Bloat in Dogs & Cats: Causes, Signs, & Symptoms

In many cultures, a swollen belly is a sign of delicious food with good company. If you’re not quick to help yourself to seconds or thirds, your host will either insist on plating more food for you, or may even feel deeply offended.

The same rules don’t, however, apply to your pet’s world. No matter how much you believe that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach (and no matter how much those puppy or big kitten eyes would agree), a swollen belly for Bruno does not make a happy pet.

Bloat: What Is It?

GDV, or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, is a life-threatening condition that primarily affects large, deep-chested dogs and some cats. Commonly called bloat or torsion, this condition occurs when your pet’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid. The stomach expands against other organs and can result in a lack of blood flow to the heart or stomach lining, a tear in the stomach wall, and difficulty breathing.

Sometimes, the stomach will even rotate or twist: a condition called gastric dilatation volvulus, or GDV. When this occurs, the dog or cat is unable to belch or vomit to rid himself of excess air, blood flow to the heart can become impeded, and blood pressure may drop, all of which can send the animal into shock—even death.

The exact cause of gastric torsion in dogs is unknown. The risk factors are higher for canine bloat symptoms if you dog has a first-relative that suffered from Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV).

Bloat in pets

How Does Bloat Occur?

Although vets are not confident on what causes GDV, your pet may experience bloat if he:

  • Is fed one large meal a day
  • Eats too fast
  • Eats too much
  • Drinks large volumes of water
  • Exercises vigorously after eating
  • Is related to other dogs or cats with bloat
  • Eats from a raised food bowl
  • Is stressed

how does bloat occur in pets

Symptoms of Bloat in Pets

A majority of the time, the onset of bloat is rather quick. Pay attention to the signs of bloat if your pet is trying to signal that his stomach hurts with the following: 

  • Drooling
  • Pacing, acting restless
  • Looking anxious
  • Glancing at his stomach
  • Retching without throwing up

symptoms of bloat in pets

Symptoms of a worsened condition can find your pet experiencing the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Lethargic
  • Weak with a rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Collapse
  • Pale gums

If you suspect your pet has signs of bloat, it’s important to get him to your veterinarian right away, as delayed treatment can lead to death.

bloat in dogs

Preventing Bloat in Dogs

There are things you can do to prevent bloat and enhance your your dog’s life experience.

  • Limit exercise after a large meal
  • Limit excessive amounts of water after exercise
  • Feed your dog smaller portions more often
  • Avoid feeding large portions infrequently

Bloat: How to Tell If My Dog Is at Risk

It has been argued that the dog’s size and age are the most important things to consider when assessing bloat risk. Data suggests that the risk of canine bloat increases by 20% for large breeds after age 5 and 20% for giant breeds after age 3.  After age 7, the risk factors increases significantly for any breed. As your dog enters middle age or becomes a senior, it’s important to watch for symptoms of canine bloat.

Although all dogs are susceptible, bloat occurs more often in deep-chested, large breeds, including the: Afghan Hound, Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bloodhound, Boxer, Doberman, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Irish Wolfhound, Kuvasz, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Standard Poodle, Rottweiler, St. Bernard, and Weimaraner.

For more specifics on your pet, visit our Breed Guide.

Bloat and Splenic Torsion in Cats

In association with GDV, splenic torsion, or the twisting of the spleen, may follow. Although it is an abnormality and, therefore, rare, splenic torsion can occur suddenly or gradually over time.

Symptoms of splenic torsion in cats include the following:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Red or brown colored urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale gums
  • Abdominal mass

Splenic torsion can occur following GDV as well as with excessive exercise, rolling, and retching. Nervousness and anxiety have also been shown to increase the risk for GDV in cats.

How to Prevent Bloat in Pets

Bloat is not an easy thing to go through for any pet parent, but the following can help prevent it from happening in your fur family:

  • For dogs, avoid using a raised bowl, unless prescribed by your vet
  • Reduce contributors to your pet’s stress or anxiety levels
  • Give a few small meals a day rather than one or two big ones
  • Minimize exercise directly after meals
  • Regulate water intake

As with all possible conditions or threats, proper care and attention can help your pet live his longest, fullest life. If chicken soup is good for the soul, love is certainly your pet’s best medicine!

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