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Bloat in German Shepherds (GDV): How to Protect Your Dog

Written By: Sharon Waddington

Last Updated:

Are German Shepherds prone to bloat? This question looms large for many owners of this beloved breed, as Bloat, or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening gastrointestinal condition that can affect German Shepherds.

While it’s true that not all breeds are equally susceptible, German Shepherds are among those at a higher risk.

Bloat, also known as twisted stomach, gastric torsion, or gastric dilation, occurs when a dog’s stomach expands due to excessive gas build-up and sometimes twists upon itself.

This not only causes immense discomfort but also puts dangerous pressure on vital organs, leading to shock, internal organ damage, and, in severe cases, rapid death.

Given its critical nature, GDV demands immediate medical attention. Although not every instance leads to a stomach twist, the condition can still be fatal within hours, or even minutes, if left untreated.

Understanding the risks and preventive measures for bloat is crucial for every German Shepherd owner.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The causes of bloat in German Shepherds.
  • Signs and symptoms of bloat.
  • How to prevent and treat bloat.

By the end, you’ll be well-prepared to safeguard your German Shepherd’s health against this serious condition, ensuring their well-being and happiness.”

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

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 severe medical condition when the dog’s stomach fills rapidly with gas and twists.

The excess air causes the stomach to swell, putting 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, cutting the blood flow. The dog’s pancreas then produces toxins that have adverse effects on the heart and can cause it to stop suddenly.

There’s no doubt bloat is a life-threatening medical emergency in dogs. Many dogs still succumb to the condition after treatment 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.


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 hoping that even just one dog owner who is unfamiliar with bloat will now identify the symptoms and seek medical attention before it’s too late.

If you’re the proud parent of a German Shepherd like me, the last few paragraphs will probably send a chill down your spine.

Don’t worry, though, as you can take many preventative steps 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 develops bloat, knowing the signs and catching it early 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. 

Causes of German Shepherd Bloat

Causes of bloat in German Shepherds are eating too fast, a disorganized feeding routine such as overeating in one go, exercising too soon after a meal, and stress and anxiety. Genetic factors also cause bloat in GSDs.

Okay, that’s the short answer. Let’s explore this a little further.

The genetic mutation of the DRB1 and DLA88 genes associated with bloating determines 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 gas build-up causes the twist or if the stomach twists first, and then the air builds up.

But as mentioned, your dog’s genes aren’t the only potential cause of bloat. Here are the other risk factors of 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 old are at higher risk – and the risk increases with each additional year.
  • Smaller size. Lean dogs are at a higher risk. A 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.
German Shepherd Eating From a Raised Feeder.
My German Shepherd Willow eating from a raised feeder.

Warning Signs of Bloat: Early Detection is Key

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 how do you know if your German Shepherd is bloated? What are the first signs?

The most noticeable sign of bloat in German Shepherds is a swollen stomach.

Other less obvious symptoms are retching, unsuccessful vomiting, restlessness, shortness of breath, weakness, or foaming at the mouth. These may be more or less severe, depending on the stage.

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 German Shepherd can show any of the 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, and body organs yield to the damage of poor blood flow and saturation of toxins.

Advanced signs of bloat include:

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

Treating Bloat in Your German Shepherd

Treatment of GDV in German Shepherds 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.

The vet will then take over in stabilizing your dog by decompressing the stomach and giving pain relief and intravenous fluids. 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 bloat stage, putting your dog on fluids and performing shock therapy may also make up part of the stabilization treatment.
German Shepherd Puppy and stethoscope
Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat?First aid kit

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. Surgery must conclude with gastropexy to prevent a further occurrence. This procedure attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting in the future. 

Effective Strategies For Preventing Bloat

To prevent bloat in German Shepherds, avoid large meals and feed a nutritious diet twice a day. If providing dry food, use cold-pressed or a mix of dry and wet.

Avoid exercising your dog an hour before and after eating. Your vet can also perform laparoscopic gastropexy – a non-invasive surgery.

Here’s my 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. Read more here: How Often Should You Feed a German Shepherd?
  2. Avoid poor-quality recreation bones and chews. Opt for healthy dog treats. Check out this article for my recommendations on healthy treats.
  3. Ensure your dog eats a nutritious and balanced diet. Here’s my definitive guide on the best diet for German Shepherds. It includes the different types of diets, 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 citric acid.
  5. Train your dog to eat slowly and not gulp down his food. Slow-feeding dog bowls are helpful and fun.
  6. Dogs should not exercise before and 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 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 known as laparoscopic gastropexy. The vet makes a small incision through the abdomen and uses a camera to direct the procedure with this method. It can be performed at the time of spay or neutering.

German Shepherds are known to suffer from many sensitive stomach issues, of which bloat is just one cause.


Are German Shepherds prone to bloat?

German Shepherds are more prone to bloat than other breeds due to their deep chests and large size. This anatomy makes it easier for their stomachs to fill with air and twist, leading to bloat. Other factors that can increase a German Shepherd’s risk of developing bloat include eating too quickly, exercising vigorously after eating, and having a family history of the condition.

Can bloat be fatal for German Shepherds?

Yes, bloat can be fatal for German Shepherds. Bloat is a serious condition that can cause the stomach to twist and cut off blood flow to vital organs. This can lead to shock, organ damage, and even death if not treated promptly. German Shepherds are particularly vulnerable to bloat due to their deep chests and large size.

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. The only correct way to treat GDV is to get your dog to the vet or emergency animal hospital as soon as possible.

Photo of author

Sharon Waddington

Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs.