It cannot be said too strongly or too often IF YOU SUSPECT BLOAT CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY, whatever time of day or night.
Bloat is otherwise known as Gastric Torsion or GDV-Gastric Distortion -Volvulous
This is a condition which can be, and usually is, fatal within (literally) a few hours or can even be shorter timescale than this. If you suspect bloat at any time of the day OR night get in touch with your vet before it is too late. You have a real and serious emergency life threatening situation where every second counts. All dogs particularly larger and deep bodied breeds as well as other animals can develop it, most typically, but not exclusively, in the hours after feeding. Many Bernese owners in the UK feed adults 2 smaller meals a day rather than one large one and do not exercise within 1 hour before and 2 hours after feeding to reduce the risk of this occurring. There is some research to show that the majority of bloat incidences occur late in the evening or early hours but it can occur anytime.
The process of bloat is that the digestive tract, usually the stomach begins to swell due to gaseous pressure and this puts pressure on the other vital organs, especially the heart and lungs. The affected part of the gut can twist during the swelling cutting off the blood supply and causing necrosis of the affected area which then, even if the dogs is saved will have to be removed quickly. As the swelling increases apart from the severe pain of the gut stretching and maybe twisting the blood supply to the heart becomes affected as pressure builds on the important blood vessels and there is less and less room for the lungs to operate in. Eventually the heart is trying to work harder and harder with less room and less blood supply and it will fail. This can take several hours or sometimes less and is a distressing death for the dog, the dog does not pass peacefully whilst asleep. If the gut has twisted and a section has to be removed and the dog survives this can lead to dietary complications for the dog’s future.
A dog experiencing bloat will start off appearing uncomfortable and unsettled but will progress to an increasing amount of pain which will become severe. He/she may be panting, belching, (or trying to belch) salivating or trying to swallow, licking lips, there may be signs of trying to vomit or actual vomiting. You may be able to feel or even see hardness and/or swelling in the abdomen and a typical position adopted by the suffering dog is the dropped down front “praying” position, as if attempting to stretch the stomach. Some stay in one spot and stress pant due to the discomfort, more will walk about or alternate between the two. The state of restlessness will be a constant and any combination of any of these symptoms especially if accompanied by signs of pain such of whimpering or yelping should give cause for urgent and serious concern. As the condition progresses the dog’s heartbeat will increase right through to crisis and failure levels.
If you have any suspicion of bloat consult your vet immediately whatever time of day or night it is and tell them you suspect bloat. Maybe you could quickly even video your dog and live stream or send this to the vet. If it is bloat in the middle of the night then “tomorrow morning” will certainly be too late and lots of dogs experiencing bloat are sadly found deceased in the morning by their owners. So, if your normally settled dog is restless during the night, immediately CONSIDER BLOAT because, if the cause is bloat then every single minute you delay in contacting your vet and getting emergency treatment WILL be crucial and decrease your dog’s chances of survival.
The condition is usually confirmed by a (very) quick X Ray and, only if you are in time, resolved by an emergency operation to release the pressure or very occasionally in milder cases by pushing a tube down into the stomach to release the pressure. The operation will release the trapped gases and also any dead gut which has been starved of its blood supply will have to be removed. If this is only a small area the gut can be rejoined but if a significant area has become necrotic then it will not be possible to save the dog.
There is no definite established cause and much more research is ongoing. Whilst feeding is thought to be implicated the latest research is suggesting stress is also involved so be a little more aware if your dog is having a change of routine it may not be entirely happy with. It can happen to any dog any time so don’t be complacent and do not think your dog is healthy so “whatever it is it can’t be much”.
Feeding late at night and then leaving the dog seem to be a slight more common circumstance but obviously this will not always lead to bloat. Exercising too close to meals can be involved. so always wait a couple of hours after meals before any kind of serious exercise and at least an hour after exercise before feeding.
From attending lectures in America in 2016 I learnt that the latest research was then indicating that lack of ‘rest time’ for the gut was being investigated as potentially significant in bloat occurrence. Dogs that are fed repeatedly multiple times through the day are maybe more prone to develop bloat in the evening time. So, if you have had a long day at a show or event with your dog and been feeding lots of treats all day to keep the dog happy then just be aware of the increased possibility of bloat in the evening. There was some indication in one survey quoted that the common, in the UK only, practice of feeding twice a day was a bad practice and could lead to more incidence of bloat but this was a very small survey and a tenuous link.
Apart from the obvious answer that GDV is possibly treatable with emergency surgery if caught early enough, this question is also referring to something sometimes forgotten but there is a lesser condition presenting very similarly to Bloat. This is sometimes referred to as Gastric Distortion, GD, rather than GDV or, more commonly, especially in the USA, it can be very descriptively known as ‘the gulps’. The dogs will essentially have a set of similar, but much milder, symptoms to bloat that in the vast majority of cases do not progress to full bloat but the possibility that they may do will always exist. Such symptoms can indeed be the very start of potentially fatal bloat or they may pass with no consequences.
The dog may be a just a little restless or more often be fairly still apart from excessive licking and swallowing, sometimes with salivating and almost as if there is something stuck in their throat that they are trying to clear. There will not be the excessive whole body discomfort being shown and most crucially there will not be the hardening of the soft belly part of the abdomen. If your dog is in this state it will most frequently pass and not develop further but YOU HAVE TO BE AWARE and monitor your dog closely until this state is well passed as this can be a precursor to full blown bloat. Do not decide ‘this is not bloat’ and go to bed to see how things are in the morning. Some dogs will regularly get into this state and, despite worrying their owners to distraction, never develop bloat but would you really want to take that chance? If you have a dog with the gulps consider it as embryonic bloat and, whatever time of day or night, do not leave the dog unmonitored until you are happy the symptoms have stopped for long enough for GDV to be dismissed.
So, if your dog gets the ‘gulps’ don’t panic and do not presume full bloat is automatically coming but equally do not completely dismiss the possibility either. Keep calm and objective and if you are in any doubt consult the chart available on the page and of course your vet should be involved as soon as you think you are moving onto full bloat.
One preventative measure is not to feed your dog at bedtime and then leave him or her alone. If you have been out late and haven’t fed your dog and need to go to bed then don’t feed, he or she may not be happy but you can sleep better. Always wait a couple of hours after meals before any kind of serious exercise and at least an hour after exercise before feeding. There is also some talk of excessive water drinking after exercise being a contributory factor so maybe slow down your dog’s intake a little bit if he or she might tend to drink too much at once in these circumstances.
A preventative procedure can be carried out known as gastroplexy where a section of the gut is spliced and stitched to the body cavity wall to prevent it twisting if bloat occurs in the future. This will not completely prevent bloat but it could assist survival by lessening the severity of the effects. In some countries this surgery is regularly undertaken as a specific precautionary measure in its own right, such is the fear of bloat. In most places, like here in the UK, most people would not risk an operation and all the potential risks purely for this purpose but if your dog was having surgery for something else, or indeed having surgery to deal with bloat, and this procedure was a possibility it may be something to consider for some people.
You should regularly feel your dog’s waistline, the softer part of his or her abdomen, the tummy area, if you know what this feels like in normal times when the stomach is empty and when your dog has just eaten you will be better able to assess when something abnormal is happening and be instantly aware when GDV is causing the dog’s gut to harden. This is often the clincher symptom for owners already concerned by other symptoms, you put your fingers into the normally softer part of the dogs belly area and it is hard and distended. Absolutely urgent action time!
The following are links to more information on this significant killer condition but a quick search on the web (e.g. “Bloat in Dogs”) will produce lots of information for you to read through. There are several references to bloat being the second biggest killer of dogs so be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge of what to look for and how quickly you need to act. In our ongoing UK BMD Death Survey bloat accounts for just under 3% of deaths and is the 6th most common cause of Bernese deaths. This is not cause for any complacency though as there is a good awareness of bloat nowadays and many dogs who develop it are saved due to quick action by owners and vets.
There is a survey of bloat in UK dogs being undertaken by the above body from April 2023 as part of research and our breed have been invited to take part. Please read more and support this survey which is available from this web site on this page.
The first link is a guide to a breakdown of the three phases of bloat. Dogs can progress very quickly from one phase to the next so if you think you are only in pre phase one you may only have a matter of minutes to the final phase 3 so do not delay.
Please note, parts of this page are deliberately written very clinically to emphasise the seriousness of this condition and the urgency it must be tackled with.