Bloat. If you have a dog, please read this. It may save their life.

On November 14, 2014, our sweet Heidi passed away from bloat. My husband and I knew of bloat, but did not know exactly what the symptoms were, and never ever expected that it would happen to any of our dogs.

I wanted to share our experience to spread awareness, in hopes that it may save another dog’s life. If you have a dog, please take the time to read this. Bloat is very little understand and seldom talked about. Yet it is probably one of the the deadliest and most painful conditions a dog can experience. It is also reported to be the 2nd biggest killer in dogs (behind cancer).

Heidi was on prednisone to help control her allergies. Though it did provide her relief from extreme itchiness, it left her feeling excessively hungry and thirsty. She’d gobble up her food, and drink bowl after bowl of water. Every so often, we’d find her gnawing on something inappropriate – usually paper or empty wrappers. She even gorged on half a bag of dog food once, literally eating away until she could no longer eat. The next day she had explosive vomiting, yet was okay afterwards. Over time, we’ve had our fair share of spit ups, throw ups, and diarrhea, and Heidi was never the worse for wear afterwards.

On the night of November 13, what began as a seemingly common case of upset stomach ended in tragedy. Heidi was acting very agitated after dinner, pacing around and trying to vomit, but unable to bring anything up. I thought she’d gotten into something and simply needed to throw it up. During the course of the night, Heidi was acting more agitated than I’d ever recall seeing her, and doing things she’d never done before, like jumping on the couch and knocking over the baby gates. She even cried out at one point, and my husband and I debated whether to take her to the emergency hospital. We decided to wait until early morning and take her into our normal vet right when they opened instead. This way, they could run more comprehensive tests to find out what was wrong. While we knew something was obviously wrong, we did not know enough  to realize that we were dealing with a medical emergency.

During the night, Heidi threw up mucousy water three times. I thought this was a good sign; that she was finally able to throw up what was upsetting her stomach; that she’d be okay now. After the last vomit, Heidi laid down and looked like she would finally be able to get comfortable and rest. What I didn’t realize is that Heidi was actually dying before my eyes; that what I interpret as her resting was actually her body going into shock.

In the early morning when my husband and I check on her, we find that our sweet girl passed away during the night.  Her stomach became humongous, and the vet confirmed that Heidi died from bloat; that she suffered and was in pain, and that had we rushed her to the emergency hospital within the first moments of suspecting something was wrong, we may have been able to save her life.

It kills me knowing that she was in excruciating pain and dying before my eyes, and I did not realize how severe and urgent the situation was. I horribly misread so many of Heidi’s cues. Heidi trusted me to keep her safe, and I failed her. A part of me died with our sweet girl.

I write this in the hopes that every dog owner is better aware of bloat, and the signs to look for that may save your dog’s life.

First, what is bloat? 

Bloat, as it is commonly called, is a condition technically known as gastric dilation/volvolus, or GDV. The term refers to a gas-filled stomach (bloat) that then twists upon itself. It is The Mother of All Emergencies because it is so drastic and happens so quickly. I feel the condition should not be termed bloat since we’ve all experienced harmless bloat (gas) at some point in our lives. While bloat may seem similar to stomach gas and may go away, if it doesn’t and gets worse, it becomes a medical emergency. If the abdomen continues to swell, the pressure on the organs, especially the heart and lungs, can reduce the blood flow to the heart and spleen, damaging both organs and leading to cardiac arrest. In some cases the stomach can burst and twist, leading to a heart attack and causing the dog to go into shock and ultimately die.

What are the signs of bloat? Please know that the signs can be so subtle that they can be easily overlooked or misread. Typical symptoms often include some (but not necessarily all) of the following. Unfortunately, from the onset of the first symptoms you have very little time (sometimes minutes, sometimes hours) to get immediate medical attention for your dog so awareness is your best defense.

  • Dry heaving. The biggest clue is the vomiting: the pet appears highly nauseated and is retching but little is coming up. If you see this, rush your dog to the veterinarian IMMEDIATELY.
  • Doesn’t act like usual self. Perhaps the earliest warning sign & may be the only sign that almost always occurs.
  • Abdomen becomes enlarged and distended (not always evident depending on the dog’s body configuration.
  • Significant anxiety, restlessness, and other signs of discomfort – pacing, salivating, whining, crying out
  • Pale or off-color gums. Indicates that blood is not circulating  properly.
  • ” Hunched up” or “roached up” appearance.
  • Foamy mucous around the lips, or vomiting foamy mucous
  • Coughing
  • Unproductive attempts to defecate
  • May attempt to eat small stones and twigs
  • Drinking excessively
  • Apparent weakness; unable to stand or has a spread-legged stance. Especially in advanced stage.
  • Accelerated heartbeat. Heart rate increases as bloating progresses.

What are the risk factors if bloat?

Generally, bloat occurs more often in large, deep chested breeds including Great Danes, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, etc. However, it happens in smaller breeds too including Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Yorkies, etc. Please take note that even if your dog does not appear to be in the at risk group, bloat can affect ANY dog, at ANYTIME.

“We don’t know exactly why GDV happens,” says Alicia Faggella DVM, DACVECC, a board-certified specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care. Some people do all of the “wrong” things, and their dogs don’t experience it, she says, while some do all of what we think are the “right” things, and their dogs do. Because no one understands the cause of bloat, there is no real way to prevent it. However, there are indications that following a few simple measures may help.

  • Limit exercise before and after meals (remember the 1-2 hour rule: Don’t exercise your dog heavily 1 hour before or 2 hours after eating.
  • Avoid single large meals. Instead, feed 2-3 small meals a day.
  • Don’t let your dog drink large quantities of water at one time.

If ever in doubt, at the very least call your vet or an emergency clinic to discuss the symptoms. In this situation,  it is better to overreact than under react.

For more information, visit these articles:

http://www.critterchatter.com/health/142-bloat.html

http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/8_1/features/15682-1.html

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=672

While there is an abundance of information on how to prevent and treat bloat, much of it is conflicting as it is still not well understood. The best we can do is foster awareness: know the symptoms of bloat and act quickly.

Be at peace now Heidi, and remember that you will always be loved.

This post was written for the love of Heidi. Know only health, love, and joy now sweet girl. I will always love you.

All Blue

Before we got P-, my wife and I did a lot of research on golden retrievers. At the time, we wanted a female golden retriever because we thought they were more loyal.

But, somehow, we ended with P-, who was a male golden retriever. P- was a very confident golden retriever. He loved people and he knew that he was special.

Panorama View of Lake Tahoe
Panorama View of Lake Tahoe

Seven years ago, my wife and I were on vacation at our favorite spot. We stood at the beach and threw tennis balls into the lake. P- walked into the lake and retrieved the balls. Yes. P- walked into the lake and he would walk as far as the lake would let him before he started paddling.

P- walking along Lake Tahoe
P- walking along Lake Tahoe

During one of the throws, as P- swam back to shore, two girls spotted him as they walked along the beach. When they saw P-, they started taking pictures of him. When P- landed, they petted him and gave him tons of praise.

“What a gorgeous golden retriever.”

P-‘s response to praise is to put on a show. Sit. Shake. Sit pretty. Once it got to sit pretty, the compliments usually jump from “what a lovely dog” to genuine laughter and smiles.

When the girls stopped petting P-, we resumed our game. The girls continued walking along the beach. P- went and retrieved the ball. But when he swam back, he swam towards the direction of the girls.

P- smiling at Lake Tahoe
P- smiling at Lake Tahoe

My wife and I laughed. I said, “Maybe we should have gotten a female golden retriever after all.”

Sky over Rainbow Bridge

In the sky over Rainbow Bridge lays the realm of imagination. In the pastel blue sky, time and space are able to commingle so that the past, present, and future are no longer distinct points on a straight line.

When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. The truly special pet gets a bandanna, a lapel pin, flight lessons, and a plane. Soaring high over Rainbow Bridge, they fly around in circles chasing each other.

Sky over Rainbow Bridge
Sky over Rainbow Bridge

There is only one thing missing. They are not with their special person who loved them on Earth. So each day they look down at Rainbow Bridge. Sometimes they land their plane because they want to chase their tails. Other times, they land because they want to play catch.

Until one day, they spot you on Rainbow Bridge. Throwing caution into the wind, they jump from their plane and land safely with their bandanna acting as a parachute. Their soft paws touch the lush green grass and they run towards you with their tail wagging in a dangerous coffee table clearing motion. Together again.

Heidi, is that you?

Ickey is one of those dogs that rarely ever barks, so when he does, it’s an unusual phenomenon.

Three days ago, as we were walking the dogs, a big cat flashes across someone’s front yard, only to quickly disappear into the foliage. Ickey lets out two booming barks, and goes into high alert – ears high, body tense and alert, and tail up in the air. He pulls on his leash and keeps scanning the neighborhood for that cat again. Ickey is not a dog that normally chases cats, so this is rare behavior for him.

The cat had very similar  coloring to Heidi – black fur mixed with patches of tan and white. We wondered if Ickey, who only has one good eye, thought that cat might have been his sister Heidi and thereby continued to search for her during our walk.

It was a bittersweet thought, as it reminded us of how much we all missed Heidi, but also reminded us how she was not forgotten and continued to live in our hearts.

Ickey, that cat unfortunately wasn’t your sister, but look deeply in your heart, and you will find her forever safe in there.

Heidi-Ickey_Backyard
Ickey and Heidi chewing tennis balls on a sunny day in the backyard, as Michelle waits for her opportunity to pounce

A butterfly kiss

After P and Heidi passed away, we’ve been much more aware of looking for signs that may let us know that they are in a safe and happy place now.

Today, as I was walking Ickey and Michelle, a small golden butterfly landed very briefly on the back of Ickey’s neck, then softly fluttered away. I imagined that that was a sign from our sweet Heidi girl, giving her much loved little brother a soft kiss before having to go.

Since Heidi’s passing, Ickey has been acting more tired and sad. I felt the butterfly kiss was Heidi’s way of letting him know that he is still loved and she is thinking of him.

Below is one of my favorite photos of Heidi and Ickey, taken on one of the best days of my life during a family road trip to Duck Creek, Utah. We found a beautiful clearing with a babbling brook running through a wide open field, and the dogs were so happy having new adventures. I remember telling myself at that time to savor this moment- to take in the peace, beauty, and wonder of this very special day. And I remember feeling incredibly blessed to be able to share that moment with my husband and our three musketeers. Thank you Heidi for being such a gift. You are much loved and much missed.

Heidi-Ickey_Duck-Creek
Ickey and Heidi at Duck Creek, Utah in 2012