Bloat: Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention

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Learning Objectives

In this lesson you will learn:

  • What bloat is and why it is such a serious medical condition 
  • What causes bloat
  • The symptoms of bloat
  • How to prevent bloat
  • What to do if a dog in your care is experiencing bloat 

What is Bloat?

Bloat is a very serious life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid, and subsequently twists. 

Bloat can develop without warning and progresses quickly. It is always an emergency that requires immediate medical attention, or the dog will die. 

Bloat is a two-stage condition. In the first stage, the dog’s stomach swells, which restricts blood supply to the stomach. In the second stage, the stomach twists, compressing a main blood vessel responsible for returning blood from all of the abdominal organs back to the dog’s heart.

Bloat is a painful condition, and the restricted blood flow from the dog’s organs can cause organ failure and death. 

A dog showing any symptoms of bloat should be taken to the vet immediately. Even if you are not certain you are seeing signs of bloat, it’s better to make a trip to the vet than risk a pet dying in your care.

When dealing with bloat, the difference between life and death comes down to minutes. The longer the dog is in the stages of bloat, the less likely it is he or she will survive.

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What Causes Bloat

One of the main causes of bloat is feeding a big meal, then going out for a vigorous walk or other exercise. This can be especially dangerous if the dog tends to roll while playing or walking. If there are gasses building up in the dog’s stomach from a big meal and the dog rolls, that can cause the stomach to twist. 

There are also factors that increase the likelihood of a dog experiencing bloat. 

If a dog has a history of bloat, they are more likely to experience bloat again. Genetics can also play a role. If bloat runs in a dog’s family, that dog can be more susceptible. 

Dogs over the age of eight are more likely to bloat than younger dogs, and sometimes nervous or anxious dogs are more susceptible to the condition. 

Bloat can occur in any dog, but it is more common in larger, deep-chested dogs. Some common breeds that suffer from bloat are:

  • Great Danes
  • Akitas
  • St. Bernards
  • Weimaraners
  • Dobermans
  • German Shepherds

The Symptoms of Bloat

Knowing and recognizing the symptoms of bloat could save your dog’s life. 

One of the best things you can do to recognize these symptoms is to watch the video of a rescue Akita experiencing bloat available in the description below. This video was posted by The Mid-Atlantic Akita Rescue with permission from the foster parents. 

Luckily, this dog was saved. But it is important to note, the foster parents were trained on the symptoms of bloat, but in the moment, did not recognize them. This is not uncommon. When a pet is showing signs of bloat, it might be obvious something is wrong, but if you have not seen the condition before, it is hard to recognize it as the time-sensitive emergency it is. 

I recommend you pause this video right now, and watch the bloat symptoms video from the Akita rescue so you can see the symptoms for yourself. Once you finish that video, come back here and we will cover the symptoms in more detail so you will know exactly what to look for.

Now that you have watched the video, you can see the symptoms may be hard to recognize if you don’t know what you are looking at. 

Some common symptoms are:

  • A swollen hard belly
  • Unsuccessful vomiting, or the dog can only bring up foamy or ropey saliva
  • If the dog is drooling, that can mean the dog is going into shock
  • Hunched posture
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness, the inability to lie down, panicked or distressed behavior
  • Pawing at or looking at their belly
  • Rapid shallow breathing

Bloat can come on very quickly, so if you see these symptoms, you need to get the dog to an emergency veterinarian right away. 

How to Prevent Bloat

To prevent bloat, go for a walk and do your playtime before you give the dogs their meal. This way, the dogs in your care are not playing vigorously on a full stomach.

Also, wait 5-10 minutes after playtime (or until the dogs settle down) before you give the dogs their meal, and be sure the dogs have access to water before and after their meal. 

Avoid feeding one big meal per day. It is much better to feed two or three smaller meals per day, so the dog does not have a big mass in its stomach at one time. 

Keep in mind, if you do have some playtime after a meal, make sure it is gentle playtime or a gentle walk. Some vets actually recommend a gentle walk after a meal to get it moving through the dog’s digestive system. Just be careful about giving a meal and then taking the dog for a rambunctious walk or playtime, especially if that dog tends to roll.

A Summary

Bloat is a serious and often fatal condition. The warning signs can be subtle and hard to spot if you do not know what you are looking for. 


If you suspect a dog in your care has bloat, notify your team and your client, and bring the dog to the vet right away.

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