Bloating and Swelling

Bloat is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of many dog lovers. Bloat is a simple term for gastric dilatation/volvulus. This condition causes the stomach to fill up with air and often to twist. Twisting shuts off the openings where the extra air could have escaped and also may tighten down on blood vessels, cutting off the free flow of blood to and from the stomach. This is a life-threatening, very serious emergency.

What Causes Bloat?

Research into the causes of bloat is quite extensive and continues even today. Researchers at Purdue University have looked at many aspects of dogs' daily lives for clues to this problem. Bloat tends to occur in large and medium-sized breeds such as Irish setters and Great Danes, with dachshunds being one of the smaller breeds in which it is seen. What many of these breeds have in common is a deep chest. That conformation may allow more room for the stomach to move.

Experienced dog people know that it is wise to rest your dog for at least an hour after a meal, letting food digest while your dog is quiet. It also helps to limit the amount your dog can drink right before and after a meal. Some research has looked into different types of diets as factors, such as dry food versus canned, and even certain ingredients, but there are currently no clear answers.

Signs You Will See

If your dog is bloating, you may notice a number of different signs. Your dog's abdomen may look distended. In the belly area, the skin is taut, and your dog may act as if he's in pain. Many dogs act like they are trying to vomit, but nothing comes up. Some dogs pace nervously refusing to lie down and in general acting uncomfortable. Eventually, your dog may show signs of shock and collapse due to the changes in blood flow. A dog in shock may be collapsed, have very pale gums, feel cold, and have a weak but rapid heart beat when you feel the heart or the pulse in the groin area. Any of those signs should be warnings that your dog is in shock or very close to it.

How to Handle Bloat

If you suspect your dog is bloating, you should call your veterinarian or emergency clinic right away. When you arrive, they will quickly evaluate your dog, palpating her abdomen and listening to her heart. The next step is to try and pass a stomach tube. If the tube goes in and gas is released, your dog will immediately feel much more comfortable. If the tube can't get into the stomach due to a twist, your veterinarian may stick a large needle right through the body wall into the distended stomach to relieve pressure and release some gas. Your dog will then head into surgery if her heart is stable.

If your dog's stomach has been twisted for a long time, or is twisted very tightly, some tissue will be necrotic (dead) due to the reduced blood flow. This is very dangerous, as untwisting the tissues will release some nasty bacteria and toxins. While your veterinarian will try to reduce the effects of those toxins with medications, some dogs do not survive. Other dogs will require removal of the dead tissues.

In surgery, the stomach is carefully untwisted, and the intestines and stomach are carefully evaluated for damage. The stomach is then fastened down to the body wall with sutures in an effort to prevent a recurrence of this problem. Most dogs end up staying in the hospital for a couple of days with intravenous fluids and careful observation.

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