Bloat is a very serious health risk for many dogs, but especially large and giant breeds. Unfortunately the Irish Setter is one of the breeds that is particularly prone, and it is really important that owners are aware of and can recognise the signs so they can contact their vet immediately, day or night, if they think their Setter is blowing.  Getting your Setter to the vet immediately is crucial as time is absolutely vital;  don’t wait to “see what happens” and certainly don’t wait to see if your dog is better in the morning. Bloat is an emergency and all vets are aware of the importance of seeing the dog immediately.

This is a complex disease which is likely to be the result of environmental influences including diet and stress as well as familial susceptability.  Whilst it is not clear whether it is truly inherited, or whether it is a reflection of inherited conformational characteristics, it does mean that the chances of your puppy getting bloat increase if there have been other cases of bloat in the family.

What names is bloat known by?

  • Bloat
  • Dilatation-Volvulus
  • Distension
  • Gastric Dilatation
  • Gastric Torsion
  • Gastric Volvulus
  • GDV
  • Torsion
  • Tympani

These are all names that may be used to describe bloat and are often used interchangeably by owners as they are all stages of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

What is Bloat?

  • Bloat is an unusual accumulation of gas and fluids in the stomach which is not passed normally through belching or flatulence and which causes abnormal swelling.
  • The gas that accumulates is largely swallowed air, and does not arise by fermentation in the stomach. The stomach becomes like a drum (tympani).
  • A dilatation is where the stomach is distended but is not twisted.
  • Eventually the stomach will not only just dilate but also rotate fully on its long axis, causing a torsion/volvulus.

A bloated stomach affects several other organs in the abdomen by putting pressure on them and by affecting the veins which means blood cannot return to the heart as it should.  The spleen may also become twisted.  As the stomach gets bigger it puts pressure on the chest cavity which makes it difficult for the dog to breathe.  If the stomach twists it can totally or partially block the exit to and from the stomach trapping gas, food and water in the stomach.  The stomach's own blood supply can be comprised leading to death of its wall, rupture and peritonitis.  This combination can quickly lead to death as organ failure, low blood pressure and shock all set in.

Symptoms

Not all dogs get all the symptoms so don’t wait to see them all: 

Phase 1:

The stomach is dilating but may not have twisted.

  • Not acting as normal
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • May ask to go outside in the middle of the night
  • Swelling of the stomach- feels like a drum and may resonate when tapped gently
  • Excessive salivation
  • Pacing
  • Stretching
  • Looking at abdomen
  • Whining
  • Unproductive retching: attempts to vomit but not bringing up food; sometimes a white, frothy saliva is brought up

Phase 2:

The stomach has twisted and shock is starting to set in

  • Abdominal pain
  • Very restless
  • Whining and groaning
  • Pacing
  • Unable to settle
  • Stretching
  • Looking at the abdomen
  • Abdomen is enlarged and tight
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Panting
  • May stand with front legs apart and head down
  • Trying to vomit more often
  • Heart rate increased to 80 – 120 beats per minute
  •  Dark red gums

 Phase 3:

Shock has developed and death is imminent

  • Shallow breathing
  • White or blue gums
  • Weak pulse
  • Abdomen is very enlarged
  • Heart rate over 120 beats per minute
  • Collapse

Measures thought to reduce the risk of bloat.

  • Feeding two or three smaller meals a day rather than one large one
  • Avoiding exercise for a couple of hours before and after feeding
  • Limiting the amount of water available immediately before and after eating
  • Feeding a good quality diet
  • Not feeding a meal that swells in contact with water
  • If you are changing diet then doing it gradually over a period of a few days
  • Making meal times as stress free as possible
  • Making sure your Setter is not underweight
  • If you have more than one dog and there is a race to finish eating then it is best to separate them

It used to be thought that feeding your dog from a raised bowl helped to prevent bloat but more recent research shows this is not the case.

Treatment

Urgent veterinary attention should be sought if you think your Setter is bloated.

Emergency treatment will comprise intravenous fluids to compensate for shock and decompression of the stomach by a stomach tube. Surgery to correct any torsion will be performed as soon as the dog is stable.

 General Information

  • Dogs that bloat are generally over 2 years old and the chance increases by the time they are about 4 but this is not always the case. Puppies have been known to bloat and, occasionally, dogs over 10 will bloat.
  • Larger deeper chested dogs seem to be most at risk.
  • There may be a history of digestive upsets, but this in not always the case.
  • Having a first degree relative (i.e. parent, sibling) with a history of bloat seems to increase the chances of bloat.
  • There may be a familial association with other dogs who bloat but this is not always the case.
  • Stress is a known factor and "happy dogs" are considered to be less at risk.

Prognosis and prevention of recurrence

Bloat is a serious condition, with a mortality rate of approximately 30% even with prompt veterinary treatment, although the prognosis is worsened if treatment is delayed.

Dogs that survive an episode of bloat are at increased risk of repeat episodes. The risk can be significantly reduced by performance of a surgical procedure, called a gastropexy, that fixes the stomach's position and prevents it from twisting, although it will not prevent further episodes of dilatation. This procedure is performed either at the time of the first surgery, or at a later date if a patient is treated with fluids and decompression initially. It is important that you request that your vet perform this surgery which may be performed. 

You may be given the option of laparoscopic gastropexy. Commonly called keyhole surgery it is minimally invasive, faster and has better healing results. 

The x rays below, courtesy of the vet who took them, shows the before and after scenario of an Irish setter which bloated. That on the left clearly shows the distended stomach which is the large black mass to the right on the x ray. That on the right was taken after the stomach was decompressed. In this case the stomach hadn't twisted and a laparoscopic gastropexy was carried out a few days later.

bloat x ray

Bloat surveys and research from Purdue University

Raghavan, M.; Glickman, N.W.; Glickman, L.T. The effect of ingredients in dry dog foods on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 42: 28-36, January/February 2006.

Glickman, L., Glickman, N., et al. Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in 11 large and giant breed dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 217(10):1492-1499, 2000.

Glickman, L.T., Glickman, N.W., Schellenberg, D.B., Raghavan, M., Lee, T.L. Incidence of and breed-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 216(1):40-45, 2000

Schellenberg, D., Yi, Q., Glickman, N.W., Glickman, L.T. Influence of thoracic conformation and genetics on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in Irish setters. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 34(1):64-73, 1998.

Glickman, L.T.; Lantz, G.C.; Schellenberg, D.B; Glickman, N.W. A prospective study of survival and recurrence following the acute gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome in 136 dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 34(3):253-9, 1998

Schaible, R.H.; Ziech, J.; Glickman, N.W.; Schellenberg, D.; Yi, Q.; Glickman, L.T. Predisposition to gastric dilatation-volvulus in relation to genetics of thoracic conformation in Irish Setters. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 33(5):379-83, 1997

Glickman, L.T.; Glickman, N.W.; Perez, C.M.; Schellenberg, D.S.; Lantz, G.C. Analysis of risk factors for gastric dilatation and dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Medical Association 204(9):1465-71, 1994

Raghavan, M.; Glickman, N.W.; Glickman, L.T. The effect of ingredients in dry dog foods on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 42: 28-36, January/February 2006.Bloat surveys and research from Purdue University

Glickman, L., Glickman, N., et al. Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in 11 large and giant breed dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 217(10):1492-1499, 2000.

Glickman, L.T., Glickman, N.W., Schellenberg, D.B., Raghavan, M., Lee, T.L. Incidence of and breed-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 216(1):40-45, 2000

Schellenberg, D., Yi, Q., Glickman, N.W., Glickman, L.T. Influence of thoracic conformation and genetics on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in Irish setters. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 34(1):64-73, 1998.

Glickman, L.T.; Lantz, G.C.; Schellenberg, D.B; Glickman, N.W. A prospective study of survival and recurrence following the acute gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome in 136 dogs. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 34(3):253-9, 1998

Schaible, R.H.; Ziech, J.; Glickman, N.W.; Schellenberg, D.; Yi, Q.; Glickman, L.T. Predisposition to gastric dilatation-volvulus in relation to genetics of thoracic conformation in Irish Setters. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 33(5):379-83, 1997

Glickman, L.T.; Glickman, N.W.; Perez, C.M.; Schellenberg, D.S.; Lantz, G.C. Analysis of risk factors for gastric dilatation and dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Medical Association 204(9):1465-71, 1994

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