No Time To Spare — Recognizing and Preventing Canine Bloat
Leslie R. Dye, MD, Treasurer, National German Wirehaired Pointer Rescue and Lisa Boyer, DVM, Animal Health Consultants, AKC Breeder of Merit, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, and AKC Bred with Heart Tibetan Terriers
Canine “Bloat” or Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) is a common emergency medical condition that usually occurs in large breed, deep-chested dogs. However, any breed, including German Wirehaired Pointers, can develop this disorder. When not recognized and treated quickly, it is most often fatal. While “bloat” refers to stomach dilatation or distension due to air or food, GDV is bloat combined with “volvulus” where the distended stomach rotates lengthwise. The most important factor in survival is recognition of the condition’s onset and rapid emergency medical intervention. Depending on risk factors, treatment is lifesaving, but comes at a fairly high cost.
The most important aspect of this condition is prevention, awareness, and early recognition.
Cause and Progression of Bloat
Although believed to be a genetic disorder, there is no single identified cause of bloat. Recent studies indicate that dogs who experience bloat may have abnormal contraction of the stomach wall. In all cases of bloat, outflow of the stomach is obstructed.
Air accumulates from both swallowing and bacterial fermentation. Since the outflow is compromised, the dog cannot vomit, which prevents air, fluid or food from escaping. The stomach continues to distend and then rotates. This rotation inside the abdomen exerts pressure on the diaphragm, producing respiratory distress and ultimately decreasing blood flow through the vena cava and general circulation. Accompanying all of these mechanical catastrophes, acid-base, electrolyte, clotting and inflammatory abnormalities combine to produce respiratory failure, cardiovascular collapse, or gastric perforation with subsequent sepsis. If left untreated, the one definite progression is death.
Risk Factors for Bloat
There is no single cause of GDV, and researchers believe the cause to be multi-factorial. We do know however, that there are some proven risk factors including age, breed, sex, having first-degree relatives with a history of GDV, deep chested conformation, lean body condition, eating from an elevated feeder, and eating smaller sized kibble.
Large and giant breed dogs are most at risk for GDV. Since dogs are at increased risk if they have a first-degree relative with a history of GDV, it is speculated that GDV may have a genetic component, even though this could be related to similar conformation. GDV is likely a complex, polygenic disorder rather than related to a single genetic abnormality.
Recently, vetGen (TM) , a Veterinary DNA testing company has marketed a test for three “at risk alleles” for bloat in Great Danes. Estimates are that approximately 40% of Great Danes will have bloat. In this breed, researchers have identified three risk alleles in three different genes associated with GDV which doubles the risk of suffering from bloat. These genetic mutations are not the cause of GDV, but are highly associated with the occurrence of bloat.
While GDV can occur in any breed, it is more common in giant and large breed dogs due to their narrow, deep chests. Dogs over 100 pounds have approximately 20% risk of developing bloat in their lifetime.
The top breeds that develop bloat are:
- Great Dane
- St. Bernard
Other breeds at higher risk are Bloodhound, Irish Wolfhound, Irish Setter, Akita, Standard Poodle, German Shepherd Dog, Boxers, Gordon Setters, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherd Dogs, Wolfhounds, and Old English Sheepdogs.
· Age (risk increases with age)
Recently, it has also been noted to occur more often in middle aged and older dogs. For large breeds, the risk of developing bloat goes up 20 percent each year after the age of 5. For giant breeds, it goes up 20 percent each year after the age of 3.
· First Degree Relative that has had this issue
It does seem to run in breeding lines, but whether this is truly a genetic trait or just related to the conformation is unknown. When purchasing a dog, always ask about history of bloat in the blood line.
There are genetic risk factors, especially in Collies, German Shorthaired pointers, and Great Danes. There are links to specific genes and adaptive genes that regulate immune function that are involved.
Males are twice as likely to develop bloat than females.
Symptoms of Bloat
The most important thing an owner can do is recognize this illness in a dog as early as possible and access veterinary treatment immediately.
· Dog starts to look and act odd, may look at its stomach
· Starts pacing and appears anxious because condition is very painful
· Drooling is common
· May stretch with front half of body down and rear end up
· Unproductive retching is hallmark
· Will not lie down and usually won’t eat or drink
· May see visible bloated stomach (but in some dogs it may not be obvious)
If a dog is retching and not bringing up anything other than saliva, go to the veterinarian ASAP if there is any possibility of bloat!
Diagnosis and Treatment of Bloat
The most important thing to do if bloat is suspected is to get the dog to veterinary care as quickly as possible and call ahead on the way so they are prepared for your arrival. If untreated, bloat can be fatal within two hours.
While there are treatments that can be done at home, they should ONLY be done if there is no access to veterinary care. Otherwise the delay to definitive treatment may decrease the dog’s chance of survival. Gas X can be administered en route to care if it is immediately available.
A radiograph or ultrasound may be used to confirm GDV. Sometimes, there is dilation and no volvulus, but the distinction cannot be made without imaging. Upon arrival at an emergency veterinary facility, rapid stabilization is required followed by imaging, bloodwork, decompression of the stomach, surgery and postoperative care. Some dogs will require cardiac monitoring (ECG) for a period of time after surgery as cardiac arrhythmias are common.
Once in surgery, the surgeon will derotate the stomach and examine the organs and intestinal tract for damage. Sometimes, it is necessary to remove the spleen if it has suffered ischemic damage from lack of blood flow. Once the volvulus is corrected, a surgical procedure called a gastropexy is performed. A gastropexy involves sewing or “tacking” the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent rotation in the future. It can still dilate, but the risk of volvulus is decreased.
Techniques known to decrease the risk of bloat are:
- Tacking the stomach prophylactically, may be done at the time of spay/neuter or with a laparoscope
- Feeding at least twice per day
- Feeding >30 mm kibble or larger pieces of meat
- Slowing down dog’s eating using slow feed bowls or food puzzles
- AVOID feeding from a raised feeder (well-researched that a raised feeder INCREASES risk 110%)
Although not proven in the literature, many recommend slowing down feeding by using a food puzzle or slow feed bowl. Some experienced large breed owners recommend having a dog rest 30 minutes before and 30–60 minutes after a meal and to avoid feeding if a dog is panting (to prevent increasing the amount of air that will be ingested when eating).
When considering a GWP, make sure to ask about bloat in the breeding line. In dog breeds that are at higher risk of bloat, prophylactic tacking can be done, which does not affect breeding. However, continuing to breed dogs prone to the disorder has to be considered. Responsible breeders should inform potential buyers of bloat in the breeding line. Dogs at high risk for bloat should be tacked when they are spayed or neutered. While this does not guarantee that bloat will not occur, it significantly decreases the risk.
One of the most significant barriers to successful treatment is being financially prepared. Depending on where you live and the possible complications that may occur, the cost to treat this condition at an Emergency Veterinary hospital can range from $3,000 — $10,000 or more. Emergency Veterinary facilities will usually require payment at the time of service. Pet insurance can help reimburse your expenses after the fact, but only Trupanion Pet Insurance can sometimes have an arrangement with a facility to directly pay the bill (you must know this in advance). For any canine medical emergency, it is important to have an accessible emergency fund, a credit card reserved for veterinary emergencies, or the ability to finance the expense rapidly (requiring a reasonable credit rating).
Watching your beloved dog experience a bloat is a very stressful, emotional and chaotic time. Being prepared will help decrease stress. Knowing where your closest emergency clinic that has a qualified surgeon and staff for this condition is located, thinking about your pet’s quality of life, your ability to access care and what your feelings are about surgery and resuscitation in advance of an event will help to lessen some of the stress should you be faced with this unfortunate situation.
National GWP Rescue is a nationwide rescue program whose volunteers work tirelessly to provide funding, foster homes, medical care and training for GWPs found in shelters, animal control facilities and to those GWPs whose current owners are unable to provide a suitable situation.
Working hand- in-hand with governmental and local shelters, NGWPR provides a safe and responsible home for GWP’s in need. Placed with an experienced GWPCA member, fostered GWPs that have been neglected, untrained or have medical issues quickly blossom as they are readied for their “forever” homes.
Prior to releasing our rescued GWPs for adoption, volunteers provide obedience, manners, and house training. We hold to the philosophy that a mannerly dog has a better chance of fitting into a new household.
NGWPR believes that Wires were designed to hunt and unlike some other rescue programs, we are happy to place dogs with field experience or bird instinct with potential owners who enjoy hunting behind a Wire. However, NGWPR insists that any rescue dog first be a house dog and companion, then a weekend hunting partner.
Please go to our website to learn more.
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