Food bloat in dogs can kill but you can resolve it quickly with a couple of medications. The only way to know for sure is with a trip to the veterinarian.
You made the mistake of leaving your always-ravenous canine at home, unsupervised, with the lid lose on the dog food container. You come home to find an empty dog food bin and a bloated, uncomfortable dog who is retching nonproductively. Is this the dreaded GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus, with volvulus meaning an obstruction caused by a twisting of the stomach or intestines) or just plain ol’ food bloat (gastric dilatation)?
It can be hard to tell in this situation, so an immediate visit to the veterinarian is in order. While knowing that your pet likely ingested a large quantity of food makes gastric dilatation more likely, it is also possible your dog is suffering from GDV. Therefore, this is an emergency; taking a “wait and see” approach is not safe in this scenario.
Food bloat is sadly all too common
As an ER veterinarian, I routinely treated food bloat in dogs. The perpetrators were frequently left alone with an easily accessible, large amount of dog (or cat or goat or horse) food. Many dogs will eat until they can hold no more. Beagles and Labradors seem particularly prone to this type of scenario, as they are breeds known to rarely turn down a meal.
Kibble is the most commonly fed type of diet, and unfortunately for our dogs, once it enters the dog’s stomach, it starts absorbing stomach acid and begins to swell. The wet kibble becomes dense and heavy. While your dog may feel the urge to vomit, he may not be able to successfully retch up the mass of food.
Thus, the symptoms of food bloat in dogs are abdominal distention, drooling, discomfort, restlessness, and non-productive retching.
You may be questioning, “Shouldn’t I force my dog vomit if this happens?” Unless you know that the gorging happened within the last five to 10 minutes, forcing your dog to retch is unlikely to be successful.
Once moisture gets into a huge amount of kibble, it becomes difficult or impossible for the dog to bring it back up; the sodden mass becomes too heavy for the muscles that, ordinarily, cause vomiting easily.
Hydrogen peroxide, once widely recommended for the induction of vomiting in dogs, has recently fallen out of favor. The use of peroxide can lead to ulcers in the mouth, esophagus, and into the upper and lower GI system.
In the case of food bloat, the induction of vomiting is best left to discretion. And the experience of veterinary professionals, who can use an injectable medication (usually apomorphine) to quickly and more safely induce vomiting.
Luckily for your canine friend, food bloat in dogs are relatively simple to treat and rarely results in long-term consequences. Your veterinarian will likely x-ray your dog’s abdomen to ensure that this is just gastric dilatation and not a GDV, which calls for immediate surgery to untwist the twisted stomach and/or bowel and perhaps surgically remove damaged intestine.
The veterinarian will also likely start an IV catheter, which allows rapid administration of fluids to correct dehydration and replace electrolyte losses, and to administer medications. In the case of food bloat, if a dog has vomited repeatedly or retched up fluid, he is losing electrolytes and water. This causes dehydration, and it’s worsened by the stomach pulling in large amounts of fluid to soften and digest the mass of kibble.
Along with rehydration, your veterinarian may use Cerenia (an anti-emetic) to treat ongoing nausea, and sometimes metronidazole, an antibiotic that that can soothe the GI tract by decreasing inflammation. It can also help prevent diarrhea. Other treatments might include probiotics and a bland diet for several days.
Most importantly, you will walk your dog frequently. The exercise stimulates the intestines to move and helps to pass the dog food through the system quickly.
Generally, 12 to 24 hours in the hospital is all that’s required to help a dog feel better after over-indulging. Just remember to put the food out of reach next time!