40,000 – 60,000 dogs – mostly deep-chested giant breeds like Great Danes – suffer from gastric dilation, commonly known as bloat, each year. The condition advances rapidly and has a mortality rate as high as 33%.
Bloat can result in deadly shock and tissue death in mere minutes, so it is vital that Great Dane parents understand exactly what it is and the signs and symptoms to watch out for.
Bloat is the result of accumulation and swelling in the stomach. It is often accompanied by volvulus, which is the twisting or flipping of the stomach along its axis. The two conditions can also occur independently of one another, but both are life threatening.
As the stomach fills with gas, it expands, putting pressure on surrounding blood vessels and causing blood flow throughout the body to slow down. When blood supply to the stomach is cut off, volvulus occurs, leading to rapid tissue death and the accumulation of toxins.
Signs that your Great Dane is experiencing a life-threatening bloat and/or volvulus emergency include:
- Swollen, distended and painful abdomen
- Pacing, restlessness, anxiety and inability to get comfortable
- Crying out in pain
- Labored breathing from pressure on the diaphragm
- Drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Licking the air
- Vomiting foam or gagging without producing anything
- Inability to have a bowel movement
- Weak pulse
- Pale gums
The exact causes of bloat and volvulus are unknown, but anatomy is definitely a factor. Giant breeds with chest cavities that are significantly longer from spine to sternum – like Great Danes – are at the greatest risk, however small dogs can be affected as well.
Other risk factors include:
- Eating large volumes of food at a time
- Feeding only once a day
- Dry-only diets
- Dry diets with a fat source in the first four ingredients
- Diets with citric acid as a preservative
- Exercising immediately after eating
- Increasing age (20% per year according to Purdue University studies)
- Having a genetic relative that has experienced bloat
- “Fearful” personality (a whopping 257% increase in risk according to Purdue)
Veterinary intervention is always required in cases of bloat and/or volvulus, but thanks to advances in technology, mortality rates are improving. In most cases, a surgery called gastropexy, in which the stomach is repositioned and often “tacked” to the abdominal wall, is performed to save the dog’s life.
Tacking prevents the stomach from rotating again, but the animal is still at risk for bloat. Many Great Dane owners opt to have a prophylactic (or preventative) gastropexy performed on their dog at the same time as their neuter to minimize future risk.
The veterinary scientists at Purdue University offer the following tips for preventing bloat and volvulus in your Great Dane:
- Feed small meals several times a day
- Do not breed a dog that has a first-degree relative that has bloated
- Consider prophylactic gastropexy
- And, of course, seek veterinary help immediately if you suspect a problem!
H/T to The Whole Dog Journal