Bloat: Causes and Prevention

In my last blog post I talked about Bloat – Symptoms and Treatment.  Today I will cover the causes and how to possibly prevent this fatal issue.

What Causes Bloat?

We don’t know exactly.  There have been some studies, but as this isn’t a ‘human’ issue, funding to study a canine only related issue is lacking.  We do know risk factors for breeds that have to do with body shape, temperament, and ‘maybe’ genetics.  The genetic aspect might simply be body shape, as no ‘bloat gene’ has been discovered.

Here is a short list of Physical / Temperament factors that might put a dog at risk

  • A Deep and Narrow chest.  Think about the shape of a Great Dane, how they have very deep chest but really narrow.  Same goes for Irish Setters… and sadly many Standard Poodles.
  • Weighing more than 99 pounds.  This isn’t a risk factor for most Standard Poodles, but it is good information for all dog owners.
  • A tendency to Worry / Stress.  This I think is one of the big reason’s Standard Poodles bloat.  They are a deep feeling breed with a low stress level.  Any change in routine can send them into panic.  That is why I tell everyone to socialize their puppies, make them spend time in other homes, travel often, and move your furniture around.  Don’t let them have a set in stone routine that never changes.  Keep them guessing from a young age so you have a more resilient adult dog who isn’t phased by change.
  • A fearful or extremely shy temperament.  This goes back to worry.  A shy or fearful dog is living a life of worry.
  • Being very thin / under weight.
  • History of aggression towards people or other dogs.  This is yet another sign of worry.  A dog who shows aggression is often a dog who doesn’t have a true leader, thus the dog is in a state of stress / worry.
  • Having a first degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister) who has bloated.
  • Males are 2 x more likely to bloat than a female.
  • Older dogs (7 – 12 years) are at the greatest risk of bloating.  As we get older, things stretch out and start to sag.  It happens on the outside, but also the inside.  It is thought that things stretch out enough for the actual twisting to occur.

There are also environmental issues that can put a dog at risk.

  • Feeding  one meal a day
  • Eating rapidly
  • Feeding from an elevated bowl
  • Restricting water before and after meals – causing the dog to get really thirsty and thus gulp air and/or drink to much.
  • Feeding a dry diet with animal fat listed in the first four ingredients (this is a ‘maybe’… no firm data on this).
  • Heavy activity followed by drinking / eating.  Dogs will gulp air when they drink after a hard run and just like people, they should wait to eat until they have cooled off and calmed down.

 What can you do to prevent bloat?

  • Fed two or three times daily, rather than once a day.  OR do what I do and free feed the dogs.  Dogs fed one meal a day are 2 times as likely to bloat.
  • Fed one moist meal a day.  (a raw diet or some sort of moist canned food).
  • Make sure the dog eats slowly.  If you have a chow hound feed them their dinner from a Treat Toy, put a large brick in their food bowl so they have to work around it to get their food, or toss their food out on the patio so they must pick up ever bite slowly.  There are any number of ways to slow a food hound down.
  • Water should be available at all times, but should be limited immediately after feeding or after vigorous exercise.  You do not want the dog to get really thirsty and gulp air while drinking.
  • Vigorous exercise, excitement, and stress should be avoided one hour before and two hours after meals.
  • If you change the dog food, do it slowly over several days.  A sudden change can cause stomach upset, gas buildup, and thus bloating.
  • Feed the dog at floor level, not in an elevated feeder.

Your dog should burp after they eat.  Dogs LOVE to burp on you because it is a pack behavior showing “wasn’t that meal wonderful”.  Encourage this behavior.  Tell them “Good Burp!” to let them know you approve of them getting that gas out of their tummies.

When to give Gas X?

If they burp more than twice or look even mildly uncomfortable, give them a Gas X pill.  If they pass gas more than once, give them a Gas X pill.  It will not hurt the dog and will stop gas build up.  If you change their food and it looks even mildly loose, give them a Gas X pill.  If their stomach isn’t absolutely perfect, give them a Gas X pill.  Become hyper aware of your dogs tummies.  Is it noisy?  Is it to quiet?  Know what normal sounds like so you can act when it isn’t normal!

When to give Pepsid AC?

I often give both Gas X and Pepsid at the exact same time.  I will often do both at any sign of mild stomach upset.  There are times when I know the dog isn’t full of Gas, but just nauseated.  That is when I give Pepsid alone (car trips most often).  There were many nights when Merlot got me up with tummy troubles and I dosed him with both Pepsid, Gas X, and a pain pill.  He would take the meds, jump up on the bed, sigh and go into what I coined his “ZEN” mode.  The “I have to deal with this pain until my medication starts to work.  I would stay up with him until he was better, sleeping calmly.  All would be well and Merlot never bloated.

Things to think about

Know your dog.  Is there any time the dog gets an upset tummy or starts acting funny?  It took me years, and 6 trips to the emergency vet, to figure out that even a tiny piece of rawhide would cause Merlot’s stomach to start rolling.  I didn’t buy them often, so it took a very long time to make this correlation.  Each time this happened I though he was bloating.  Each time they X-rayed him to see only mild gas and we would all go over what he did that day.  Eventually I figured it had to be the rawhide and tested it by giving him a very small piece, then seeing if the typical painful signs occurred.   He could eat a bully stick, but absolutely no cow hide.   I broke down in tears when I walked into my sisters house last month to drop the dogs off and noted “I don’t have to pick up these chew bones… Merlot is not here”.  I know… it sneaks up on me still.  Anyway, know your dog, find out what makes them sick, and avoid those things.

What to feed your dog.

There are many great foods on the market and many more blogs on this subject, so I will only give you an idea of what to feed in a general manner.  Feed the best food you can afford.  Make sure it list meat as the first ingredient.  It is also thought that feeding at least one raw/moist meal a day will help prevent bloat, likely because that meal is filled with moisture and easy to digest.  If you don’t feel like you can feed raw, you can go with a top quality dry organic food like Taste of the Wild and add in one freeze dried meal that you rehydrate.  We like The Honest Kitchen and call it our ‘space food.   Or you can add in a meal of canned food, though I have never had much luck with that option.  If you like the idea of raw, but don’t want to try and create a meal plan, you can feed a  patty that is already ready to eat, like Natures Variety.  Even simply adding in raw chicken breast can increase your dogs overall health.  A diet higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, simulating what dog would eat in the wild, is ideal.   We have been using all three of these products for the past 5 years and love them all.

~ Becky

  • Bloat – Symptoms and Treatment | Anutta Blog - […] read Causes and Prevention.  I’ve never had a dog bloat and I believe a few prophylactic steps have helped me avoid […]ReplyCancel

  • Peggy Wier - Two great blogs on bloat Becky. Having been there, done that, I know that you are offering sound advice.ReplyCancel

  • Courtney O'Kelley Cox - Our seven year old, cafe au lait, male “Russell” had to have surgery after a horrible bloat incident, two years ago. The surgeon tacked part of his abdominal wall so his intestines couldn’t twist again but he still occasionally threw up in a big way.

    About a year later, we got a new pet food store in town. The women who run it met Russ and we talked a lot about his temperament (nervous, unlike our other standard) and his history. They begged me to try a totally grain-free diet. No grain -ever — no treats, nothing with grain. He is a NEW dog. He is not nervous anymore. He investigates visitors now, when he used to hide. He hopped into the car for our yearly beach trip, when before he used to have to be coaxed to ride and drooled with nerves the whole way. I guess his gut was unsettled for year and it added to his nervous behavior.

    Now, he’s not only a sweet boy, but he’s also HAPPY!

    I LOVE your website.


    • Becky - Great information, Courtney! I’m glad Russell is doing better on his new diet. I believe that what we eat and feed our dogs does make or break how we feel and our overall health. Russell is lucky to have such a great owner!ReplyCancel

  • Ann Marie Carlucci - I happened upon your web site by accident, Oh! I am so happy to have found it! I have two standard poodles. My female is 11 and is a retired show dog. She is the most perfect dog I have ever owned. In March I was looking to buy a puppy and by chance came a male standard…I was under the impression I was buying him from a breeder…once my husband and I saw the horrid condition this 5 month old puppy was living in I could not leave him! Needless to say he has issues! Besides the fact that I bathed him 3 times the night he came to live with us, sent him to the groomer the next day, and had to put him on oral as well as topical flee medication. However, that problem was easy to fix. The difficult problem is his seperation anxiety. He’s on medication and doing much better, however, he still hates strangers that come into our house he barks lkie a crazy dog!! I have worked woith the treats and letting the guest give him the treats, it work temporarly and then he’s a nut again if the person should change seats or move to another room. I know this has little to do with the bloat, but I found your medication list very helpful and will keep this products around in case of an illness. I wish I knew of you before getting my puppy, but even with his problems I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but OH! what a difference a breeder makes.ReplyCancel

    • Becky - I am so sorry to hear about your boys issues. 🙁 I’ve done more than my fair share of rescue and rehabilitation of dogs and his issue is fairly common. Hopefully in time he will improve. Many do. My sister rescued a 2 year old Standard Poodle about 11 years ago. It took him years, but he turned into an amazing dog. Yes, he’s a money pit with many health issues, but he is one of the best dogs I have known. A clown, a watch dog, so serious yet so not serious at the same time! It was years before a man with a hat could come into their home without Merlin freaking out. Eventually he learned to trust Lisa and Don and knew nothing bad was ever going to happen to him again. Good luck with your boy and he is so very lucky to have you!!ReplyCancel

  • Monique Moreau - Hi Becky,

    I just came across your website and love your website and info re: bloat. I lost 7 year old white male 10+ years ago to bloat. I hadn’t ever heard of it before then. Emergency surgery saved him for about 1 -1/2 years then despite tacking his stomach he bloated while we were at a potluck luncheon and we came home to find him gone. Heartwrenching. Anyway, I’ve had standards all my life and love them soo much. I bought a female from reputable breeder with the desire to breed her at least once. Went through the health tests and found stud who also was health tested and took the leap and bred her. OMG I have a new admiration for responsible breeders. What time, money and emotional investment you have when you want to produce a quality and socialized litter. My husband and I spent first two weeks sleeping on couch right next to whelping box to make sure they were ok. I helped deliver pups, having studied videos how to, and all 8 were perfect, lively and healthy. Worked from home or had someone here at all times while we raised those babies. I just sent the last two to their forever home and we are keeping last male and female. Last young couple lost their 2 year old male to bloat and are healing their broken hearts with two of my babies, which is how i came across your website and shared it with them. I have fed my poodles (one 13 year old rescue and 4 year old momma) on raw food from Darwin’s. My 13 year old still looks and acts like a much younger dog. I weaned pups on raw food, raw fermented goat’s milk, beef or bison green tripe and I added some grainfree kibble (NOW) in case new owners might prefer kibble to raw. I sent new puppy owners with 6 lbs of raw food puppy kit and bag of grainfree kibble. It was sad to see them go, but I was so gratified at the homes that adopted my babies. I now focus on the two I have left and the two adults that remain. Anyway, I’m going on and on. I’m impressed by your website and commitment to poodles. And while this experience was amazing and I loved my babies (vet was so impressed by how beautiful, healthy, shiny and everything they were) but I am happy to leave the work of breeding and raising pups to the professionals. That was way more work than I could have imagined because I couldn’t do it half way. Not even sure if I broke even at the end of the day cause I spared no expense to raise them well and in the most healthy way. I’m hoping that encouraging new puppy owners to continue feeding raw and grain free will prevent bloat for any of them. I will always have standard poodles in my life. I hope to keep in touch with you so when time comes to add another pup to my household as life goes on and older poodles go to paradise, I can perhaps get one of your pups. My hat is off to you and the work you and other responsible breeders across the country and the world do. Its no small task. Cheers!ReplyCancel

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