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What We're Learning About Bloat

A Review - S. Greene

For over 30 years breeders and owners of Standard Poodles have been concerned about reducing their dogs' risk of bloat. Here's some generalized information to help you understand new information learned from a Purdue University study.

Bloat (Gastric Dilation - Torsion Complex)

The term "Bloat" refers to any of three conditions:
  • Acute gastric dilation
  • Torsion
  • Volvus

Bloat, also known as the overfeeding or overeating syndrome, involves a swelling up of the stomach from gas, fluid or both (acute gastric dilation). Once distended, the stomach may twist abruptly on the long axis. If it does twist, but the twist is 180 degree or less, it is called a torsion. A twist greater than 180 degrees is called a volvulus.

Signs and Symptoms of Non-Torsion Bloat - Acute Gastric Dilation

The signs are excessive salivation and drooling, extreme restlessness, attempts to vomit or pass stool and evidence of abdominal pain - the dog whines and groans when you push on the stomach wall. The abdomen will be distended.

If your dog can belch or vomit, quite likely the condition is not caused by a twist. You must take the dog to a veterinarian where a long rubber or plastic stomach tube will be passed into the stomach. If there is a rush of air from the tube, the swelling in the abdomen will subside and there is almost immediate relief.

Signs and Symptoms of Torsion or Volvulus - A LIFE AND DEATH SITUATION

The initial signs are those of acute gastric dilation, except the distress is more marked. The dog breathes rapidly, has cold and pale mouth membranes and may even collapse. The shock-like signs are caused by strangulation of the blood supply to the stomach and the spleen.

In torsion or volvulus, a tube cannot be passed into the stomach. The only treatment is IMMEDIATE surgery and you must rush the dog to closest veterinary surgeon.

Preventing Bloat - The Purdue University Study

Many measures have been recommended and tried, but-until recently there has been
little scientific evidence that any worked. Now, thanks to the Purdue University Bloat Study, that picture is starting to change.

Supported by grants from the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation, Morris Animal Foundation and 11 parent breed clubs, including the Poodle Club of America, this five-year prospective study is the first of its kind. And it is yielding information on what breeders and owners should and shouldn't do to reduce Standard Poodles risk of bloat.

The Purdue researchers, led by veterinarian and epidemiologist Dr. Lawrence T. Glickman, have thus far issued two reports of their findings, both published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). The more recent of the two, which appeared in the November 15, 2000, issue of JAVMA, contains findings that should cause Standard Poodle breeders and owners to step back and re-think bloat prevention information.

One of the more important findings was that there are significant differences between the "large breeds" studied (Akita, Bloodhound, Collie, Irish Setter, Rottweiler, Standard Poodle and Weimaraner) and the "giant breeds" studied (Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard).

The results reported here apply to the "large breeds" only, e.g. our Standard Poodles.

Old Thoughts: What We Used to Think About Bloat

Over the years, breeders, owners and veterinarians have developed a body of lore about what causes bloat and how it can be prevented. Here are some of those things which we now know are NOT correct, i.e. bloat is caused by -

  • Too much exercise on a full stomach.
  • Overloading the stomach.
  • Swallowing air when eating.

We USED to think that bloat could be prevented or reduced by -

  • Wetting dry kibble so that it won't swell in the stomach.
  • Raising the food dish above floor level.

Weight, breed size, the ratio of the depth of the thorax to its width and stress were not significantly associated with the risk of bloat in large breed dogs. In addition, several measures that have long been recommended to reduce the risk of bloat were found to have no effect.

Factors That Make NO Difference

These measures, long been thought to reduce the risk of bloat, were found to have no effect:

  • Restricting exercise before or after eating
  • Restricting water intake before and/or after meals
  • Feeding two or more meals per day
  • Moistening dry kibble before feeding

Factors That DO Make A Difference

These four (4) factors ARE associated with an increased risk of bloat in large breed dogs:

  • Raising the food dish more than doubled the risk for bloat.
  • Speed of eating: Dogs rated by their owners as very fast eaters had a 38% increased risk of bloat.
  • Age: The study found that risk increased by 20% with each year of age. Owners should be more alert to early signs of bloat as their dogs grow older.
  • Family History: Having a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or offspring) that had bloated increased a dog's risk by 63%.


The Purdue research team concluded these are the things you can do to prevent bloat:

  • The strongest recommendation to prevent GVD (bloat) should be to not breed a dog that has a first degree relative that has had bloat. This places a special responsibility on an owner to inform the breeder should their dog bloat.
  • Do not raise the feeding dish.
  • SLOW the dog's speed of eating.

A future report from the research team will provide data on dietary factors and how they may or may not be associated with bloat risk.

2.Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg, DB, et al. Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs.
3.Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, Delbert G. Carlson, DVM and James M. Giffin, MD

ABSTRACT - Nutrient Intake and Bloat

Malathi Raghavan, DVM, MS; Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH; Nita W. Glickman, MS, MPH; Diana B. Schellenberg*, MS.

Dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) in dogs were identified using a nested case-control study. Of 1991 dogs from 11 large- and giant-breeds in a previous prospective study of GDV, 106 dogs that developed GDV were selected as cases while 212 remaining dogs were randomly selected as controls. A complete profile of nutrient intake was constructed for each dog based on owner-reported information, published references and nutrient databases. Potential risk factors were examined for a significant (p<0.05) relationship with GDV risk using unconditional logistic regression.

The study confirmed previous reports of increased risks of GDV associated with increasing age, having a first-degree relative with GDV, and having a raised food bowl.

New significant findings included a 2.7-fold (or 170%) increased risk of GDV in dogs that consumed dry foods containing fat among the first four ingredients.

The risk of GDV was increased 4.2-fold (or 320%) in dogs that consumed dry foods containing citric acid that were also moistened prior to feeding by owners.

Dry foods containing a rendered meat meal with bone among the first four ingredients significantly decreased GDV risk by 53.0%.

Approximately 30% of all cases of GDV in this study could be attributed to consumption of dry foods containing fat among their first four ingredients, while 32% could be attributed to consumption of owner-moistened dry foods that also contained citric acid. These findings can be used by owners to reduce their dogs' risk of GDV.

*This manuscript has been accepted for publication in the Journal of the Animal Hospital Association (JAAHA).
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