloating, withhold all food and water from the animal and call your veterinarian immediately.

The most important thing to remember is that the condition is a surgical emergency. It can't wait overnight! Call your veterinarian as soon as you notice signs of bloat in your dog.

Different levels of bloat exist. Simple bloat is where the stomach fills with air, but the dog can still vent the air. Sometimes, however, the stomach begins to rotate and in the process may close off the openings to the stomach. At that point any air in the organ is trapped, the pressure cuts off blood circulation, and the stomach tissues may begin to die.

Rotated stomachs need prompt veterinary attention. In fact, the earlier bloat is recognized, the better chance a dog has of recovering. In cases of simple bloat, the veterinarian may only have to decompress the stomach by passing a stomach tube. A rotated stomach is more serious, however. Both gastric torsion (where the stomach has rotated lass than 180 degrees) and gastric volvulus (where the stomach has rotated completely) require surgery. One way to determine whether the stomach has rotated is by taking a radiograph. If it has, surgery must be performed to unwind the stomach and remove any dead tissue. At this time, the stomach also may be attached surgically to the body wall so that if the dog bloats again the stomach cannot rotate.

Once the dog has bloated, its owners should take steps to prevent the problem from recurring. The dog should be fed small quantities of food several times per day rather than a large amount at one feeding. The owners also should limit the dog's water intake after feeding as well as avoid vigorous exercise or excitement one hour before and two hours after a meal. Any diet changes should be made gradually.

Most dogs that bloat have just eaten a big meal, followed by drinking large amounts of water or going out and exercising or rolling. The exact cause of bloat is unknown, but veterinarians suspect it is due to the rapid mixing of food and water in the stomach, causing gas to expand. Some have suggested that the problem may have a genetic predisposition.