The symptoms of bloat are subtle...not knowing them could be fatal
Sunday was an ordinary day: Vegas — my 120-pound female Great Dane — ate breakfast and hung out, occasionally following me around as I did chores. She relaxed on the couch while I cleaned, going out to potty as needed. Around 4:45, we headed out for a walk to Pacific University, as we like to do.
She begged for dinner when we returned, and though it was early for her dinner, I relented. She ate and went back to the couch, where she stayed while I left to run errands.
Later that evening, after joining Vegas and my other dog Leo on the couch, Vegas made her way to the door to go out. I say "made her way" because she didn't vault with her usual energy. In the brilliant clarity of hindsight, I also now remember that she was kind of hunched over. I watched her meander around the yard, eventually standing under a large evergreen in her potty area, head hanging. After she urinated, I called her in.
A few minutes later, she went out again, this time going to the middle of the yard, sitting statue-like. Once she came in, I palpated her abdomen. While it didn't seem unnaturally swollen, I gave her two Gas-X capsules just in case. I checked her temperature (normal) and her gums (healthy pink).
As a veteran Dane owner, I knew about bloat — also known as Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) or "stomach torsion" — and it's the first place my mind goes if one of my dogs so much as urps food. An unhealthy paranoia perhaps, but in this case it turned out to be warranted. I can't pinpoint what bothered me beyond her slight symptoms, other than she wasn't happy — there was no light in her eyes.
Continuing to check her over, I noticed her neck bothered her, and thought she might be having pain from an old back issue. Eventually she got more comfortable, curling on her side as if to say, "Please massage me, Mom."
Her relaxation was short-lived. At about 8 o’clock, Vegas got up and went outside, attempting to vomit. I don't know if she produced anything because I panicked and called her in. We jumped in my truck.
On the way I called Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency and let them know what was going on. When we arrived, Vegas was afraid to get out of the truck, which is unlike her. I did finally get her unloaded, but once we entered, I realized I’d gone to our regular clinic — Rock Creek Veterinary —which closes at 10. I explained what was going on and then rushed out. There’s no time to waste in treating bloat.
Once at Tanasbourne Emergency, they took x-rays.
We discussed the visible bones in her stomach. Since Vegas is fed a raw diet, this is normal. Beyond her stomach we could see her bladder and spleen (at right), but things weren't clear enough to make a GDV diagnosis. The vet’s suggestion was to treat Vegas’s pain and have her hang out awhile in an exam room. They also set up an ECG, which showed an extremely elevated heart rate: normal resting rate for a dog her size is about 60 beats per minute; Vegas’s was in the low 200s.
Staff took her for another x-ray, and while not much more telling than the first, abdominal palpations revealed serious concern over her spleen, and the team concurred surgery was needed.
I was able to visit Vegas once more before she was prepped. The operation began at approximately 10:30 and took nearly two hours. Afterward, the vet said yes, Vegas had been in the process of torsing — or bloat. Blood flow to her spleen had been compromised, but luckily when untwisted, the organ was healthy.
Vegas awoke at 1:30, covered in quilts and with socks on her feet. She rose upon seeing me, but I got her settled again and left her in the doctors’ capable care. I called around 7:00 the next morning, thinking maybe they’d want Vegas to go to her local clinic for observation. I was pleasantly surprised to learn she was well enough to go home. In fact, she had whined and yipped at staff until they let her out, thinking she might relax (and give their ears a break). No such luck — Vegas wanted her mama!
That whining was the first thing I heard when I picked her up — the most glorious sound! She arrived home loaded with meds, plus an inflatable e-collar, and settled in. The large incision on her belly made her movements slow and painful.
But by the end of the next day, Vegas was nearly her old self, snagging a chewy off the floor, hopping off the couch more comfortably, playing with toys, and barking at passersby.
If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that there are no rules with GDV. There are basic signs and symptoms to watch for, but you know when your dog seems "off," even if you can't pinpoint the reason. Bloat isn’t textbook; each case is unique, so if you suspect it don’t wait to act.
My Vegas is an 8-year-old, raw-fed, non-vaccinated dog who lives a low-stress life. She is fit as a fiddle and has never had a bloat-like symptom in her life. But it happened to us.
Top 5 Bloat Symptoms You Should Not Ignore
Bloat can be difficult for a dog's caretaker to diagnose. However, if any combination of the following are present, get your pet to a vet right away — better safe than very sorry.
- Dry heaving. Attempting to vomit and producing nothing or just producing foamy vomit.
- Abdominal distention. A bloated belly is often indicative of GDV.
- Excessive drooling. Along with lethargy, it's a warning sign — especially if it's sudden.
- Inability to lie down. Also, if your dog is constantly shifting position trying to get comfortable, they may be in distress.
- Something's just not right. Listen to YOUR gut when it comes to your dog's gut. If your pet seems "off", disinterested, have them checked out as soon as possible. Bloat is fatal if not treated soon after symptoms appear.
Kennedy Morgan works in the construction industry by day and enjoys coming home to her Great Dane Vegas, and Pomeranian, Leo. Her household is also indentured to a 14-year-old tortoiseshell diva cat named Capri. Kennedy and her canines enjoy walks, beach trips, agility, and learning new things.Catch them out and about on Portland’s west side, and at dog sporting events.