Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat? How to Prevent & Treat

Bloat (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus) is a life-threatening gastrointestinal problem that affects German Shepherds and other dog breeds. However, not all breeds are affected equally – some are more susceptible than others. So, are German Shepherds prone to bloat?

German Shepherds are prone to bloat. This severe condition appears to affect deep-chested dogs, putting them more at risk. The dog’s stomach expands and sometimes twists due to the build-up of excess gas. This puts pressure on vital organs. Shock, internal organ damage, and death can quickly follow.

Bloat (GDV), also known as twisted stomach, gastric torsion, or gastric dilation, is life-threatening and requires urgent medical treatment. Not every case will result in a stomach flip, but sadly death can occur in hours, sometimes minutes, in severe cases.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • What is bloat in German Shepherds?
  • What causes bloat in German Shepherds? A look at risk factors.
  • Early and advanced signs and symptoms of bloat.
  • How to treat bloat in German Shepherds.
  • 10 tips on how to prevent bloat.
Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat? X-ray of dog with bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus, GDV)
X-ray of a dog with bloat – the red double bubble pattern indicates stomach torsion

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Let’s investigate the topic of Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) in dogs and learn exactly how susceptible your German Shepherd is and how to keep him safe.

Table Of Contents

What is Bloat in German Shepherds?

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), commonly known as bloat, German Shepherd stomach flip, or German Shepherd twisted stomach is a potentially fatal condition. It can happen to any dog at any age, but German Shepherds have an increased risk. But what exactly is it?

Bloat in German Shepherds is a serious medical condition that occurs when the dog’s stomach fills rapidly with gas and twists. The excess air causes the stomach to swell which puts pressure on other internal organs. Shock and death can quickly follow if bloat is left untreated.

The pressure inhibits blood flow from the abdomen and hind legs to the heart. This inadequate blood supply also deprives other organs of oxygen – the most commonly affected organs are the pancreas and the spleen.

When the stomach flips, the spleen and pancreas are pulled along which cuts off the blood flow. The dog’s pancreas then produces toxins that have adverse effects on the heart and can cause it to suddenly stop.

There’s no doubt bloat is a life-threatening medical emergency in dogs. Even after treatment, many dogs still succumb to the condition because of the massive influx of toxins into essential organs. 

Bloat still kills about 30 percent of the dogs it affects, even after extremely intensive treatment.

American kennel club

I want to share with you the below 3-minute video. It shows a German Shepherd named “Flash” experiencing bloat, and I will warn you – it is unpleasant to watch, but there’s a justification for it.

The video was taken at the emergency vet’s office while Flash’s x-rays (confirming GDV) were developing. Flash’s prognosis was grave, and he was euthanized within minutes of the filming. You can hear the stress and sadness in the veterinarian’s voice as she describes what is happening.

I am sharing this video in the hope that even if just one dog owner who is not familiar with bloat will now be able to identify the symptoms and seek medical attention before it’s too late.

German Shepherd experiencing bloat

If you’re the proud parent of a German Shepherd like me, the last few paragraphs will probably send a bit of a chill down your spine. Don’t worry though, as there are many preventative steps you can take to ensure your dog never has to deal with bloat in the first instance. We’ll cover these later in the article.

And even if your German Shepherd does develop bloat, knowing the signs and catching it early on increases the chance he’ll come out perfectly okay.

Read on to understand the risk factors, signs and symptoms, treatment, and prevention options for bloating among German Shepherds. 

What Causes Bloat in German Shepherds?

Scientists have not yet identified the specific cause of bloat (GDV) in German Shepherds, although it is suspected to be genetic. However, there are certain risk factors believed to increase the likelihood of bloat. For example, eating too fast or exercising too soon after a meal.

In other words, the genetic mutation of the DRB1 and DLA88 genes associated with bloating determine the level of bloat susceptibility for each breed, which is why the German Shepherd ranks among the most prone breeds. 

Dog experts know that air accumulates in the stomach (dilatation), and the stomach twists (volvulus). But they don’t know if the build-up of gas causes the twist or if the stomach twists first, and then the air builds up.

But your dog’s genes aren’t the only potential cause of bloat. Here are some other factors that are believed to cause gastric torsion in German Shepherds:

  • A disorganized feeding routine. One large meal a day is more likely to cause bloat than several smaller meals. 
  • Quick eating. 
  • A consistently solid diet. A mixture of wet and hard food is less likely to cause bloat.
  • Not drinking enough water.
  • Sex. Male German Shepherds are more prone than female ones.
  • Age. Dogs that are seven or more years are at higher risk – and the risk increases with each additional year.
  • Smaller size. Lean dogs are at a higher risk. Lack of fat in the abdomen mimics a deep and narrow chest.
  • Exercising too soon after a meal.
  • Eating from a raised bowl. This may force the dog to swallow lots of air. However, this is currently unproven and experiments have been inconclusive.
  • Stress and anxiety.

What are the First Signs of Bloat in German Shepherds?

Knowing the signs and symptoms of bloat in your German Shepherd is crucial. As it’s a deadly condition, acting at the first indication of bloat may be the only way to save your dog. But what are the first signs?

The most noticeable sign of bloat in German Shepherds is a swollen stomach. However, the condition may also manifest in less obvious signs. These may be more or less severe, depending on the stage. Examples are retching, restlessness, shortness of breath, weakness, or foaming at the mouth.

However, any case of bloat is an emergency, and you should contact your vet if you have even the slightest suspicion that something is wrong. Let’s look at the early and advanced signs of gastric torsion.

First Signs

In the early stages of bloat, your dog can show any following signs:

  • Bloated stomach
  • Walking around restlessly
  • Unsuccessful attempts to vomit
  • Continuous panting
  • Uncontrolled drooling
  • Attention-seeking sounds that indicate your dog is in pain
  • Dry heaving
  • Repeated stretching that forms a hunched back
  • Drinking heavily
  • A general state of depression
  • Irritation when their stomach is touched
  • Withdrawal and trying to hide

Advanced Signs

The signs and symptoms at the advanced stage of bloating are severe. The dog has been fighting with the other symptoms for long, and body organs are yielding to the damage of poor blood flow and saturation of toxins.

Advanced signs of bloat include:

  • Advanced weakness and eventual collapse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Foaming
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Pale gums
  • Loss of consciousness

How to Treat Bloat in German Shepherds

Treatment of a German Shepherd stomach flip involves both the crucial part you play and the vet’s care.

To treat bloat in German Shepherds, rush your dog to the vet or emergency animal hospital as soon as you notice the signs. The vet will then take over initially diagnosing and stabilizing your dog by decompressing the stomach. If the stomach remains twisted, surgery is required.

Let’s take a look at what these steps may involve.

  • Diagnosis may include taking an abdominal x-ray to determine the position of the stomach and the extent of the condition.
  • To stabilize your German Shepherd, the vet will decompress the stomach to reduce the pressure caused by the gas build. Decompression involves passing a tube in the stomach or using a hypodermic needle on the side of the abdomen if passing a tube is impossible. 
  • Depending on the stage of bloat, putting your dog on fluids and performing shock therapy may also make up part of the stabilization treatment.
Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat?German Shepherd Puppy and stethoscope
Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat?First aid kit

German Shepherd Stomach Flip Surgery

If the stomach is still twisted after decompression, the dog will go into emergency surgery to correct the twist. Extreme damage to parts of the stomach wall and the spleen may mean that they have to be removed entirely.

A German Shepherd that has survived bloat is susceptible to relapse. To prevent another occurrence of bloat, the surgery must conclude with gastropexy: a procedure that attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting in the future. 

How to Prevent Bloat in German Shepherds

To prevent bloat in German Shepherds, make appropriate dietary and care choices. These include feeding nutritious food, avoiding large meals, and avoiding exercise after eating. Your vet can also perform a laparoscopic gastropexy. This is a non-invasive surgery to prevent the stomach from twisting.

Here’s my full list of 10 preventive options you should consider to avert bloat.

  1. Feed your dog two or three times a day. This is preferred rather than a single heavy meal. 
  2. Avoid poor quality recreation bones and chews. Opt for healthy dog treats for large breeds. Check out my recommended healthy treats for German Shepherds here.
  3. Ensure your dog eats a nutritious and balanced diet. Here’s my definitive guide on the best diet for German Shepherds. It including the different types of diet, nutrition tips, and exactly what your dog can and can’t eat.
  4. Feed your dog fresh food. Avoid fermentable carbohydrates, genetically manipulated food, foods with preservatives, and with citric acid.
  5. Train your dog to eat slowly and not gulp down his food. Slow feeding dog bowls such as the Outward Hound Fun Feeder on Amazon are helpful and are fun for your German Shepherd. This one gets almost 50,000 positive reviews!
  6. Dogs should not exercise soon after a meal. An hour’s rest is advised. I like to give my German Shepherd at least an hour and a half.
  7. Don’t allow your dog to drink too much water straight after a meal. A few small drinks during the day are best.
  8. Plan a check-up schedule with your dog’s vet. This will help identify any conditions that may predispose your dog to bloat.  
  9. Keep an anti-gas medicine in your first-aid kit. Consult your vet on what type is best and when to use it.
  10. Prophylactic gastropexy. A non-invasive preventative procedure to stop the stomach twisting. (See below).

Prophylactic Gastropexy

Prophylactic gastropexy is also known as preventive gastropexy. This procedure ensures that even though your dog may experience bloating due to air build-up, the deadly complications caused by a twisted stomach are prevented. 

You can also opt for a non-invasive option of gastropexy known as laparoscopic gastropexy. With this method, the vet makes a small incision through the abdomen and uses a camera to direct the procedure. This can be performed at the time of spay or neuter.

German Shepherds are known to suffer from sensitive stomach issues, of which bloat is just one cause. You can learn what other causes there are of a sensitive stomach in GSDs in this post.

My 5 Favorite German Shepherd Products to Make Life Easier:

  1. Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness. I love this harness, and it’s what I use. There’s just no way your dog can pull. It’s easy to fit and inexpensive. You can read my full review here.
  2. Midwest Homes for Pets iCrate. A crate is a must-have product. This cool all-inclusive one has a ton of handy features, and there’s nothing extra to buy.
  3. FURminator Undercoat deShedding Tool. I’ve tried many others, but this grooming tool is by far the best. It gets right through to the undercoat and easily removes all the loose hair.
  4. KONG Classic. I love KONG toys as they’re super tough and made for your German Shepherd’s teeth! The Classic Toy is fun to chew, chase, and fetch or even stuff with tasty treats.
  5. Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed. Scientifically proven to prevent and reduce joint pain in big dogs. The 10-year guarantee is also pretty cool too! You can also get it on Amazon here, but you don’t get the 10-year warranty.

My full list of recommendations can be found here.

Final Thoughts

Regrettably, German Shepherds are prone to bloat. Watch out for the signs and symptoms and familiarize yourself with the preventative measures mentioned in this article. As with most other health conditions, prevention is certainly better when it comes to GDV.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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