Bloat is ALWAYS a medical emergency. I cannot stress this enough! If you notice any of these signs in your dog, don't wait - load her up and head to the vet. Maybe it will be a wasted trip, but the outcome of untreated bloat will almost always be death, so don't hesitate.
Bloat can come on at any time, and it generally comes on quickly. Some of the signs are:
- Restlessness, pacing, just not acting "quite right" in a way you may not be able to put your finger on.
- Unproductive retching as if to vomit, vomiting small amounts of foam, foam around the mouth
- Hard or distended abdomen, frequently described as feeling "drum-like"
- Lying in a "sphinx-like" position, with head up, instead of stretching out on her side, or curling into a little ball.
- Turning to look at abdomen
- Get down on the floor and listen to your dog's stomach. Normally you hear gurgles and grumbles, normal gut noises. In bloat, you will not hear these sounds
- Mucus membranes may be bright red at the onset of bloat (due to the increased heart rate and higher blood oxygen content due to panting) but will become paler as the bloat and its' associated shock continues
- Rapid heart rate
If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it's time for a trip to the vet. NOW. Don't wait around to see if she improves.
- Call your clinic (or the emergency clinic, since most bloats seem to occur at night) and tell them you are bringing in a possible bloat. This allows them to get ready before you arrive, since time is of the essence. Stay calm and be prepared to tell them your dog's age, breed, and approximate weight. When you arrive, depending on your dog's condition, they may start an IV containing a steroid. Antibiotics and anti-arrythmics to prevent heart damage may be given. X-rays or an ECG may be done, as well as blood counts and chemistries. Giving them proper information before you arrive will save time in the long run.
- If possible, have someone else drive, while you stay with your dog helping them maintain balance and stay comfortable on the ride to the clinic.
- Remember that your dog is far more adept at reading you than you are at reading her. She will pick up on your panic, so do your best to take a deep breath and assure her that everything is OK.
- Once you arrive at the clinic, your vet may tube your dog (inserting a tube down the esophagus and into the stomach to remove gas and accumulated fluid) or "tap" the stomach, which involves inserting a trocar (a large bore needle) through the abdominal wall and into the stomach. If caught before the stomach twists, this may be sufficient. If the stomach has already twisted, your dog will need immediate surgery.
Be proactive. Get to know your dog in a healthy state. Get down on the floor and listen to her normal stomach noises (she won't care, it'll just make her feel loved), lift her lip and look at her gums. Put your hand on her chest and feel her heart beat so you know what is normal. Feel her abdominal area before and after a meal so you know how it should feel.
I always keep simethicone tablets (Gas-X or Phazyme are two common brands) on hand, since I have dogs who are at risk for bloat. It helps break down large gas bubbles in the stomach and can sometimes prevent a bloat if given early enough. It has a very wide margin of safety, meaning you can give your dog a large amount without causing problems. Talk to your vet about its usage and keep it on hand.
Many people with bloat prone dogs keep a "tubing kit" on hand. This is a block of wood with a hole drilled through the middle, tubes of a couple different sizes, and tape. The block of wood is placed in the dog's mouth and held in place with tape, the tube is passed through the hole in the block of wood and into the dog's stomach. I feel that in most cases you will waste valuable time trying to tube your dog yourself. Your dog can die from bloat in under an hour. Your vet can give you more information and the necessary training if you live far away from the closest clinic and have a breed susceptible to bloat. Otherwise it's best to just load up and go.
Hopefully you and your dog will never have to go through this traumatic experience. But forewarned is forearmed. Knowing the signs and being prepared are the best ways to keep your dog safe from this horrific killer.