Understanding Bloat

Bloat is a very serious health risk for many dogs. Deep-chested breeds, including the Briard, can be particularly susceptible to bloat. It is very important to understand the warning signs and symptoms, and act quickly to get your dog to the vet if those symptoms occur.

The technical name for bloat is “Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus” (“GDV”). Bloating of the stomach is often related to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present). It usually happens when there’s an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach (“gastric dilatation”). Stress can be a significant contributing factor also. Bloat can occur with or without “volvulus” or twisting. As the stomach swells, it may rotate 90° to 360°, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum (the upper intestine). The twisting stomach traps air, food, and water in the stomach. The bloated stomach obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs. The combined effect can quickly kill a dog.

The best treatment of bloat is via prevention, through diet and proper health checks, as bloat can occur in response to other health issues. However, if your Briard develops bloat, survival is directly linked to early identification and immediate treatment.

Symptoms of Bloat

Classic early signs of bloat can include any of the following:

  • Restlessness, uneasiness
  • Reluctance to sit or lie down
  • Whimpering, moaning or a special quiet signal of pain
  • Vomiting followed by quantities of white foam then gagging and repeated attempts to swallow
  • Unsuccessful vomiting or belching
  • Unproductive attempts to defecate
  • Refusal or inability to swallow food
  • Refusal or inability to drink
  • Abdominal tension preliminary to a distended, hard abdomen
  • Darkened gums and tongue, dark red, white, or blue gums

Treating Bloat

If you believe your dog is experiencing bloat, GET YOUR DOG TO A VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY! Bloat can kill in less than an hour, so time is of the essence. Notify your vet to alert them you’re on your way with a suspected bloat case. Better to be safe than sorry! Keep both your vet’s phone number, and the number and location of the nearest 24 emergency veterinary hospital where they are easily accessible. If symptoms of bloat occur outside of your vet’s regular office hours DO NOT WAIT, seek emergency treatment.

If you arrive at the veterinarian and due to the early nature of the potential bloat, they conclude that the dog is not in distress, demand an abdominal x-ray be taken. We have had this done, and avoided surgery or death for one of our dogs a number of years ago because the x-ray revealed the very early stage of the gastric dilation and partial torsion of the dogs stomach. Be your Briard’s advocate!

Once the stomach is distended, only surgery can correct a bloat. If the dog has early signs but can still swallow, we recommend 3-4 tablets of Simethicone (Gas-Ex) and rush to the vet. Some people carry a bloat kit which includes a tube to place down the Briard’s throat. This requires some training and medical knowledge. Being conscious of your dog’s comfort is the best means to avoid a major incidence that would require surgery.

Most dogs are not at risk until between 1-2 years of age, when their adult chest develops, but all Briards are at some risk. Be aware, be prepared, and be careful.

Reducing the Chances of Bloat through Feeding Habits

The recommendations below for how to feed your Briard puppy and Briard adult are based on the findings of the Purdue Bloat Study. We advise all new Briard puppy owners as well as puppy owners of any large-breed to review the findings so far in this study.

A number of steps can help prevent bloat. Serving food warm is one of the most important. We add water to the kibble not to soften or expand it, but to warm it for the dogs. The water should be as hot as your tap will produce– worst case scenario, if it is too hot it will tend to slow the dog down eating. Adding table scraps or a canned dog food to adolescent and adult Briards meals also tends to reduce the incidence of bloat. Small snacks throughout the day also tend to reduce bloat incidence, but be conscious not to overfeed your Briard.

Dog food companies will tell you not to feed dogs bones. We encourage at a minimum providing raw beef shank bones (available at the butcher or supermarket as “soup bones”) as combination dietary supplement, dental hygiene device, and toy. They last a long time, keep dogs occupied, the marrow is good for them, and soup bones are sturdy enough not to splinter.

Due to their bloat preventative nature, we recommend table scraps for Briards. However, certain items must be avoided. Rhubarb, chocolate, grapes, raisins and macadamia nuts are poisonous to dogs. Onions in even moderate amounts act as a clotting-inhibitor and can cause spontaneous bleeds. Dogs do not break down cellulose well, so vegetables high in cellulose such as carrots and broccoli should be ground or shredded if added to their meal. High sugar treats are no better for Briards than for humans, but some high fat ones such as hamburger drippings or that nice tasty chicken skin that those of us watching our weight avoid is a perfectly acceptable supplement for your Briard.

DON’Ts: no raw hide, pigs’ ears, or hooves as chew toys. They can be dangerous and cause intestinal obstructions or perforation in your Briard.

Do not feed in elevated bowls. Contrary to popular folk lore, raised feeding platforms increase the incidence of bloat over 200%. During the Purdue bloat study, the preliminary findings indicated that exercise before or after feeding did not increase incidence of bloat. Adding natural foods to the diet, feeding more often smaller meals, and periodic snacks though out the day all lowered incidence.

Unrelated to bloat but important in the overall scheme of things to your Briard’s health is type of bowl you provide. Plastic bowls get micro-scratches that can harbor bacteria and result in a contact dermatitis. Either ceramic or stainless steel bowls avoid that issue.