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:
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:
“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.
- How to Talk to Your Anti-Raw Vet about Raw Dog Food
- Canine Cushing’s Disease: Can Raw Dog Food Help?
- 5 Tools of a Professional Dog Walker