Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat is of particular concern for deep chested, large breed dogs. The dog’s stomach expands, fills with gas, liquid or food and can twist and turn on itself, cutting off the circulation to the stomach and surrounding organs. This condition is life threatening and can rapidly become fatal. So, owners of large breed dogs are understandably concerned and often seek advice on how to prevent against this condition, however there is so much misinformation on this topic online, clients don’t know where to look and often become alarmed thinking they might not be doing the best for their pet.
Recently, trawling through some Facebook groups, I came across some statements being made about kibble, and blaming it for GDV. So, curious as ever, I set out to determine if there is any truth to these statements and if the current research available can explicitly tell us that kibble is at fault.
So, does kibble actually increase the risk of bloat in at-risk dogs? And is there anything we can do nutritionally to prevent GDV?
- Eating and drinking rapidly
- Aerophagia (swallowing large amounts of air when eating)
- Vigorous exercise after eating
- Eating from raised bowls
- Eating one large meal per day
- Large dogs over 40kg, especially deep chested breeds
- Anxious, stressed dogs
- Very active dogs
- Male, senior dogs
- Family history of GDV
- Breeds such as Great Danes, Gordon setters, Irish setters, Weimaraners, St. Bernard’s, Standard poodles, Bassett hounds
- Distension or enlargement of the abdomen
- Unproductive retching
- Excessive drooling
- Restlessness or agitation
- Weakness which can progress to shock or collapse
*If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, please proceed immediately to your nearest emergency veterinary hospital.
There’s a lot of misconceptions around feeding kibble and bloat, the most common being kibble swells in the stomach, or that feeding kibble directly causes bloat. Let’s have a look at the evidence behind some of these myths, and what you should be feeding at risk breeds.
Myth: Kibble causes bloat
Fact: This is a huge claim to make – there is a huge choice and variety of kibble brands and products available, so to say all kibbles cause bloat is a massive generalization and simply not true. There have been some studies done on kibble and if there is a relationship with GDV; Theyse (1998) saw an increased risk by feeding kibble that was smaller than 5mm in diameter, as this allowed for the pet to rapidly eat more food, increased the likelihood of aerophagia. Dogs fed a diet that contained some particles that were greater than 30mm were 75% less likely to have a GDV episode than dogs fed a diet in which the maximum kibble or food particle size was <5mm. However, Elwood (1998) found no significant difference in risk between pets fed dry food compared to other types of food, but that feeding some table scraps appeared to be somewhat protective.
Myth: Kibble swells in the stomach
Fact: Most kibble swells slightly on contact with water, and when pets are fed soaked kibbles, these are denser and can take longer to digest, thus increasing the risk of GDV. A study from Purdue University (Raghavan, 2002) found that kibbles containing citric acid, when moistened will expand and produce gas which can contribute to a 4.2x increased risk of GDV. When feeding a dry food which contains meat meals in the first five ingredients and fed in its dry form, there is a 53% decreased risk of GDV, so the claim that all kibble swells in the stomach and causes bloat isn’t actually the case – more concerning is kibble that contains citric acid as a preservative that has been pre-moistened and fed.
Myth: Grain produces alot of gaseous build-up in the stomach causing bloat
Fact: The grain used in kibble is typically highly digestible and unlikely to cause bloating and gas. On the contrary, grain-free diets that use legumes to replace the grain can sometimes increase the amount of gas being formed and potentially increase the risk of bloat. The current research suggests there was no increased risk in a diet that had more cereals or soy ingredients in the food, compared to a food with more animal proteins. Therefore, grains do not cause bloat and do not need to be avoided in at risk pets. In fact a grain-rich food compared to an all-meat diet was found to actually enhance gastric emptying, therefore providing protection against GDV.
So what should we feed dogs that are at risk of bloat?
Based on the current research we have available about GDV and risk factors, there are a number of feeding behaviours that also can contribute to developing bloat in addition to the type of food being fed. So when we choose a diet, we should also consider how we will be offering that diet and how the pet normally eats. Some dogs, regardless of the size of the food particle will try to swallow it whole, so this needs to also be considered.
What to look for in a pet food to reduce risk of GDV:
- A high quality, complete and balanced, grain inclusive, dry or wet food with some form of meat meal in the top five ingredients
- A kibble size larger than 5mm – kibbles or food chunks over the size of 30mm are safest
- The diet does not have a fat or oil as one of the top four ingredients
High risk feeding behaviours to avoid in at risk pets:
- Soaking kibble in water – instead of soaking kibble, feeding a wet food does not increase the risk of GDV. If soaking to entice the pet to eat, instead use toppers as this does seem to have a protective effects against GDV.
- Rapid eaters – use puzzle bowls to slow down fast eaters, use a kibble that is a large size and if feeding wet food, use a loaf style food cut into large chunks.
- Eating out of raised bowls – raised bowls can be helpful and may be necessary in some circumstances (neck pain, oesophageal dysfunction, chronic vomiting/regurgitation etc). To mitigate this risk, you may need to consider other changes as mentioned above otherwise, feed from a low bowl where possible.
- Gorging before or after exercise – this is a fairly common and normal behaviour in dogs. It is recommended not to feed your pet immediately before or after any exercise. Usually waiting 30 minutes either side of exercise is enough to mitigate this risk
- Eating once per day – it is ideal to feed these dogs multiple small meals per day. This both helps with preventing gorging, and the stomach from expanding and taking too long to empty. Approximately 3-4 small meals per day is ideal.
Your vet may recommend a procedure called a gastropexy. This is where the stomach is surgically tacked to the abdominal wall, to prevent the stomach twisting. This can usually be done either at neutering as a preventative procedure, or during an episode of GDV following treatment to prevent reoccurrence. Your veterinarian is best placed to determine if this is appropriate for your dog, and it’s the best way to dramatically lower the risk of GDV. If you think this might be a good idea for your pet, ask your veterinarian for more information.
Do you have a breed at risk of this condition? How do you reduce their risk of GDV? Have you heard any other myths around bloat? Comment below!
Beynen, Anton. (2019). Diet and canine gastric dilatation*.
Buckley, Louise. (2017). Are Dogs Fed a Kibble-Based Diet More Likely to Experience an Episode of Gastric Dilatation Volvulus Than Dogs Fed an Alternative Diet?. Veterinary Evidence. 2. 10.18849/ve.v2i2.63.
Raghavan M, Glickman NW, Glickman LT. The effect of ingredients in dry dog foods on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2006 Jan-Feb;42(1):28-36. doi: 10.5326/0420028. PMID: 16397192.
GDV diagram image source: https://images.app.goo.gl/kGkwyzG51osxEgtG9