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What are the risks of bloat?

(Q) I’m absolutely devastated at the loss of my three-year-old Great Dane. Boris was fit and healthy until he suddenly became ill. I noticed that his stomach had become bloated and he was very lethargic, so I took him to the vet’s, who suspected Boris had gastric torsion so kept him in overnight. I had a call the following morning to tell me he had died. I was aware of this condition and knew it affected deep-chested breeds, but I had no idea that it could happen so quickly or that it could be fatal. Were there any signs I should have noticed earlier, or were there any preventative measures I should have taken?

(A) Vet Roberta Baxter says: Bloat, or gastric dilation, can follow fermentation of food in the stomach, which causes swelling of the abdomen, and can result in burping and unsuccessful attempts to vomit. As the stomach swells it may rotate and constrict its own blood supply, which can cause circulatory collapse, toxicity, weakness, and collapse. Death due to shock combined with altered electrolyte levels can follow rapidly. Some dogs treated in the early stages recover, but irreversible damage can occur within about four hours.

Risk factors in prone breeds (deep-chested, large breed dogs such as Great Danes) include too big a meal eaten too fast, and eating and drinking too close to exercise.

Feeding several small meals a day and avoiding exercise within an hour of mealtimes can be helpful. In addition, eating should be slowed with an anti-gulp bowl, or by putting toys in with the food.

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