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Bloat is just as uncomfortable for a dog as it is for a person. Most of the time, a swollen or bloated belly on a dog is a problem that will fix itself in time.
However, bloating in dogs can be more than just an uncomfortable condition. It can also be a sign that the dog has a severe health condition that needs immediate treatment. Keep reading to learn what dog bloat is, what can cause dog stomach bloat, and dog bloat symptoms to watch out for.
Bloat is another word for a stomach that appears larger than usual. Dogs are supposed to have relatively trim waists, so it’s noticeable when they expand. Bloat is usually caused by excess food or gas in a dog’s stomach, stretching it and leading to abdominal discomfort.
Some cases of bloat are relatively mild. If a dog regularly gulps down a lot of food, their stomachs will likely expand after their meal. Their belly will naturally contract as their body processes the extra food and gas.
However, severe cases of what pet parents may identify as bloat can actually be a more lethal problem for dogs (specifically larger, deep-chested breeds). Sometimes if a dog eats too much or overexerts themselves in particular ways, their stomach can bloat to the point where it cuts off blood flow to the rest of the abdomen, tissues, and stomach tubes. It can even twist and fill with gas, leading to gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV).
This is one of the most extreme emergencies any dog can experience because it can lead to a ruptured stomach wall and death. Pet parents need to take their dogs to the vet immediately so they can perform emergency surgery and return the twisted stomach to its normal position.
Of course, most cases of bloat are not that serious. It’s essential to understand why a dog’s stomach may look larger than usual, so pet parents know the difference between symptoms of overeating and medical emergencies.
Dogs can experience bloated stomachs for several reasons. Three of the most common include:
Dog breeds with deep chests have a history of bloat and GDV because of how their abdomens are structured. A deep chest and narrow waist make the stomach more likely to twist. It also makes a bloated stomach more obvious because there’s usually a significant difference between the chest and the stomach. When that goes away, it’s a sign that something is wrong.
Some dog breeds prone to bloat because of their chests include:
GDV can occur if the dog overeats too quickly, exercises vigorously, or sometimes randomly. Vets may not always be certain of the cause, but they are certain of the dangerous outcomes.
Dogs can experience distended stomachs or bloated bellies because of other health issues or general gassiness. Worms or other internal parasites, for example, can make a dog’s belly look bigger than normal. Left untreated digestive parasites can become a more severe health issue for dogs and spread to other organs. Other conditions that can cause dog stomach bloat include:
Fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity
Adrenal gland disorders
Female dogs can also look bloated because they’re pregnant, which is not classified as an acutely concerning health issue.
A dog can experience bloating because of the food they eat. Eating meals from elevated food bowls can lead to the dog swallowing more air and bloating. So can eating food to which the dog is allergic or intolerant.
For example, if a dog is lactose intolerant, they may bloat after eating cheese or yogurt. This kind of bloat is a normal reaction caused by the stomach generating more gas as it tries to break down the lactose.
If a dog regularly bloats after eating certain foods, it’s important to stop feeding them those foods. While minor bloat due to gas or food intolerance probably won’t hurt dogs, it’s still uncomfortable. It also puts dogs at risk of developing GDV if they eat a little more than usual.
Some cases of bloat aren’t dangerous, but it’s still important to be watchful. Signs that a dog is experiencing a dangerous bloat episode include:
The most common sign of dangerous bloat is a swollen abdomen. The swelling comes from gas, food, and blood that can’t easily pass through the stomach.
If the dog seems uncomfortable and their abdomen suddenly seems wider or firmer than normal, they are likely experiencing GDV. Pet parents should take their dog to the vet immediately to ensure they receive treatment before suffering permanent organ damage.
A dog’s stomach will look distended or hang lower than usual when they’re experiencing bloat. This isn’t a dangerous sign on its own, but pet parents should keep a careful eye on their dogs if they notice it. Look out for other dog bloat symptoms like:
Attempting to vomit
Pawing or looking at their stomach
Pacing or seeming like they can’t lie down
Looking physically in pain and unwilling to play
If pet parents notice these bloat symptoms in their dogs, take them to the vet immediately. If they just have a distended belly, pet parents can reach out to online veterinarians to find out if it’s an emergency that needs immediate treatment.
One of the lesser-known signs of bloat in a dog is trouble breathing. When a dog’s stomach twists and fills with fluids and gas, it can put pressure on their abdominal wall and diaphragm. This can make it harder for them to breathe because their lungs don’t have as much room to expand.
If a dog is taking shallow, short breaths and has a bloated belly, that’s a bad sign. Get veterinary care immediately.
If a dog has a breed disposition or history of bloat, pet parents must carefully monitor them to keep them healthy. Keep food bowls on the floor, make sure they don’t eat their meals too quickly, and pay attention to their stomach to learn what it normally looks like before and after a meal. This can help prevent bloat in the first place. In some instances, corrective surgery may also be an option for high risk pets or for dogs with chronic bloat issues.
Pet parents should discuss their concerns with a qualified vet if they think their dog may be at risk of bloat and can get in touch with experienced veterinarians within a minute by becoming a Fuzzy member to get 24/7 online vet support. Reach out to talk, chat, or video consult with a vet and find out whether a dog is experiencing regular gas or a medical emergency that requires surgery and pain medications.