Bloat and Gut Torsion in Dogs: A Review.

Bloat with Torsion in Dogs - Current Hypotheses Discussed

Note 1: If you suspect bloat / GDV in your pet now get to the vet immediately.

Note 2: I’m not a vet. I’m a researcher that knows his way around canine nutrition. I can only tell you what I would do if I had an at-risk breed at home upon reviewing the literature. Please discuss any and all bloat / GDV concerns with your vet. If its specialised dietary advice you require, you can read up about me here or book me for a consultation. 

What is bloat and GDV in dogs…

Gastric dilation (bloat) is a filling of the stomach with gas and or liquid, which can be uncomfortable. It’s a common enough issue in both humans and dogs. In humans, it can occur for a variety of reasons but one of the most common is the consumption of foods you find hard to digest. Fibrous foods are a stand out food example here. Milk being ingested by lactose intolerants is another. In both cases, large amounts of undigested matter make it into the large intestines, much to the delight of certain groups of bacteria that live there but usually in smaller numbers. A common by-product of these industrious microbes is gas which builds up, normally resulting in a fart or two. So far, so relieving.

Gastric Dilation with Volvulus (torsion), termed GDV, is a progression of the bloat condition in dogs. It involves the stomach (and spleen, as it’s attached) flipping or twisting between 90 and 360 degrees. This seals both the entrance and exit to the stomach. Neither fluid nor gas from the digestive process can enter or leave the chamber. Allowed to progress gas can build up. If swelling continues the pain is immense and death can happen quickly. Fatality is in 15-60% of cases (Raghavan et al. 2004).

It’s important to note that while bloat often leads to GDV in dogs, as much as 85% of the time in some breeds, such as Great Danes (Neill 2015), GDV does not always arise from bloat. 58% of these pet owners who witnessed GDV in their dogs did not see any bloating whatsoever. 

Symptoms of Gut Torsion in Dogs

Initially:

  • the dog may be standing motionless, reluctant to sit down or he may be having trouble getting comfortable
  • he may be doing a lot of stretching with his front legs head down, bum in the air 
  • you might hear a lot of gurgling coming from his rock hard stomach.
  • he may not be in pain at this point

Allowed to progress:

  • uncomfortability bordering pain now and he may get extremely restlessness with it
  • excessive panting
  • excessive salivation
  • unsuccessful attempts to vomit or defecate

Final stages:

  • bad pain now, the stomach area may appear swollen and distended 
  • rapid breathing, pale-coloured gums and tongue and collapse from shock . 
symptoms of bloat in dogs

How to quickly check for bloat

Make the dog stand up and you gently feel his/her abdomen. The abdomen should feel soft and tapered inward when the dog is relaxed. With bloat, the abdomen feels hard, and will have a hollow “thump” when gently tapped. 

If you suspect A Twisted Gut You need a vet IMMEDIATELY

GDV is not only extremely painful but life threatening. On average, GDV will kill 33% of dogs (Glickman et al. 1994) but it can be as much as 57% of Great Danes (Neill 2015). 

If you think your dog is suffering from bloat or, worse still, GDV, you must get to the vet immediately. The only thing you can do on the way, if he lets you, is to try massage the area which might manipulate the gut enough to release some gas. Call your veterinary clinic to tell them you’re on your way with a suspected case of bloat so they are ready. Your vet will likely pass a tube down into his stomach where a literal rush of air will escape. That is followed by washing out the stomach to remove and resident debris. Starvation should follow for 36hrs.

This is how urgent the situation is – if you suspect you cannot get to a vet and your dog is at risk of dying, here is the advice from one of the best vets in the land, Dr. Jean Dodds:

If is too late, be brave. Take a sharp knife and insert it quickly into the bloated side of the dog to let the trapped gas escape from his distended stomach.

I would add to this to sterilise the knife by rinsing in boiling water and allowing it to cool. If you are at the point of doing this, take solace from the fact that the dog is significantly less likely to feel the blade going in with the pain he will have in his abdomen by that time. 

[Advertisement: Dr Conor Brady discusses the benefits of BioFunction 8 for gut issues in dogs]

Defining The Most At-Risk Dog Type…

Large, deep-chested dogs are most at risk. Being overly lean may increase the risk. Each year increases their risk. There is little effect of sex.

While it can strike any dog, it is universally accepted that bloat and particularly GDV is a major risk for larger, deep-chested dogs. A study in the United Kingdom (Evans 2010) lists the top 10 at-risk breeds and their risk of death from GDV as: 

  • The Grand Bleu de Gascogne (21.4% prevalence of GDV; 50.0% mortality),
  • Bloodhound (14.3%; 30.5% risk of death),
  • Otterhound (9.0%; 7.4%)
  • Irish Setter (7.2%; 5.3%)
  • Bracco Italiano (5.3%; not available),
  • Weimaraner (5.0%; 11.6%)
  • Saint Bernard (4.6%; 15.1%)
  • Borzoi (4.5%; 9.2%),
  • Italian Spinone (3.6%; 6.4%)
  • Akita (3.5%; 10.7%).

This study did report bias due to the voluntary nature of filling out surveys, where actual prevalence will be inflated from small numbers of these breeds. Also commonly affected are large mixed-breeds, Standard Poodles, Basset Hounds, Doberman Pinschers, Old English Sheepdogs, Labradors and Labradoodles.

Of all however, the top two breeds most affected appear to be German Shepards (21% of GDV cases) and Great Danes (14% of GDV cases, Brockman et al. 1993). In a survey of 1165 Great Danes,  many as 13% of them suffered GDV (Neill 2015). 

The deep chest is key to putting you at risk of GDV (Glickman et al. 1994, Schaible et al. 1997, Schellenberg et al. 1998). In a case-control study of some 1,914 dogs that suffered GDV, a team of epidemiologists run by Glickman et al. (1994) made some interesting discoveries. Dogs with the greatest risk of developing bloat have chests that are deep and narrow. The depth-to-width ratio reflects the amount of room there is for stomach movement. Simply put, the dogs with more room have a greater risk of developing bloat.

As the shape of the gut cavity is a risk factor, it should come as no surprise that Glickman et al. (2000) found that being related to a GDV sufferer increases their risk by 63%, suggesting a genetic basis. The effect is particularly significant for first-degree relatives (parent, sibling, or offspring, Schellenberg et al. 1998, Glickman et al. 2000b, Raghavan et al. 2004). However, a confounding factor here may be that dogs from the same pack or breeder are more likely to be handled the same way and specifically be fed the same food.

Glickman et al. (1997) and Raghavan et al. (2004) both found found lean, deep-chested dogs were at greater risk. The hypothesis goes that some extra abdominal fat would reduce the amount of internal space available, working to keep the stomach somewhat in place. Supporting this, Uhrikova et al. (2015) found intact males were at greater risk of GDV (neutered dogs tend to put on weight) while the number of spayed females with GDV was significantly lower than expected (P < 0.001). 

This would be the first time in my canine nutrition career where I have been made pause over my insistence for lean dogs, but just in such at-risk breeds. 

Glickman et al. (1994) further noted age was a significant factor. For large breeds, the risk of developing bloat apparently goes up approximately 20% each year after the age of five. For giant breeds, they found it went up 20% each year after the age of three. This is verified by numerous authors since (Theyse 1998, Elwood 1998, Glickman et al. 2000a, Glickman et al. 2000b). Neill (2015) did not appear to find this effect in Great Danes (when cases were expressed as a percentage dogs in that age category, see below).

effect of age on bloat in dogs

The jury is out on the effect of sex. Glickman’s analysis of 1,914 dogs (Glickman et al. 1994) found no effect of sex and this was echoed by Elwood (1998) in red setters and Neill (2015) in Great Danes. On the other hand, Uhrikova et al. (2015) noted a significant difference in sex distribution with males more at risk than females (with no significant difference in sex distribution between survivors and non-survivors). Betts et al. (1974) have males at a 2:1 ratio, something that was echoed by Iowa State University Veterinary Department four years later when reviewing their cases. It is thought male german shepherds are more at risk than females. I’m struggling to find a reference for that, however.

So now we have our at-risk dog – deep-chested, possibly lean, where age and being related to a sufferer increases the risk. But CRUCIALLY, this concerns a dog’s predisposition to GDV, not bloat per se. To put it another way, your dog’s physical shape may load the gun but it is the bloat that pulls the trigger. The question is, why are their stomachs filling with gas?

The Top 8 Hypotheses For Bloat and GDV in At-Risk Dogs…

There are a number of studies published on bloat and GDV in dogs, some of them contradictory. I have done my best to summarise their findings below under 8 headings. I have ordered them in a manner that should make sense. The references used are at the end of the article.

The current hypotheses include:

  1. Meal volume / frequency
  2. Moistening the dry food
  3. Meal weight / hepatogastric ligament
  4. Meal timings in relation to exercise
  5. Behaviour: Stress / Nervous / Anxiety
  6. Aerophagia (excessive air swallowing):
    • Speed of eating
    • Raised feeding stations
  7. Food Type & Water
  8. Gut Flora

Hypothesis 1. Meal Volume / Frequency

Meal size (by volume) may be a factor.

Numerous studies of GDV cases show that feeding a large volume of food at one time increases the risk (Glickman et al. 1997, Elwood 1998, Raghavan et al. 2004). Raghavan analysed the medical histories of 1,634 at-risk dogs. 106 suffered an attack of GDV.  They conclude that is the volume of food fed to large, deep chested dogs rather than the food itself which was the problem, with the most risk coming from dogs fed once a day. This is one of the reasons owners of at-risk breeds to feeding smaller meals more often.

Hypothesis 2. Moistening the Dry Food

There is no evidence wetting the dry meal helps. 

We know dry food expands in the stomach as water is pumped in to aid digestion of the dry material. The theory goes that if meal volume is a risk factor then pre-soaking their dry food prior to feeding should help prevent the meal increasing in size in the stomach. However, an unpublished analysis of  1165 Great Danes in Australia by Neill (2015) found no benefit of pre-soaking. Worse, moistening dry food prior to feeding has been found to INCREASE the risk for GDV in large-breed dogs but not in giant-breed dogs (Glickman et al. 2000).

Hypothesis 3. Meal weight / Hepatogastric Ligament

Meal size (by weight) may be a factor.

Another risk factor for GDV is thought to be the ligament that holds the stomach in place in the abdomen.

Hall et al. (1995) examined the hepatogastric ligaments in clinically normal dogs and dogs with gastric dilatation-volvulus. The found dogs that suffered GDV had longer ligaments. From this it was suggested that the deep-chest might permit the heavily laden stomach to stretch the ligament, allowing for increase motion and then volvulus of the stomach. The fact that risk for GDV increases with increasing age may relate to the progressive stretching of the hepatogastric ligament.

As a man that believes in questioning everything all the time and specifically here as I having stretched and torn ligaments repeatedly in my knee from sport, I feel I need to add a thought here – it was the wrenching tackle that stretched my ligaments (which were longer after the event). My ligaments were perfectly fine going into that tackle. That the heaptogastric ligament is longer in dogs after the stomach does a flip does not surprise me. The question is, was it long in the first place? This would require measuring this ligament in a large number of  healthy but at-risk dogs and waiting for GDV attacks to occur.

It is nearly a moot point however. Whether you believe it is meal volume or weight, owners of at-risk breeds are covering both bases by feeding smaller meals more often (2-3 times per day). 

Hypothesis 4. Meal Timings in relation to exercise

There is no evidence resting after a meal helps. 

The majority of deep-chested dog owners are extremely wary about exercise post-meal. The hypothesis goes that for at least an hour after eating the stomach is heavily-laden (it takes the average dog around an hour to reduce the meal to chyme and pass it into the intestines). If ever GDV was to hit in a deep-chested dog, it would happen within an hour of dinner, right? This makes a lot of sense, hence it is readily accepted across most pet owner across forums with some even testifying to the benefits of resting the dog BEFORE a meal, something that makes little sense to me I have to say. 

Surprisingly, there is very little support for the resting hypothesis in the literature. Glickman et al. (2000) found no link between time of exercise and GDV, whether before or after. Elwood (1998) found no effect of duration or intensity of exercise. 

To gain a little more insight here, I polled more than 110 GDV sufferers on my Facebook page. I asked pet owners who witnessed GDV in their pets, did it occur within one hour of a meal or beyond that? 80% of GDV attacks occurred outside of the hour period, often many hours later, when the stomach is expected to be emptying into the intestines and considerably lighter as a result.

Looking at the comments from this fist poll, you can see just how many owners report that the GDV episode appeared to happen “out of the blue”, hours after food, during rest, during sleep, during play, after a walk. It seems to happen at any time, but only 20% of the time within an hour of a meal.

Hypothesis 5. Behaviour: Stress / Nervous / Anxiety

Stressed / fearful types may be at increased risk.

You know when someone jumps out from behind a bush and give you a good fright? Your natural reaction, if not attack them, is to clutch your chest with a sheepish laugh and say “oh my, you gave me a fright”. That lurch you feel in the guts is your system being flooded with the “stress” hormone cortisol. It gets you ready for fight or flight. For both of these, your arms and legs need as much resources as possible. No time for digesting. Cortisol restricts the blood vessels around the gut, one of the most expensive organs in the body, driving all the blood to the extremities. This is why, in periods of high stress you get a funny, IBS-like gut. If you suffer chronic stress your poorly functioning gut results in malnutrition, losing weight over time. This is just one of the reasons stressed children do not grow right. In this instance it might aggravate bloat / GDV conditions. 

Whenever it comes to assessments of temperment by the public or even a vet, I am overly cautious. It is plagued with issues. Still, Glickman et al. (2000) found that dogs perceived as having “happy temperaments” suffered a lower incidence of GDV compared to dogs that were perceived as fearful, nervous, or aggressive. Another study found recent kenneling or something as simple as a stressful car journey predisposed dogs to a GDV episode (Elwood 1998). Other studies showed that stress in general, including agitation in response to strangers or environmental changes were related to episodes of GDV. (Glickman et al. 1997 & 2000a). Elwood (1998) found no effect of temperment  

Hypothesis 6. Air Swallowing (Aerophagia), High Feed Bowls and Fast Eaters

GDV is unlikely to be caused by air in from the mouth. There is no evidence high feed bowls or speed of eating is a factor.

Until recently it was thought that bloat and therefore GDV in dogs was caused by too much air being swallowed by the animal (termed aerophagia). This built up in the stomach, causing bloating. Numerous studies then appeared to support this tempting hypothesis. Glickman et al. (2000) found raised feeding stations increased the risk of bloat increased by some 200% something, the authors note, was likely due to increasing air consumption. Other authors noted that faster eaters were more likely to suffer bloat (Glickman et al. 2000). As it made such perfect sense, every effort was made to slow down the speed at which the at-risk breeds ate, but to no avail.

A fantastically useful study published by Van Kruiningen et al. (2013) examined the stomach gas of ten dogs admitted to an emergency clinic for GDV surgery. The CO2 composition of the gas was between 13 to 20%. As the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere is less than 1%, the authors could concluded that the gas is due to bacterial fermentation similar to the fermentative bloat that occurs in cattle. It was the product of fermentation from inside the gut.

Supporting this is the poll of more than 110 GDV sufferers on my Facebook page. 80% of attacks happened outside of the hour, just as you expect the stomach to empty into the intestines.

Re-analysis of the Glickman finding above revealed the authors had identified a correlation (giant breeds tend to use raised feed bowls under the assumption it eases the stain on the dog’s neck while feeding) and assumed it played a role in the causation. But with this line of thinking you could also worry about bigger feed bowls, bigger beds and higher up drool marks on your clothing were all potential risk factors too. Raised bowls is not popping up as a help OR hindrance in any other studies since. The Neill (2015) work noted that 80% of their Great Danes were fed from an elevated position. It was not found to be a common factor in their bloat cases. They also detected no link between speed of eating and GDV in Great Danes. A review of the fast eating debate by Buckley (2016) found the evidence on speed of eating was mixed and of variable quality. She was unable to make a decision either way.

Most evidence indicates that rate of eating has no effect on risk of GDV. Where significant effects occur, fast eating was implicated as a risk factor. No studies found that slow eating was significantly associated with an increased risk of GDV. Slowing the rate at which a dog consumes a meal will not increase risk of GDV but it may possibly reduce the risk. 

Buckley 2016

Attentions, more than ever, shifted to the types of food the animal had been consuming previously.

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Hypothesis 7. Food Type & Water

Summary: Feeding dry kibble alone increases their risk of GDV. Simply feeding “raw” is not enough to protect from GDV but adding in real ingredients is protective against GDV. The two chief food suspects for bloat in dogs is 1) the presence of more-difficult-to-digest ingredients and 2) the often high calcium carbonate content of dry food. Water intake may exasperate the issue.

  1. Dry food.

The widespread practice of extruding dry dog food began
in 1957. An epidemic of GDV in dogs was reported in the
United States from 1965 to 1995

Raghavan et al. 2006

During the past 30 years there has been a 1,500 percent increase in the incidence of bloat, and this has coincided with the increased feeding of dry dog foods. There is a much lower incidence of bloat in susceptible breeds in Australia and New Zealand. Feeding practices in these countries have been found to be less dependent on dry foods.

Bell 2014, Tufts University

Numerous authors have highlighted the role of kibble in bloating (Van Kruiningen et al. 1974, Kronfeld 1979, Morgan 1982). To prevent a first episode of GDV, their advice is to avoid feeding exclusively dry, cereal-based and and specifically soy protein-based commercial dog foods.

Raghavan et al. (2006) set out to examine this further. Using dry dog food label information, they checked if the risk of  GDV increases with an increasing amount of soy and cereal ingredients (and a decreasing number of animal-protein ingredients) used in the food. They found no effect.

Unfortunately, the study only tested the first four ingredients, which neglects the use of some of the more fibrous and indigestible ingredients further down the ingredient list such as beet pulp and corn gluten nor was the total plant fibre content assessed. The reason for this, they cite, is their need to “balance accuracy, ease, and convenience in data collection with the need to collect data that would be meaningful and informative”. I think they missed a beat. 

Plant-protein and animal protein ingredients contain nonprotein substances such as fiber, carbohydrates, and fat that were not accounted for in the data analysis.

Raghavan et al. 2006

2. Raw dog food?

I admit, the above findings were more than enough to stoke my suspicions that it’s all dry’s fault (you should always start with the usual suspects). So, I again polled owners of GDV dogs on the Dogs First Facebook page asking them simply if their dogs were dry or raw fed at the time of the attack. More than 420 responded. 77% of GDV patients were dry fed but 23% were raw fed. This spread is somewhat as you would expect for a ‘no effect’, considering the spread of dry to raw feeding in these large breeds is now estimated to be somewhere around 4:1 today (this is based on the fact the UK PFMA reports 10% of sales are now raw. However, this figure does not account for the multitude of smaller businesses that are not obliged to report their sales or those feeding DIY using various non pet food manufacturer sources). We can however expect this raw figure of 24% to be inflated due to the fact I am a raw-feeding page with a raw-feeding fan base, particularly as real ingredients are seen to alleviate the harm in feeding dry food to GDV at-risk breeds. Glickman et al. (1997) found that the addition of table foods or canned foods to the predominantly dry food diet of large and giant-breed dogs resulted in a 59% and 28% decreased risk of GDV, respectively. Other authors note adding fish or eggs may decrease the risk (Elwood 1998, Pipan et al. 2012).

It seems that, as ever, decreasing the amount of dry food fed to your dog the better they will be. An epidemiological study found that Irish setters consuming a single food type were three times more likely to develop GDV than were Irish setters fed a mixture of food types (Elwood 1998). 

But still, that it happens in raw-fed dogs is interesting and implies that simply “raw-feeding”, whatever your definition of that may be, is not a suitable protector from this horrible disease. When we now know the gas is coming from internal fermentation, the attention is now very much switches to ingredients that are difficult to digest and known to increase gas in both humans and dogs.

3. Calcium carbonate content?

Raghavan above did report finding a trend of decreasing risk of GDV with a higher number of protein ingredients of animal origin in dry food but this was not statistically significant (they only used 85 cases in their analysis). 

On this, there is rumours in the literature that date back to Billinghurst’s ground-breaking book “Give a Dog a Bone” in 1993, that calcium carbonate (used in dry food) is a factor. In human, it is used to neutralise excess acid in the stomach (think Tums for humans) as it takes a lot of acid to absorb it, reducing acid levels in the stomach. The body doesn’t just sit back and let that happen, however. We have known for some time, (Levant et al. 1973) that small single doses of calcium carbonate (as little as 0.5g) stimulate the production of gastrin, a hormone responsible for requesting more extra gastric acid to the stomach. All this takes time, increasing the potential for a delaying in gastric emptying. Normal food digestion is thus affected. It is for this reason that, compared to other calcium supplements (calcium phosphate, calcium citrate), calcium carbonate is associated with gastrointestinal side effects in humans, including constipation, flatulence, and bloating in humans

Calcium carbonate is a  commonly used in dry food. Tests show many dry and canned foods are very dangerously high in calcium, with one magic “kidney” formula by Hill’s containing as much as 7.7% when independently tested (the maximum permitted is 1.6%). In fact, Thixton’s work shows many dry and canned foods made by different companies are commonly high in calcium. Why? Because pet food relies heavily on meat and bone meal which they label “meat meal” but is more bone than anything else (they don’t make money sending meat to rendering plants). Meat and bone meal is largely animal carcass and heads stewed up in rendering plants. As such it is approximately 30% calcium carbonate (half of you bones is calcium, give or take). This ties in with the finding by Raghavan above that “animal” ingredients are a border-line issue.

4. Fat?

Interestingly, Raghavan did note that dogs fed dry foods containing fat among the first four ingredients had a 170% higher risk of developing bloat. This makes sense however their significance threshold of P=0.14 was, in my opinion, far too low to for such a small sample size to make any such leap, particularly considering they stated corn was not a significant risk for GDV when it’s  P value was a similar 0.16.

Still, the (processed) fat bit is interesting. Lena Palmer, MD, gastroenterologist, assistant Prof. in Dept. of Med, Loyola University Chicago. 

Fat slows the functioning of your intestines, so if you don’t process gas very well, fatty foods could make that worse

So, perceivably, if you feed an at-risk dog the wrong diet which increases flatulence (later) then yes, a fatty meal being held in the gut longer may increase the risk of at least bloat. Potentially. But the fact remains, “that bit of fat off the steak” should be absolutely no problem to a normal dog. Dogs are protein and fat eating machines. They are far better with fat than we are. There is surely something else at play here.

5. Water

Some owners of at-risk dogs are wary of their pets water intake. Two GDV sufferers note their GDV episode soon after drinking a large volume of water. The role of water is absent in the literature.

There are two possible risks of water intake and GDV in dogs. First, drinking too much may weigh down the stomach. The issues here is that meal size by weight is not yet a risk factor for GDV in dogs and I doubt a large dog would drink nearly as much water as he eats in food by weight. Further, water does not reside in the stomach too long, it passes quickly into the intestines.

However, if we run with the fermentation hypothesis, drinking too much water can certainly interfere with digestion. The body relies on stomach acids to digest your food. When you drink too much water, certainly during or soon after a meal, you dilute those acids, meaning food is less efficiently digested in your GI tract, potentially fuelling the growth of the wrong bacteria. Gas and / or bloating may result. And God knows, high salt dry food makes you drink a lot of water, particularly after a run.

Hypothesis 8. The Gut Biome

A study by Hullar et al. (2018) of Great Danes with GDV found the patients had significantly more diverse faecal microbiome than healthy control dogs. Dogs with GDV showed a greater number of Actinobacteria and Firmicutes and a significantly lower abundance of Bacteroidetes. This is interesting and somewhat as you would expect based on studies of humans which reveal the very same bacteria (Firmicutes and Actinobacteria) are among the chief culprits for increased gas production in humans (Manichanh et al. 2013). In fact, these authors wanted to test the effect of their “flatulogenic diet” on healthy human patients. This diet was based on a greater intake of more fibrous items including whole grains, beans, soya as well as a variety of fibrous fruit vegetables including good old cruciferous vegetables (Brussels’ sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage).

The Hullar work supports the hypothesis that there may be an immunogenicity to GDV in dogs, one that is kicked off by a gut microbiome imbalance (or dysbiosis). The gut biome in dogs is intricately linked to how their immune system fires. Further research is urgently required here. 

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The Most likely cause of Bloat with Torsion...

There is currently no scientific consensus on this one. Where there isn’t you understandably get a lot of people recommending different things. My tuppence worth is that breed, shape and age alone are not enough to explain GDV or more dogs would be suffering it. Some environmental factor is causing large amounts of bloat gas in certain dogs. A review of the literature strongly indicates it is the fermentation gas from improperly digested food items. This is based on:

  • Studies show dry food is a chief food suspect. Dry food is not only packed with chemical anti-microbials which not only negatively affects life on the food but also disrupts the life in your dog’s intestinal tract. It is often too high in calcium carbonate and uses fillers such as wheat gluten and indigestible plant fibre fillers such as corn gluten and beet pulp that are expected to fuel bacterial growth and thus gas production. If you want to help avoid GDV, stop feeding dry food.
  • Bloat is unlikely to be caused by aerophagia. We now know the gas is not atmospheric, it is coming from the inside
  • The recent biome work confirms bacterial disruption.
  • Volume of food is a factor. The more (incorrect) food going in the more fermentation gases produced at one time.
  • My poll of more than 110 sufferers revealed 80% of attacks are happening outside of an hour when the stomach is emptying into the intestines.
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Best Advice For Preventing To Avoid Bloat / GDV In Dogs

If I had an at-risk breed I would be doing my best to maintain a healthy gut flora in my dog. This means

  • Stop feeding dry food or chemically preserved pet store treats.
  • Feed your GDV at-risk dog a raw dog food diet
  • I would feed 2-3 smaller meals rather than 1 large meal in case of an upset, certainly when transitioning between new flavours.
  • In a dog that has bloated I would conduct a well-run exclusion diet to detect any dietary issues he may be having with one or two proteins. Consider a saliva test to help you identify problem proteins for your dog (the one I link to is only $100 and tests over 250 different foods. Saliva tests are not definitive but a great pointer). 
  • While I am normally a fan of some plant additions in dogs, with GDV in mind, at-risk owners should consider the amount of plant fibre they are feeding their dog. At least par-cooked plant ingredients to break down plant fibre. I would avoid cruciferous vegetables, beans etc.
  • I wouldn’t feed any fermented veg until I knew more of their effect on gas production in dogs
  • I wouldn’t feed fruit (fermentable)
  • I would make my bins inaccessible
  • Be wary of antibiotics and always couple with probiotics
  • Be very wary of NSAID’s, they are notoriously bad for guts (and they alter the gut flora). If your large breed is suffering arthritis there is lots you can do naturally before these drugs are considered. 
  • I would urge faecal checks over chemical worming
  • Take good quality canine probiotics. I don’t have a preference here really. 
  • Remove chlorinated water (disrupts guts). Charcoal sticks in a tub of water do the job though a decent filter will save you a lot of trouble.

I would suspect that quick changes in diet may disrupt their gut flora (bin raiding often results in a GDV attack). When moving your dog from dry to raw dog food, I would do it carefully. I would probably feed a lightly cooked mixture for a time (slightly easier to digest) before slowly moving to raw. I would use digestive enzymes for the whole transition to ensure the digestive process is firing full whack. 

You want regular bowel movements, this should be achieved with the right diet. Some at-risk owners recommend adding fibre to aid this process.  I would not do this, it may feed the wrong bacteria. The best carnivore fibre is hair and hide so maybe pick up your at-risk breeds some hairy rabbit ears. 

In line with the best practices of Zoo Pharmacognosy I would grow some peppermint (very impressive anti spasmodic of the gut, IBS sufferers use it a lot) in a little pot which he can access should he need it. And they do.

mint for dogs

I would have to hand a few items that might work to reduce gas, should I sense my dog is suffering from gas, such as Simethicone (I am told) but to be clear I would not include these daily in my dog’s diet. All these products have side effects too, including messing with your biome. They are a plaster on gangrene. I have heard some owners of at-risk breeds recommend small amounts of charcoal daily. I don’t know but a word of caution – while charcoal can bind gases from the intestinal tract (yay), used excessively it may also slow the passage of digesta and constipate you over time.   

What about Gastroplexy? This is the stitching of the stomach to the abdomen wall to prevent movement. All I can say  is that studies show is is effective as a long term solution for GDV in dogs. I don’t know of the long-term side effects.

That’s all I have. This is a real shocker of a disease and far too common in the canine population. We must get on top of this one. Very best of luck to anyone living with the threat but take solace that there is surely things you can do reduce the likelihood of this occurring. A few more years of data from the top raw feeding vets will reveal that the above diet advice will surely reduce fermentation gases and thus bloat and thus risk of GDV in your beautiful but at-risk, deep-chested dogs.

I have spent a lot of time building up my knowledge. From a doctorate in animal behaviour and nutrition to years in guide dogs and the last seven year inside and out of the pet food industry, I have always provided all my information free to the public, articles that I spend a lot of time putting together. While it’s clearly a passion of mine the fact remains, I can’t do this and a steady job at the same time. Without a salary or fancy sponsorship, I am left trying to monetise my site as much as I can without pushing on you horrible adverts for car loans and crap pet products. One way I do this is by tracking some of the links to products I recommend. Another is by popping a few ads for my products in some of my bigger articles. Finally, I’m now putting a donation button at the bottom of my more helpful articles. So, if this helped you in any way, fixing your dog where repeated vet visits have failed, and you feel you’d like to give me the price of a cup of coffee, please free to do exactly that. If you’re strapped and can’t afford it, I can totally sympathise, you’re free to read on, no questions asked. We’re glad to have you on board spreading the word regardless.

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References

 
 
 
Betts, C. W., et. al. (1974). A Retrospective Study of
Gastric Dilatation-Torsion in the Dog. Journal of
Small Animal Practice. 15: 727-734
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Kronfeld D. (1979). Common questions about the nutrition of dogs and cats.
Compend Contin Educ Prac Vet;1:33-42.

 
 

 

Morgan RV. (1982). Acute gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome. Compend
Contin Educ Prac Vet;4:677-682

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dr. Conor Brady

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.