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