If you have a large breed dog, one of the most critical health concerns to understand is bloat. To us, it sounds like no big deal. Bloat in dogs is a severe problem, however. It’s considered a medical emergency even in its mildest form. Unfortunately, large-breed dogs are especially likely to deal with it. Let’s take a look at what it’s all about.

What is bloat?

Bloat is the common term used for a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex. It is a fancy term for when the stomach fills with air and obstructs blood flow. It often will twist on itself as well, complicating issues further.

The blood flow obstruction directly results from the stomach filling with air and building pressure. Blood can no longer move freely from the hind legs and abdomen to the heart. The blood pools at the back end of your dog’s body, and they will go into shock because its blood availability at its front end is too low.

If the stomach flips, this causes even more of an issue. The spleen and pancreas get dragged out of place, and the pancreas becomes oxygen-deprived. This forces it to release toxic hormones, and this toxic hormone can directly affect the heart to stop it.

This a life-threatening condition that, even when treated, can still take a dog’s life. Even if a surgeon can fix the stomach twist, a dog may have already gone into shock and already had its heart affected by the toxic pancreatic hormones. In these cases, it’s common for dogs to survive the surgery, only to still have their heart stop anyway after the fact. 

Why are large-breed dogs more likely to have bloat?

While all dogs are at-risk of this condition, big dogs are especially likely to struggle with it. There is still much unknown about GDV, including why large-breed dogs are more at-risk.

One thought is that bloat is more likely in dogs with deep, narrow chests. There is less width for the stomach to dilate and expand, and so it flips easier. Grade Danes, for example, have narrow and deep chests. These are some of the worst cases for dealing with bloat. Once a dog suffers from bloat once, they are very likely to have it again in the future.

Large-breed dogs with broad chests are still at risk, though. This is most likely a combination of their large organs and small chest size (relative to each other) and food brands often recommended for large dogs.

These large-breed dog foods contain high amounts of soybean meal, oils, and fats. While experts are still working on the “why” of this, these ingredients increase a dog’s likelihood of suffering from GDV by at least four times.

Male dogs (both large-breed and smaller breeds) are also more likely to suffer from bloat than females, though both can contract it.

What are other risk factors for bloat?

Other than size, there are other important risk factors. If you address these, you can do your best to minimize the chance that your dog may suffer from bloat in its lifetime. The most significant risk factors other than size include:


  • Anxiety: Anxious dogs will likely swallow a lot of air when eating and otherwise. This is because they are panting a lot. The more swallowed air, the easier it is for the stomach to dilate. This could be any kind of anxiety, and it’s mainly a problem if your dog has food-related anxiety (causing them to eat quickly with a lot of anxiety)

  • Hyperactivity: If your dog is prone to hyper times, they are likelier to deal with bloat. This is partially because they eat and drink faster than non-hyperactive dogs. Everything about hyperactive dogs tends to be, well, fast.

  • Portion sizes: If you feed your dog larger portions (one meal a day versus 2 or 3 smaller ones), this can increase their likelihood of GDV. This is simply because there will be more food in the stomach and less room for the air that naturally accompanies it.


  • Eating speed: If your dog inhales food at top speed, they are more likely to struggle. The slower your dog eats, the better it’ll be for the potentially overworked stomach. Research suggests that fast-eating dogs have a risk of GDV of at least five times the norm.

How to prevent bloat in large dogs

Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that your dog will never suffer from GDV in their lifetime. However, understanding the risk factors above can help you do everything possible to reduce the risk. As a direct response to those risk factors above, some changes you can make in your dog’s habits include:


  • Use slow-feeding bowls: These unique “puzzle” bowls have large obstructions, making it more challenging for your dog to get the food out. This forces the dog to eat slower. These are often recommended for dogs that have sensitive stomachs, too!

  • Serve your dog small meals throughout the day: The smaller the portion size, the easier it’ll be for your dog’s stomach. Just take their recommended daily portion of food and spread it out over several meals.

  • Manage your dog’s anxiety: Do what you can to help your dog stay calm throughout the day. This could be more time spent with them or finding natural anti-anxiety products.

  • Separate pets while eating: Food anxiety is common in multi-pet households. If your dog feels their food is “under attack” from another pet, they’ll be anxious and naturally eat faster to keep the other pet from having it. So, separate pets and make sure everyone knows their food is safe.

  • Consider avoiding dry dog food: Some research suggests that dry food, particularly that which is loaded with those problem ingredients mentioned above, can increase the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex. Consider substituting wet food or finding another dry brand with better ingredients.

Neither you nor your dog deserves to deal with the potentially life-threatening situation of gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex. While you can’t make it completely eliminate it for your dog, understanding the potential risks of bloat in large-breed dogs helps you do everything possible to keep those risks as low as possible.





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