Gastric Dilatation (GD) or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), both commonly called bloat, can be one of the most frightening emergencies you will ever experience with your dog. “While simple to diagnose, the pathological changes GDV causes in the dog’s body make treatment complicated, expensive, and not always successful.” ~ The Dog Owner’s Guide 

What is bloat? It’s when the stomach (a gastric organ) expands, becoming dilated (dilatation) giving the G and the D of the acronym. The expansion might be from air, fluid, food, or a combination. Many times (~75%), the stomach also twists (volvulus, a.k.a. torsion) giving the V component and further complicating an already dire situation. Whether your dog’s bloat episode is “just” GD or is GDV you won’t be able to tell from the outside, and it really matters not a whit in what you need to do.

What do I do if my dog bloats?

Bloat requires veterinary intervention; it is an


What causes bloat? There is no one decisive answer to this, and potential causes may include both hereditary and individual components. No dog is truly free from the risk of bloat. For instance, while giant dog breeds with deep narrow chests, such as Great Danes, are at the highest risk just by being themselves, and breeds that are deep-chested but not quite as narrow-chested, such as the Spinone, are at higher risk than average, it even occasionally occurs in elderly small-breed dogs. However, “from the research performed to date, we can list several factors that, added together, can characterize the typical dog that develops bloat: a deep and narrow chest; leanness; a relative that has had a bloat episode; eating quickly; a dry-food diet; a single, large daily meal; stress; and a fearful, nervous, or aggressive temperament.” ~ Jerold S. Bell, DVM; Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine

What can I do to prevent it? As with the causes, there is no one decisive answer to this. You can try to mitigate the risks listed above by offering multiple smaller meals vs. fewer larger ones, using slow-feeders, feeding dry mixed with canned, and keeping your dog calm. If you search the internet, the list of other possible preventive measures goes on and on and begins to sound like a superstitious checklist. One summary for a well-accepted study states that “none of the practices usually advised by experts to prevent bloat, such as raising the food bowl and limiting the amount of exercise and water before or after eating, appeared effective. In fact, one of these, raising the food bowl, was associated with a higher incidence of bloat.” ~ Larry Glickman, VMD, PhD; Purdue University

What else can I do? What is gastropexy? Gastropexy, often referred to as “tacking”, is a surgical procedure that attaches the dog’s stomach to the abdominal wall. This does NOT prevent bloat, but it does reduce the possibility of twisting to almost nothing, thus increasing the chances of survival. This can be done as a stand-alone surgery or as an add-on to a routine neuter procedure. If your dog has not had it done and does bloat, depending on your dog’s condition at the time, the gastropexy can also potentially be performed during the surgery to correct the bloat (or after your dog has stabilized following decompression should surgery not otherwise be required) to help reduce the possibility of recurrence. “Studies have shown that 76 percent of dogs that do not have a gastropexy will bloat again; more than half will bloat again within three months. Only 6 percent of dogs that have had a gastropexy have another bloat episode.” ~ Bell; Tufts

OK, ok, so what are the symptoms of bloat? A swollen, distended, painful abdomen is a classic sign, but might not always be apparent or the first sign. Other early signs can include drooling, restlessness, pacing, inability to get comfortable, retching foam or without producing anything. As the condition progresses your dog might stand with legs apart and head lowered, drooling, retching, have dark red gums and an elevated heartrate, and be feverish. Even further along they could collapse, have pale gums, an even higher heartrate, and a dropping temperature. The can, might, and could here are emphasized because every dog, and even repeat episodes with the same dog, could present differently.

I’m specifically interested in the Spinone breed. What’s the best overall course of action regarding bloat with a Spinone?

As noted above, the Spinone is a deep-chested breed thus is anatomically at higher than average risk for bloat. If that’s not something you wish to accept, skip owning a dog at all (remember: no dog is free from risk of bloat!) or reduce the chances by choosing a dog from a breed that’s less at-risk. Or, accept the risk level, take the precautions, learn the symptoms, and be prepared to deal with it as quickly as calmly as you can, should it happen, and enjoy your life together with a member of this wonderful breed.

Below is a quick-reference chart you can download as a .pdf file to print out to have handy at home. CREDIT: Author unknown; variations are widely available on the internet.