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Avoiding Canine Bloat

She became very restless and kept looking at her stomach.  At this time of the evening, she’s typically lying down on a dog bed in the living room. I’m talking about our three year old German shorthaired pointer; a breed that is prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus or most commonly known as “bloat.”  Both my wife and I watched her closely until she finally settled down and went to sleep.  She was okay; evidently just a short-term digestive issue.

Bloat, however, is a very serious issue with many sporting breeds.  In fact, it’s been reported that bloat is the second leading killer of dogs…second only to cancer.  Deep chested dogs are most commonly affected by bloat.  Although any dog could develop bloat, those sporting breeds which are most at risk are Chesapeake bay retriever, springer spaniel, golden retriever, Gordon setter, German shorthaired pointer, Irish setter, Labrador retriever, weimaraner and many breeds from the hound group.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of bloat.  It’s generally felt that bloat is caused by an excessive amount of air which is swallowed and then accumulated in the stomach.  What actually happens is the stomach swells from the excess air and eventually may twist.  In fact, it can twist 90 to 360 degrees.  The twisting will eventually cut off any flow between the upper attachment (the esophagus) and the lower attachment (the upper intestine) which means air, food and water are now trapped in the stomach.  The twisting also cuts off the flow of blood which means very low blood pressure, shock and damage to internal organs.  Add all these problems together and the result can be, very quickly, a dead dog.

The causes of bloat are not entirely defined by the canine medical fraternity; however, it’s most commonly thought that the following contribute to bloat:  stress resulting from unfamiliar surroundings, boarding, new dog introduced to the pack and whelping; eating habits which include eating too fast, eating from elevated bowls, too much water before or after eating; exercise before and after eating; heredity; physical characteristics such as a deep chest, large dogs and male dogs.

Symptoms of bloat are many.  The issue we have here is that from the on-set of symptoms, we often have little time to get our beloved dog to a veterinarian for treatment.  So, understand your dog’s normal behavior and always be alert for symptoms.  The most common symptoms are restlessness, attempts to vomit (unsuccessfully), hunched up appearance, tight or hard abdomen, pale gums, heavy salivating, whining, pacing, licking the air, looking at their stomach, refusal to sit or lie down, eating grass or twigs, fearful or anxious.

Remembering the old adage that prevention is worth an ounce of cure, here are a few ideas the experts suggest you consider.  Avoid excessive stress, avoid elevated food bowls, feed two or three times daily rather than once, use a bowl that prevents rapid eating, avoid exercise one hour before and one hour after eating, make meals a happy time and avoid a food with brewer’s yeast.

We never know when bloat will occur and, when it does, it’s an emergency.  Be sure to have a 24 hour emergency veterinarian clinic telephone number handy…you never know when it will be needed.  Also, be sure to ask your veterinarian for information regarding bloat.  This column was written from personal knowledge and research from different sources; however, it’s not meant to replace good veterinarian advice.

Paul Fuller is a lifelong sportsman.  He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show ( and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German short-haired pointer in 1961.

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