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Bloat and Gastric Torsion in Dogs: Differences, Signs, Prevention and More

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Bloat and gastric torsion are quite similar but distinct conditions in dogs. The difference lies in the position of the stomach of the affected dog. 

Bloat is technically less severe. When a dog’s stomach is full of gas and their belly looks visibly distended, veterinarians refer to it as bloat. It is not very different from bloating in humans, but it is definitely more serious in dogs. 

Gastric torsion (simply, torsion) or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is more severe than bloat. It happens when the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself. GDV results in a loop formation that can cut off blood flow between the upper part and lower part of the intestine as well. GDV is an emergency in any dog irrespective of their breed, size and age. 

How are bloat and gastric torsion distinguished and diagnosed?

The symptoms of bloat and GDV are often similar. They may look identical to the pet owners and even the veterinarians during physical examination. Veterinarians typically rely on imaging techniques (X-ray) to distinguish between the two conditions. 

Always rush your dog to a pet hospital nearby which at least has X-ray facilities complete with surgery setups if you suspect a bloat or GDV. 

A chart of the different postures of a dog that signifies good health as compared to a dog with bloat and gastric torsion. The bottom of the image is dedicated to how to stomach twists upon itself to cut off blood flow to and from the lower part of the intestine.

What are the common signs of bloat and GDV?

The signs of bloat and gastric torsion in dogs are alike. These include –

  • Pacing and restlessness 
  • Dry heaving (wants to vomit, but can’t)
  • Visibly distended belly
  • Excessive drooling/salivation 
  • The dog will be in pain and might whine if their belly is pressed
  • A high heart rate

Without immediate treatment the dog can go into shock. In such a situation, you may see the following four signs –

  1. Pale gums 
  2. Low body temperature
  3. Laboured breathing
  4. Inability to stand or move

If your dog’s abdomen feels swollen and hard to the touch do not waste time. Do not try to treat your dog at home with home remedies. Take them to the nearest emergency pet clinic with surgery and diagnostic facilities immediately. 

What causes bloat or GDV (torsion)?

Photo of an Irish Setter drooling excessively from either side of their mouth. Irish Setters are prone to Bloat and gastric torsion and the initial signs often include excessive drooling.

Even now, there is no 100% agreement on what exactly causes bloat or GDV. Or, why some dogs only get bloat that doesn’t progress to GDV. However, a few contributing factors include –

Old age of the dog 

Older dogs are more prone to GDV

Gender and GDV

According to history, male dogs have more frequency of GDV as compared to female dogs. 

Breeds and Torsion

Large, deep-chested breeds are at higher risk of bloat and GDV. 

Meal size and GDV

According to veterinarians, dogs who eat one large meal a day or eat too much too fast are more likely to develop bloat and GDV. 

Type of dog bowl 

One may think that raised dog bowls are helpful for larger breeds. However, for decades, veterinarians have associated raised food bowls with bloat and torsion in dogs. 

Are both bloat and gastric torsion serious? 

Although bloat sounds simple since most pet owners use the term “bloating” to describe gastritis in humans, that’s not exactly the case for dogs. Bloats demand emergency treatment and observation. 

When left untreated, bloat can progress to gastric torsion (GDV). 

GDV is a critical condition in dogs. It requires immediate medical attention and surgery. There is no way to correct the position and structure of the affected dog’s stomach without surgery. 

What are the treatments for bloat and torsion in dogs?

Around 2 months old tan and black German Shepherd puppy lying on the veterinary examination table with their eyes closed. two gloved hands are visible along with the cuffs of a lab coat. the right hand is holding the upper chest while the left is placing a stethoscope on the chest right behind the left elbow.

Torsion or GDV always requires surgical intervention. Without timely surgery it is always fatal. Take your dog to a veterinary hospital near you with in-house diagnostics (imaging) and surgical infra. 

Bloat rarely requires surgery. Veterinarians may sedate your dog to pass a tube into the stomach to let the air out. Or, they may use a catheter to remove excess air from a bloated belly of a dog. 

Which dog breeds commonly suffer from bloat and gastric torsion?

A Basset Hound sitting on a hardwood floor looking to the right of the camera. It is one breed particularly prone to bloat and gastric torsion due to the structure of their body.

Large, deep-chested breeds have higher risks of developing bloat and torsion. These breeds include –

Does diet affect the risk of bloat and gastric torsion in dogs?

Golder Retriever adult eating from a raised bowl. Eating from a raise bowl like this one increases a dog's risk of bloat and gastric torsion.

It is still a debatable topic. There have been multiple studies that have established a direct relationship between the type of food and torsion. Whereas, an equal number of studies have shown that the type of food has nothing to do with bloat and torsion. 

We can only say that feeding your dog in small quantities at regular intervals should keep them safer. Always feed them from bowls that are placed at the ground level. 

If your dog has the tendency to develop symptoms of gastritis, consult a veterinarian near you ASAP. The vet may give your dog digestive aids and supplements that reduce gas formation and decrease the risk of bloat in the long term. 

Is there a way to prevent bloat or GDV in dogs?

An elective gastropexy surgery can prevent GDV in large breeds such as the Great Dane. Gastropexy is a surgery aiming to stop bloat and GDV. It can be done to prevent the issue in at-risk healthy dogs. In this procedure, a vet attaches the stomach to the body’s right side, keeping it secure and avoiding the twist that leads to the problem.

What should large breed owners keep in mind for the safety of their dogs?

the closeup of a fawn labrador as they eat dry kibbles from a steel bowl in the ground. feeding large dogs from bowls kept at the ground-level can reduce the risk of bloat and gastric torsion

You can always keep your large-breed dog healthier by following these steps –

  • Give them enough exercise 
  • Give them food in prescribed proportions
  • Feed them multiple meals a day
  • Use puzzle or slow feeders if your dog is a rapid eater
  • Do not use raised bowls

A dog with a family history of GDV will have a higher risk of the disease. So, if you have the option, enquire about the health of their littermates and previous litters. 

If your dog shows signs of discomfort that match the symptoms of bloat or GDV you should take them to an emergency care clinic near you, without wasting any time. 

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