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What's New About Bloat?

By Pam Landers

Bloat is a very scary subject for most Sammy owners, so anything new we can learn is of vital importance to saving the lives of our furry family members.  Bloat, and the often accompanying stomach torsion, is a very serious life-threatening disease that leaves us little time for guessing what to do.  In October, 2001, Jane Biggerstaff, DVM, from Texas, presented a large audience at the Samoyed National Specialty with the basics of bloat, and the results of the new research she has been following.  I think her information deserves an even larger audience because of the importance of the old knowledge, and the significance of the new.

Indeed, I hope readers will cut this article out and hang it on their kennel walls for quick reference. 

Her most vital message: bloat is extremely serious, so anyone even suspecting that their dog is suffering from it should get to their vet immediately if not sooner.  DO NOT wait around trying to tube your dog yourself unless you are many miles from your veterinarian, because there is too much danger that the dog can be further injured rather than helped.  Even of those dogs whose disease is detected and veterinarian help is given, some will die, because the surgery itself has more complications than most, and/or because the problem was detected too late. 

Though Dr. Biggerstaff said that males six to nine years old are the most common bloat victims, any dog any age can get it.  I know this to be true because my eleven-and-one-half-year-old Sammy bitch came down with it in September of this year.  Puppies are not exempt, either.


She reviewed the symptoms of bloat that a dog may present.  She listed:

  • pacing
  • dry heaves
  • drool (it can be thin, thick and ropy, and quite extreme)
  • tender stomach
  • round, taut stomach
  • a tympanic (drum-like) sound when stomach is thumped
  • laying down and rolling
  • depression
  • staggering
  • increased heart rate
  • intermittent panting

Another symptom observed in my dog when she bloated was walking very slowly and painfully with a roached back.

Dr. Biggerstaff also warned, however, that dogs can exhibit any combination, or none of these.

Some of the most interesting new information she presented was in her list of causes or predisposing factors that can lead to bloat.  She said that bloat occurs when dogs swallow air for any reason, and that anything that delays emptying from the stomach can contribute to bloat.  Analysis of the gases in the stomachs of bloated dogs showed that the gases were just plain air, not fermented food, as had previously been supposed.

Predisposing Factors

Predisposing factors to air retention include:

  • stress and fear

  • eating only one meal a day

  • wolfing down food

  • nasal mites (which cause a dog to reverse sneeze and swallow air)

  • a first degree relative that has bloated

  • eating non-digestible stuff

  • a stomach tumor

  • a narrowed pylorus

  • anything that delays gastric emptying such as:  anesthetic or manipulation of the abdominal organs

This last piece of information was quite startling and illuminating to me because none of the other predisposing factors had been present with my older bitch.  However, the week before, she had had surgery for mammary tumors, and had a drain installed.  When I took her back to the veterinarian a week later for a check-up, he found that a small membrane had grown across the drain hole, and had dammed up serum behind it.  He had to puncture the membrane, and then use his fingers to move the serum out of the drain.  He spent several minutes running his fingers down her abdomen to eject the serum.  I took her home, and less than two hours later she bloated.  The abdominal manipulation was the only predisposing factor she had.

 Treatment Procedures

The procedures the veterinarian uses to treat bloat are, first to expel the gas from the stomach, and second to tack the stomach to the rib cage wall so it will not torse (twist) again.  She said that there are at least eight different surgical procedures for stomach tacking from which your veterinarian can choose, though she did not describe them for lack of time.


So what can we do to prevent bloat?  Dr. Biggerstaff recommended that:

  • if a dog is predisposed and you are having it spayed or neutered, have the stomach tacked to the rib cage wall at the same time.

  • add water to the food

  • feed more than one type of food (e.g. dry plus canned)

  • slow down a fast-eating dog (one method she suggested to do this is to put a large rock or can in the food dish)

  • reduce stressful situations

  • don't feed free choice feed two meals equally spaced

  • maintain a routine feeding schedule

  • limit exercise for at least 30 minutes to one hour after a meal

  • let dogs cool down after exercise before they are fed

  • do not feed from a raised food bowl

This last piece of information was new to my veterinarian, because in medical school they were taught to use raised food bowls to help with some conditions such as problems with the esophagus.  However, he said it made sense to use the raised food bowls only if there was a problem, and not as a matter of routine.

Note:  First published in the Winter 2001-2002 Samoyed Quarterly.  Thank you Pam for taking such good lecture notes and sharing the information with us.