Help Find the Cause of Why Dogs Bloat

February 11, 2015

Most pet parents of barrel chested dogs are way too familiar with bloat, but for you other pet parents… bloat is a very (and we mean very) serious condition where the dog’s stomach fills with gas and many times then twists on its axis. This condition is extremely life threatening because once the stomach flips is it is cut off from blood flow and begins to die. There is a very narrow window to get the dog to veterinarian’s office and begin life-saving surgery. If only a small portion of the stomach is dead, that section can be surgically removed and the dog may survive. But if too much of the stomach is damaged there is no way to save the dog. In addition, because the stomach is attached to the spleen, that often needs to be removed as well. As you can imagine, this entire process is unbelievably stressful to the pet parent, requires invasive surgery on the pet, and is very expensive.

For years there have been a host of theories about why dogs bloat. Some claim that feeding a dog multiple times a day rather than only once helps; some say feeding a dog in an elevated bowl helps — of course some say that elevated bowls actually make it worse; and some say that making a dog wait after eating before exercising helps. We must admit as the repeated pet parents of large barrel chested dogs (2 Great Danes and 2 Newfoundlands) we’ve done it all and we’ve been 50% successful. Both of our Danes bloated, had surgery and lived, and neither of our Newfies bloated— though Splash had a prophylactic gastroplexy when she was spayed, attaching her stomach to the inner wall of her abdomen so it can’t flip.

Sadly, it turns out that our personal experience with Great Danes is not far from the norm. According to the recent Your Dog newsletter from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the lifetime risk of a Great Dane developing dog bloat is a little over 40% while for other barrel-chested breeds it is between 20 and 25%. This raises the question as to why such a big difference? The veterinarians at Tufts think that it might be linked to DNA. They are working with colleagues at Harvard and MIT to get a better idea on the genetic issue and they need our help! They are collecting blood samples from dogs who have previously bloated from which they can extract DNA samples. So if you’re a pet parent of a dog that has bloated and want to help find the cause, please email Dr. Sharp at claire.sharp@tufts.edu and copy Diane Welsh, the clinical trial technician, at diane.welsh@tufts.edu.

Please let us know if you’re able to assist this critical research on dog bloat — we would love to publicly acknowledge your help.

Thanks for reading!

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