Bloat in dogs is a serious condition that’s closely related to food, exercise and a few other factors, so let’s talk about it!
You may know that I’m all about exercising my pups on a regular, daily basis because it gets rid of excess energy and burns calories. For this very reason, we begin every morning with a doggie backpack walk during fall, winter and spring.
We don’t use them in summer because of the heat and humidity.
Now, while it’s important to keep our pups fit & healthy, it’s equally important to know WHEN to exercise them in order to avoid health issues.
Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated in 2022. It contains affiliate links I may earn compensation through at no additional cost to you.
As mentioned above, we begin our mornings with a walk, but it’s PRIOR to breakfast.
Not after breakfast.
Well, have you ever exercised on a full stomach? That’s why!
What is Bloat in Dogs?
In all seriousness though, exercising your pup with a full stomach can cause bloat in dogs, also known as GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus).
Bloat is a serious disorder of a dog’s digestive system, and as such constitutes a life threatening emergency. If it doesn’t get treated by a vet right away, the dog is likely going to die within hours.
Bloat occurs when the stomach traps air and gasses which are then not able to escape, followed by twisting on itself, closing off the esophagus.
That means productive vomiting won’t be possible.
Additionally, the blood flow will get cut off from the liver and the spleen, as well as from the heart, resulting in low blood pressure. The abdomen will push against the dog’s lungs, causing breathing difficulties.
At-Risk Breeds for Bloat
Any dog can get bloat, but deep-chested breeds are at the greatest risk of suffering from this emergency. For example:
- Great Danes
- Basset Hounds
- American Pit Bull Terriers
- German Shorthaired Pointers
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Standard Poodles
Bloat in Dogs Symptoms
If you see any of the following symptoms in your pup, keep a very close eye on them. If you notice that your dog’s belly looks off, take them to your/a (emergency) vet:
- Distended belly/rib cage
- Excessive panting
- Elevated heartrate
Since the belly will appear distended, the skin around it will be super tight. Similar to the membrane of a drum.
Bloat in Dogs Causes
So, what triggers bloat in dogs?
Besides walking and playing right after feeding, the following can also cause bloat:
- No cushion around the stomach (in underweight dogs)
- Anxiety and stress
- Dry food diet only
- Large portions fed only once per day
- Drinking large amounts of water
A word about feeding: There used to be a controversy about whether or not to use elevated feeding stations. For the longest time, people thought that elevated feeding limits the amount of air that’s ingested along with the food, which would decrease the chances of bloating.
Even vets recommended elevated feeders.
However, in recent years there seems to have been a shift away from elevated feeders.
Because these days, elevated dog feeders are said to increase the risk of bloating by 110%!
According to a study:
Approximately (…) 52% of cases of GDV among the large breed and giant breed dogs, respectively, were attributed to having a raised feed bowl.
It sort of makes sense when you think about it because dogs and wolves don’t eat from elevated surfaces in the wild either, right?
I personally can only speak of my own experience with my personal dogs and the 100+ client dogs I took care of during my professional dog walking days (2012-2020).
My own pups Missy & Buzz were Boxer mixes, and I didn’t use elevated feeders. Neither in their kibble days, nor in their raw dog food days.
Several of my doggie clients who had large chested breeds used elevated dog feeders, while just as many did not use them.
That said, I’m aware of one Great Dane client who died of bloat, although he was brought to the vet very quickly. This pup, Shaun, ate from an elevated feeder. But so did his two siblings Shade & Haley, and neither of them got bloat.
However, there was one common denominator.
Every one of my deep-chested doggie clients made sure I knew not to exercise their pups for at least one hour after they ate, including playtime, and never to let them drink large amounts of water at once.
I usually didn’t have to feed my Monday-Friday midday doggie clients, but obviously always had to feed my pet sitting clients. When their owners were out of town, our routine looked like this:
- Morning walk followed by breakfast
- Midday potty break/walk
- Evening walk followed by dinner
- Late night potty break
Bloat in Dogs Treatment
If you suspect that your dog is bloating, take them to a vet IMMEDIATELY!
Additionally, keep the pup warm while getting them to the vet’s office. If you can, have someone else ride along to assist.
The vet will try to decompress the stomach with a tube. Essentially that means to get rid of any stomach fluids. If this approach is unsuccessful, surgery will then be necessary to un-twist the stomach.
Side note: Did you know that the average cost of bloat surgery in dogs is somewhere between $1,500 and $7,500? That’s why it’s always a good idea to have medical dog insurance or a healthy doggie savings account for those steep emergency vet bills!
How to Prevent Bloat in Dogs
All that’s pretty scary, but there’s a few things we can do to minimize the risk of bloat happening in our furries:
- Keep your dog at a healthy, normal weight. If you’re unsure about your pup’s target body weight, ask your vet or breeder for help.
- Feed two or more smaller meals throughout the day. One large meal is a lot to handle for any stomach.
- Don’t feed a kibble-only diet. It’s super dry and starchy which makes it harder (and takes longer) to digest. You can add a little water or some wet/canned dog food – or even better, try a raw diet!
- Slow your dog’s eating. You can add a portion pacer ball to their bowl, or feed meals in an interactive feeder.
- No exercise for 1-2 hours after eating. That’ll give your pup time to digest.
- Canine gastropexy procedure. When a gastropexy procedure gets performed, the dog’s stomach gets sutured to the right abdominal wall to prevent it from flipping over.
Here’s an interesting piece of information that was published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association: The effect of ingredients in dry dog foods on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs.
It points out that kibble that list fats such as sunflower oil or animal fat in the first 4 ingredients increases the risk of bloat in dogs by 2.4 times.
Another study concluded that large and giant breed dogs who are fed large amounts of food once per day are at a higher risk of coming down with GDV than those who are fed multiple meals per day:
Diet-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs of high-risk breeds
“For both large- and giant-breed dogs, the risk of GDV was highest for dogs fed a larger volume of food once daily.“
Avoiding Bloat in Dogs: When NOT to Exercise Your Dog – Bottom Line
Since bloat can quickly turn into a life threatening emergency situation for your pup, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of bloat in dogs.
Even if you misinterpret certain signs for bloat, it’s still better to take your pup to the vet than being sorry later.
If they don’t end up being diagnosed with GDV, that’s great!
If they do, be prepared for an expensive treatment. That’s why it’s a good idea to have medical pet insurance or a savings account for any dog related emergency expenses.
Of course it’s best to avoid bloat in the first place. While that’s not something that can be guaranteed 100%, there are measures you can take to minimize the risk of bloat in your dog:
- Exercise your pups BEFORE feeding them
- Feed multiple smaller meals per day instead of one huge meal
- Discourage your pup from drinking large amounts of water in one sitting
Consider feeding your pup a raw dog food diet that’s naturally moist!
Raw-fed dogs drink a lot less water than kibble-fed dogs because they simply don’t crave as much water as they do on a dry food diet.
- Reasons & Solutions for Hunger Pukes in Raw-Fed Dogs
- How to Talk to Your Anti-Raw Vet about Raw Dog Food
- Canine Cushing’s Disease: Can Raw Dog Food Help?
- What’s in Your Pet First Aid Kit for Dogs?
- 5 Tools of a Professional Dog Walker
Great information. Thank you. I try to walk our dogs pre-breakfast or pre-dinner. With the shorter days, I have to feed them early and then walk a couple hours later.
Bloat isn’t something that I’ve worried about with our dogs, but I know that they’re not immune to it. Sometimes I see lists of breeds most affected by a health condition and breath a sigh of relief, because our dogs aren’t on the list – that’s a false sense of security and I know better.
Or at least I should know better.
Thank you, Kimberly! On those days when you don’t have time for a pre-breakfast walk, it’s definitely safer to feed them first, and then walk them later in the day!
I remember when we had just started raising our pups and fed them first thing in the morning, and then took them outside right after. Granted, we didn’t go for a hike but it was definitely more than a potty break. Yikes, I’m so glad their stomachs weren’t affected.
I believe all of us doggie people have found ourselves in iffy/potentially dangerous situations with our pups we COULD have prevented but didn’t. Thankfully, most of us learn from past mistakes 😉
If you have ever seen bloat first hand you would do everything to avoid it. Mom saw three cases when she was helping her vet friend in Germany, only one dog survived. It is so incredibly painful and awful! We always exercise, eat, nap. There are never exceptions! Thanks for posting this as exercise is real important, but never risk bloat, plan ahead! Even drinking too much water at once can cause it.
Oh goodness, that’s so scary to have witnessed 3 cases!!! So far, I have not witnessed any actual cases of bloat, neither in my own dogs, any friends’ or family’s, or clients’.
We are right on the same page as you regarding the strict “exercise, eat, nap” routine and always make sure to have a very watchful eye on Missy as she has a tendency of wanting to drink too much water, too fast. Her doing this was the reason we began placing a pacer ball in the water dish. It’s been working quite nicely, but we still supervise her.
This is such a great article. I’ve never seen this before!
Thank you, it’s a pretty scary scenario!
I have had a dog who bloated with GDV and survived. The cost is more like $4,000-$5,000. It can occur in any breed, including mixes. Unfortunately so much of the info that is out there on GDV is outdated. For example, our dog never ate a dry kibble only diet. His symptoms were atypical and he did not appear bloated or salivate. We were very lucky that he survived.
The AKC has awarded some significant grants for a series of studies which are ongoing right now and what they are looking at is stomach motility as the primary cause (perhaps genetic). But oddly enough, the vet that saved our dog thought it was an allergic reaction to an insect bite that caused our dog’s spleen to inflate and twist taking his stomach. We will never know for sure, so until the study results come out, we do take some preventive measures with our dogs. We NEVER let them tank up on water. Not at any time during the day or night. We do not feed 2 hours before heavy exercise or one hour after. We also give a GasX with each meal.
Wow, I am SO glad to read that your pup survived! I suppose the cost of surgery depends on each case and also has something to do with the geographic location of your vet…found out that vet care in Loudon County in Northern Virginia (where we used to live) is almost triple of what it is here in rural NC. Apparently “location, location, location” doesn’t only apply to real estate.
How very interesting (and scary all at once) that an allergic reaction might have caused your pup’s case of bloat. Wow. Were there any indicators of a bite such as bite marks or inflammation?
I am definitely all for taking precautions; one can never be too careful. When I had the initial meet & greet with my first Great Dane client, she made sure to interview me about my knowledge of Bloat. Thankfully I passed 🙂
Great reminder to folks about this deadly problem. Luckily I’ve never experienced it and plan to keep it that way!
Thanks, Kate – very same here!
Thank you 🙂
Brilliant advice. I know of someone with a little dog who almost died of this horrible thing. Horrible, horrible, horrible.
Good grief – I suppose the only good news is that the little pup lived. What kind of breed is the little one, if you don’t mind my asking, and do you know if the cause was exercise after having eaten?
I know. It was scary to hear about after the incident. It was a Border Terrier, and no, I don’t think it was after eating any large meals, or meals at all.
The Border Terrier is definitely not on the top list of dogs who can be affected by bloat, which just goes to show that any breed can suffer from it, really.
Mr. N is horrible about wanting to play with toys after eating. I’ll have to keep a strict eye on him.
Oh no, Mr. N!
Sometimes Missy wants to entice her brother to play right after breakfast (never after dinner, interestingly enough). I usually don’t have to intervene because Buzz never reciprocates and is much more interested in his digestive post-breakfast nap. He’s such a smart boy 😉
Great information. I was aware of bloat but didn’t really know the details. Rocco eats way too fast but he doesn’t gulp his water. I’ll definitely keep a watchful eye on him.
Thank you, Diane! Missy has that same tendency as Rocco of eating too fast. Apparently it has something to do with being the runt of her litter and having had to fight the hardest for her Mommy’s milk (that was our vet’s take). We added the pacer ball to her food (and the water dish), which has slowed her down some.
We follow all of those rules, even though we don’t have high risk breeds. I always figure better safe than sorry. We still use elevated feeders though – I think my large dogs are more comfortable eating when they don’t have to bend over to get their food. Sometimes the conflicting info out there about things like that can be so frustrating!!!
Oh gosh, yes, it sure can! I have a feeling that either way of feeding is ok as long as the dog is calm & relaxed when eating and not gorging down his food.
Never seen this before. I can’t imagine how painful and uncomfortable it must be 🙁
Will be following your rules from now on!
It’s always good to err on the safe side!
This topic is so so important! Have just pinned onto my Dog Care board on Pinterest. I don’t think all dog owners realise the dangers of bloat – and more people definitely need to know about it! Excellent article 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing it on your Pinterest board – it really is a subject that is scary, but shouldn’t be ignored!
Bloat has always freaked me out, although thankfully I’ve never seen a dog experience it and I’ve taken care of a lot of dogs! Like you, I always walk or exercise the dogs before they eat unless the owner specifically asks the dog to eat first for whatever reason. If that is the case, I just do a really light walk.
Ace has a huge chest and a tiny waist (yeah, I’m jealous!), and he tends to eat quickly and drink his water REALLY fast. He throws up his water on a weekly basis from drinking too much too quickly. Because of those reasons I’ve always been aware and careful. We do our activities and exercise prior to eating and he is encouraged to hang out on his bed after his meals/water. 🙂
I had to grin at your “yeah, I’m jealous” insert…I’m joining your club!
It would be terrible to experience bloat in our pups, and so incredibly bad if it were to happen to a client’s pup while in my care. Like you, I always err on the safe side of things and stick to the “exercise first, then feeding” rule when taking care of any of my clients’ dogs.
I’ve never had a dog get bloat. But it freaks me out like Lindsay.
We find that Honey likes to nap after breakfast. Then she likes a walk and play time. I figure she knows her body rhythms best and we follow along.
Honey is such a very wise pup & surrounded by equally smart humans 😉
Fantastic article, Barbara! Bloat is something I’ve always been scared of with Haley since she has a deep chest and she’s so active. We did start using elevated bowls a few years ago after Haley hurt her knee and it was painful for her to lower her head to the ground for a few days. I haven’t heard of the elevated bowl issue with bloat, but it’s good to know that it could be a factor.
Besides what you mentioned, we avoid having Haley jump or do tricks after eating or drinking a lot of water. As a matter of fact, we quit making her do the “rollover” trick years ago because of a risk of bloat. Maybe she knows better than we do since it was her least favorite trick. 🙂
Thank you, Elaine! It sounds like the elevated bowl has been working for Haley. I really have the impression that either way of feeding (on the ground or elevated) is fine, as long as the pup in question doesn’t inhale the food.
Very good point of not letting Haley jump or do any tricks, especially not the rollover one after having eaten or having had lots of water! Our pups have come to enjoy the rollover trick because they know they get treats and an excited mommy out of it 😉 I love seeing them do it…but certainly not until several hours after mealtime!