Bloat and Your Senior German Shepherd; A Matter of Life or Death. What You Need To Know.

Updated: Apr 10




Bloat, or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) also known as Gastric Torsion, is a life-threatening condition that can happen to any dog breed of any age, but it typically occurs in deep-chested, larger breeds, such as German Shepherds. Bloat (GDV) occurs when the stomach fills with air and possibly food (dilates rapidly) and twists, which cuts off the blood supply to the intestines and prohibits blood from returning to the heart. This results in tissue death quickly if not treated immediately by emergency surgery. More often seen in German Shepherds, particularly older male German Shepherds 7 to 12 years of age, bloat has become more common in dogs as they’ve been bred for an increasingly slimmer physique. We here at Woody’s Place Senior German Shepherd Sanctuary have encountered bloat four times over the years with three being males and one was a female.

In this blog post, we will discuss what bloat is, how to prevent it from happening, and what you do if your senior German Shepherd bloats

Senior German Shepherds are at risk of bloating because their deep chests allow for large amounts of food and water consumption without difficulty; this puts them at a higher risk than other breeds who have shorter digestive tracts, like a toy poodle who has a limited capacity for larger intakes of food and water. Other factors that make older German Shepherds at risk for bloat include but are not limited to: * Being male * Deep, narrow chest * History of bloat * Digestive issues * Cancer * Drinking too much, especially after eating * Running and playing right after eating * Wetting food with citric acid as an ingredient * An all kibble diet * Eating too fast * Eating one large meal a day * Being stressed/nervous/high-strung Bloat can be very scary, but it's crucial to know the signs and how to deal with bloat quickly, so your senior German Shepherd has the best shot at surviving this horrible event. Symptoms of Bloat include but may not be limited to are:

* Drooling * Retching * Restlessness/pacing * Inability to lay down * Vomiting small amounts of foam * Posturing to have a bowel movement, but nothing comes out * Weakness * Pale gums * Elevated heart rate * Weak pulse * Can’t breath * Abdominal distension * Collapse/unresponsive Given the severity of bloat in senior German Shepherds, The best thing you can do is take steps to prevent it from happening altogether. That being said, we have done everything right in the past, and still have had it happen to us twice without immediately being able to determine why. It was later determined that cancer was the underlying cause, particularly stomach cancer. So please, don’t beat yourself up if you do everything by the book, and your senior German Shepherd still bloats because sometimes, it’s out of our hands. How to prevent bloat the best you can: * Feed your senior German Shepherd smaller meals more frequently throughout the day instead of one large meal * DO NOT wet kibble that has citric acid as an ingredient * Prevent your dog from guzzling water, especially after eating * Add wet food to kibble * Don’t change their diet rapidly if they have a sensitive stomach * Prohibit your dog from eating too quickly * Do NOT elevate your dog’s food dish (studies show this is NOT a good thing) * Don’t feed your dog anything that may upset his stomach * Provide probiotics regularly * Limit activity 1 hour before and after eating * Do not feed your dog when highly stressed. IE. during a bad thunderstorm * Try to alleviate stress * Address known digestive issues * Have your dog’s stomach tacked. More about that below

Treatment for bloat.

Time is of the essence here folks, I can’t stress that enough. It is imperative to get your senior German Shepherd immediate medical attention if you suspect that he is bloating. It is literally a race against the clock. If you suspect bloat, call your veterinarian immediately and tell them what is happening. They will have you come in right away and may even be waiting for you outside with a gurney upon arrival...yes that’s how serious this is.


Once your senior German Shepherd is under medical care, they will put an IV in him and begin to decompress his stomach while providing pain medication. After that, they will do blood work and X-rays to determine if, in fact, it is bloat. When the determination is made, they will perform surgery. If caught early enough and there are no underlying issues then the survival rate is about 90 to 95%. If, however, a portion of the stomach and or intestines is found to be dead at the time of surgery, the survival rate decreases to 50%. We’ve had as low as a 30% success rate on three occasions and have opted not to have surgery, and decided to euthanize instead, which is really awful, but there was no sense in putting the dogs through all that when they were so up in years.


Side note. Sometimes, the spleen gets caught up in the twisting and may need to be removed as well. When Woody bloated, that’s what happened to him, and he did fine with having a splenectomy.


Another side note. While the surgery is being performed, make sure a Gastropexy is done at that time. This is when the veterinarian will tack the dog’s stomach down to prevent it from twisting in the future, which is essential because once your senior German Shepherd bloats, they are predisposed to it happening again in the future. Note: Gastropexy can be done at any time, so you don’t have to wait until it’s an emergency.


Once your senior German Shepherd is home from surgery, he will be wiped out, so be sure to give him the time he needs to recover without pushing him to do more than he is capable of. When Woody bloated at 11 years of age, he made it through the surgery, and it took him almost a month to recover. Sadly, shortly thereafter his Degenerative Myelopathy reared its ugly head, which I swear was accelerated by the whole bloat ordeal.


It’s important to keep your dog calm while recovering and try to reevaluate what could have caused his bloat if you can and if you can pinpoint it to something make any necessary adjustments to prevent it from happening again. Woody bloated because we had just moved that day to our new home, which happened to be, during a huge storm, which he was afraid of, and someone was giving him treats unbeknownst to me, so I knew exactly what it was that caused his bloat.


In conclusion, bloat is a life-treating matter that requires immediate medical attention. Do not wait to call your veterinarian if you suspect bloat. To those who know what to look for, bloat can be obvious, but it can also be difficult to determine the cause whether it be eating too much or something more serious like cancer. If you notice any changes that look like bloat in your senior German Shepherd, stay calm and seek medical help. ***** Disclaimer: Throughout the "20 Most Common Health Issues in Senior German Shepherds" series, each blog post is expressed explicitly from our point of view and is not to be substituted for the professional medical expertise of your trusted veterinarian.

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