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Greyhounds are among the breeds at risk for bloat. Photo by Inge Grayson

Dr. Amanda McNabb, an emergency-clinic veterinarian, and Dr. Tamara Walker, veterinary surgeon, both at ACCES Animal Specialty Center in Seattle and Renton, answer this week’s questions about bloat, a digestive disorder that is among the leading causes of death in big dogs.

(For a handy quick reference guide on bloat, go to the Great Dane Club of America’s website )

Question: Exactly what is bloat?

Answer: “Bloat” is a general term for a variety of conditions where the stomach becomes enlarged (dilatation), usually full of gas or excessive amounts of food. Simple “bloat,” known as gastric dilatation without volvulus, can vary from mild discomfort to more serious complications, and the stomach remains in its normal position.

The most concerning situation — and often what people mean when they say “bloat” — is when the stomach twists (volvulus or torsion) upon itself at the same time. This condition is more specifically called gastric dilatation with volvulus (GDV).

In this disease, the stomach can no longer empty itself, so gas builds up, causing a progressive bloating. As the stomach gets bigger, it becomes painful and compresses other organs and large blood vessels. The rapid twisting can also tear the arteries between the stomach and spleen, cause internal bleeding and damage the spleen. The enlarged stomach eventually stops blood flow to the heart, which results in shock and death.

Without immediate veterinary care, a dog with GDV will die.

We saw 32 cases in our Seattle emergency clinic last year and have seen 145 cases in the past five years.