Bloat, also called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening condition that can happen in any dog but is most common in older large and giant breed dogs with narrow, deep chests. It is not difficult for a skilled veterinarian to diagnose bloat. However, it is critical to diagnose the disorder quickly in order to save the dog’s life. When a veterinarian is presented with a large deep-chested dog that suddenly developed a distended belly and who is drooling, listless and obviously painful, GDV will be at the top of differential list. The veterinarian probably will conduct a fairly cursory physical examination and take a brief history from the owner. A number of simple blood tests can be done to assess packed cell volume (PCV), serum electrolyte and glucose concentrations, acid-base status and coagulation profiles. However, abdominal X-rays are the quickest and easiest way to diagnose bloat.
A definitive diagnosis of bloat is made based on several factors. The breed and history often create a strong suspicion of bloat, especially if the patient is a large, deep-chested dog over 2 years of age that had sudden onset of a distended belly and intense abdominal pain. The physical exam will also often reveal the telltale signs of an enlarged abdomen, severe abdominal pain and excessive salivation or frothing at the mouth. The onset of shock is confirmed by the presence of abnormally pale mucous membranes, increased heart rate and poor pulse quality.
After meeting with the owner and evaluating the dog, the veterinarian will take abdominal radiographs (X-rays) to visualize any physical signs of gastric dilatation and volvulus. Radiographs may be taken after the dog’s stomach has been decompressed either by inserting a tube through its mouth down into its stomach, or by inserting a needle directly into the stomach through the abdominal wall, to try and release the abnormal gas build-up. If the dog is bloating, radiographs will show a stomach distended with gas. The pylorus, which is the opening between the stomach and the small intestine, will be displaced if the dog has a twisted or torsed stomach. This is called a “double bubble” sign on abdominal X-rays and is definitively diagnostic of gastric dilatation and volvulus. Only a veterinarian can confirm a diagnosis of bloat. Again, bloat is a medical emergency. It is not something to be treated through the internet or by in-home treatments.
Owners of large and giant breed, deep-chested dogs need to be keenly aware of the symptoms of bloat. This is a life-threatening condition that can occur at any time or under any circumstances. Fortunately, it usually is very treatable if caught early.