What To Do When Your Dog Looks Bloated?

We’ve all experienced that feeling of going overboard with food – who hasn’t gone for that extra spoon of your grandmother’s Sunday special? Yeah – that one – the one too many that makes you feel like your stomach is replacing every organ in your chest cavity. When it happens, we usually lay down on the couch and wait for it to pass, or we take something that helps us deal with a bloated stomach, and that’s it.

Well, it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to suppose that if your beloved four-legged friend has had too much food, he will walk or sleep it off… right?

Unfortunately, this assumption would likely be lethal to your pet. Swollen stomachs in dogs can be incredibly dangerous! As soon as you notice your dog’s stomach is unusually swollen or bloated, you should take him to your vet immediately! Let’s look at how it manifests itself and why, so that you can act quickly if the situation arises.

What happens when a dog gets bloated?

A dog has a bloated stomach when gas or food stretches it more than it should. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) happen when the distended stomach flips, locking the gas inside and preventing blood from irrigating the stomach. This could be fatal to your dog within hours if it remains unattended.

What causes bloat in dogs?

The exact cause of GDV still remains unclear, but there are a few triggers that have been identified:

  • Heavy exercise right after a meal
  • A deep chest cavity – Great Danes, St. Bernard and Weimaraner are more at risk than others
  • Feeding your dog only one big serving a day
  • A genetical history of bloat/GDV
  • Eating too quickly
  • Risk increases with age

There are some other conditions that also involve stomach swelling, such as:

  • Peritonitis
    A puncture in the dog’s intestine or stomach creates an infection which is extremely painful for dogs.
  • Cushing’s Syndrome
    Caused by higher-than-average levels of cortisol hormone.
  • Ascites
    Caused by accumulated fluids in your dog’s stomach.


GDV or bloat has very distinct symptoms that should be acted upon instantly. You will most likely notice the hard and swollen belly right away. If your dog is especially furry or overweight, there might be an absence of visible bloat, which does not rule out that your dog might have the condition.

Here’s a list of symptoms that may be exhibited by your dog:

  • Unproductive retching vomiting (your dog only vomits fluid or foam – nothing solid)
    This is often an urgent sign of bloat/GDV in dogs!
  • Excessive saliva, drooling
    This is caused by the nausea which is triggered by the bloated stomach.
  • Sudden weakness
    Your dog might show signs of disorientation due to the pain and discomfort.
  • Collapse
    For any reason, if your dog collapses, bring them to the vet!
  • Fast, heavy or difficult breathing
    Nausea combined to the pain of the condition will trigger breathing changes.
  • Pale mucous membranes
    It can indicate disfunction in the circulatory system of your dog.
  • Restlessness and pacing
    This is one of the easiest and earliest signs to spot in your dog’s behaviour.

How to treat bloat and prevent it from happening?

If you’ve identified one or multiple symptoms of the above, please stop reading this article and contact your veterinarian immediately! There is no way this condition can be treated at home. It requires swift and professional intervention.

If, on the other hand, you’re curious to know how to decrease the risk of it happening to your four-legged friend, there are a few things that can be done to make sure your dog has the best chance at minimising the risk of this condition:

  • Smaller portions
    Bruce and Peluche get almost 2kg of food a day each. We feed them at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is strongly advised to ditch the “one meal a day” routine and split it into multiple, much smaller portions to ensure the stomach is not overloaded with food.
  • Decrease stress
    Please let your dogs rest after eating; avoiding heavy exercise is strongly advised. Decrease stress around eating time. Do your dogs tend to be protective over their food? Do they eat all of it as if racing against the clock? Then, consider separating your dogs while they eat. This way, you give them some peace while they enjoy their meal.
  • Slow down the eating
    Easier said than done, but a few bowls are designed explicitly for this. ‘Slow feeders‘ come in various shapes and sizes and are made just for this – to make your dog eat slower. The food is being dispatched in maze-shaped designs. Yoda has one. It’s like a puzzle. There are also toys where you can load up your pup’s kibbles. Those are just as good. Your dog will have a lot of fun during dinner time while at the same time being much safer!
  • Surgery
    I’ve hesitated a long time whether to do this, but let me tell you: my mind has been much more at ease since we did! They attach the stomach to the side of the belly (where it naturally touches). This way, the stomach can never flip. We did it with Naya when she got sterilised since she was asleep anyway. Bruce, Peluche and Duvel had it done last year through microsurgery. It’s a bit more expensive, but this way, it’s a minor procedure. The wound was only a centimetre big, and they could come home immediately. Since our dogs have huge chest cavities and play and run around quite a lot, I always dreaded coming home one day and finding them like this when it was too late. One thing less to worry about!
  • Feed your dog when you can stick around for a while
    In general, it’s more common for dogs to get bloat if they’re being active after eating, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get it while lying still. The vet at the clinic told me that most dogs who can’t be saved anymore arrive at the clinic in the morning. If you feed your dog at 5 pm and by 9 pm you see that he’s bloated, you’re probably still in time to save his life. If you feed him before going away or going to bed, the same story will get a miserable ending…


If you notice anything that is out of character with your dog’s belly, don’t wait to contact your veterinarian, as it could quickly escalate into something much more dramatic. 

Have you ever experienced anything like this with your dog? Please share your story with us in the comments!

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