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

Reviewed By: TB Thompson DVM
Last Updated: February 6, 2024

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. Toxins formed in the compromised organs spread throughout the body, leading to severe illness.

There’s no doubt bloat is a life-threatening medical emergency in dogs. Many dogs still succumb to the condition after treatment because of massive organ damage and metabolic imbalances. 

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

I want to share the 3-minute video below with you. 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

Bloat in German Shepherds usually involves multiple factors, which may include eating one large meal (rather than several smaller ones), problems with digestive function, older age, stress, and anxiety. Genetic factors also contribute to bloat in GSDs.

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

Large breed dogs like German Shepherds have a higher chance of getting GDV. If a dog’s close family member has had GDV, that dog might be more likely to get it, too.

But it’s not just about one single gene going wrong. GDV is pretty complex and involves multiple genes working together in ways we don’t fully understand yet.

Dog experts know that air accumulates in the stomach (dilatation), and the stomach twists (volvulus). The stomach can twist before or after it fills with air.

More research is needed to understand all the factors at play with this disease. Some of the suspected risk factors of GDV in German Shepherds:

  • Eating one large meal per day. One large meal a day is more likely to cause bloat than several smaller meals. 
  • Quick eating. 
  • Age. Middle-aged and older dogs have a higher risk.
  • Smaller size. Lean dogs are at a higher risk. 
  • Exercising too soon after a meal.
  • 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 stabilize 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: To diagnose bloat, vets often use an abdominal x-ray. This helps them see where the stomach is and how severe the problem is.
  • Stabilization: IV fluid therapy is crucial in helping your dog’s organs recover and stabilize.
  • Decompression: The next step is decompressing the stomach to quickly relieve the gas pressure. This may be done by inserting a large tube through the mouth into the stomach. Another method releases air by introducing a hypodermic needle into the stomach through the skin on the side of the abdomen.
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 daily. 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 minimally 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 minimally 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 minimally 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.

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. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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