The diagram above depicts what happens to the stomach when it bloats and twists causing a situation that can turn deadly very quickly. The mortality rate of bloat with the twist, or torsion, is about 50%.

There are two types of bloat.  The first is when the stomach fills up with gasses and the other is when it fills up with gasses and twists.  The version that twists is deadly.


Time is of the essence if your dog is going to make it or not. So let's take a look at the typical symptoms that indicate bloat.  

  • Unable to settle and get comfortable
  • Pacing
  • Drooling
  • Hacking and retching
  • Attempting to vomit or burp without producing
  • Enlargement and hardening of the abdomen
  • Discomfort when you press on his belly
  • Thumping on the belly sounds hollow, like a watermelon

Like every rule there are exceptions. Most dogs haven't read this post and are unaware they are supposed to display a certain set of symptoms. In the early stage of bloat the stomach may look normal but be tender to the touch. The dog could appear "off", or lethargic. He may walk with stiff legs and his head hung low. There may be signs of stress and anxiety.

As the process continues you will see signs of shock setting in. Shock includes pale gums & tongue, rapid heart rate, a weak pulse, and breathing becomes very labored. There may be chills. Finally the dog will have complete body weakness and possibly collapse.

On a positive note, if the dog is able to burp or throw up any stomach contents than a torsion is unlikely but only a veterinary examination will be able to determine for sure.

Call your Veterinary Emergency Hospital and notify them that you are on your way with a suspected case of bloat. You must get to a vet within 20 minutes or the stomach will start dying off from lack of oxygen so find a close vet. Ask someone to help you with the transport to the hospital.

Treatment Options

The Veterinarian will have several issues to deal with on top of the bloat crisis. Bloat causes a number of other problems including severe dehydration, bacterial septicemia, circulatory shock, cardiac arrhythmia and gastric perforation.  All of these factors must be dealt with simultaneously.

First thing the Vet will do is evaluate your dog's gas by passing a tube into the stomach or using a large boar needle inserted into the stomach from the outside and then doing a physical exam and running some blood work. If there are signs of shock intravenous fluid will be given to help prevent, or recover from, dehydration. Antibiotics and pain medications might be given. Once the dog is stable the Veterinarian may do x-rays to determine if there is a twist, or torsion to the stomach.

It is possible the dog may develop a bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Blood clots start to form in the dog's blood vessels. Heparin is an  anticoagulant drug that might be given to either treat or prevent this condition..

Due to stress and shock the heart might develop arrhythimas. Arrhythima is a condition in which the heart beats with an abnormal rhythm. This is yet another life threatening situation for the dog. If your dog has an existing heart condition be sure you inform the Veterinarian so appropriate heart medications may be given. 

Once all of these things have been addressed, and the dog has stabilized, abdominal surgery will most likely be required.

During surgery the Veterinarian will be checking the health of the stomach, spleen and surrounding organs. The lack of circulation caused by the torsion can cause irreversible damage.  Sometimes the damaged tissue and organs can be removed.  Depending on the damage the prognosis could be dire and euthanasia might be considered.

If the damage is minimal the Veterinarian will re-position the stomach and tack it to surrounding structures. This procedure is called Gastropexy and will discourage future episodes. If the Gastropexy is not performed, 75-80% of dogs will bloat again..

The dog will be monitored very closely after surgery for any possible complications and will be treated with antibiotics and pain medications.

If the problem was just backed up gas, with no Torsion; the dog may stay for observation and be restricted from eating or drinking for 12 to 24 hours then put on a spcial eating diet and schedule before going home.

Bloat is very possible in older dogs as the wall muscles to the stomach get weak. Most times it is just built up gas and with help from a vet, it can be illiminated, but time is still an important factor. Feding an older dog several meals a day instead of one big meal is a help and contray to popular beliefs raised dog bowls are not good for bloat issues.  It is better for them to keep the head eiher level with their shoulders or lower. Do not let them gulp water. Give smaller amounts at a time. Feed a grain free food. and no heavy exercise after eating.  A little common sense goes a long way.