Bloat, or gastric dilation, is a dangerous condition that happens to large-breed dogs, including Great Danes. This surgical emergency happens when the stomach fills with fluid and gas and expands. This can progress to the stomach twisting or rotation around its short axis, leading to shock, death of the involved tissues, and possibly death of the dog. Because bloat is so serious, you should be able to spot the signs of the condition quickly, so that you can get your dog to a veterinary professional for treatment as soon as possible.
Spotting the Signs of Bloat
Monitor dogs that have risk factors for bloat. Middle-aged and older large and giant breed dogs with deep chests, like the Great Dane, are more susceptible to developing bloat than smaller breeds. In addition, there are other risk factors, which include:
- Siblings or parents that have experienced bloat
- Once a day feeding.
- Vigorous exercise before or after feeding time.
- Rapid eating of food- which adds more air in the stomach.
- Conditions in which the outflow of food from the stomach is slowed or impeded.
- Feeding dry foods with a high oil or fat content.
- Nervous or high strung Great Danes.
Look for the behavioral signs of bloat. Bloat occurs rapidly and needs immediate veterinarian attention to prevent the Great Dane’s death. If your dog is exhibiting any of the behavioral signs of bloat, you need to take the risk of bloat seriously. These include:
- Reluctance to stand or walk
- Inability to stand or walk
- Excessive salivation
- Retching or dry heaving without bringing anything up (The esophagus is involved in the twist so nothing can come back through the mouth.)
- Abdomen (belly) becomes enlarged
- Rapid and weak pulse
- Pale gums
Take immediate action. If you see these signs contact a veterinarian immediately. Dogs can die soon after the signs appear, due to the damage done to internal organs, collapse of the circulatory (blood) system, toxin buildup, and shock.
- If your normal veterinary office is not open when you identify the signs of bloat, you should seek out an emergency veterinary clinic in your area. This is one situation that really is an emergency and requires emergency treatment.
Getting Veterinary Treatment
Take your dog to a veterinarian. The veterinarian will do a general examination, ask questions about the onset of signs, and take blood samples to check for signs of shock and internal organ damage. Radiographs (X-rays) are generally taken, which will demonstrate the bloated stomach along with the twist in the stomach.
- In some cases, a needle will be stuck into abdominal cavity and suction is applied to the syringe. This is done to determine if the stomach has ruptured, an unfortunate outcome in some cases of bloat.
- A tube may be passed through the patient’s mouth and into the stomach to relieve the pressure of air buildup. Occasionally a tube will be placed directly through the skin and muscle into the stomach to relieve the pressure in the stomach.
- An intravenous (IV) line will be placed in a vein to provide medications and fluids.
Discuss surgical options for your dog. The treatment of bloat is surgery to untwist the stomach and to suture part of the stomach to the inside of the abdomen wall to prevent it from recurring. This is called a gastropexy.
- If the stomach ruptured the stomach will be repaired and the internal abdomen will be flushed. Dogs will be closely monitored after surgery. Generally the dog will be placed on antibiotics and pain killers before and after surgery.
Help your dog through recovery. Depending on your veterinarian clinic and how intensive the surgery was, the dog will need to remain hospitalized for up to 7 days. After that, you will need to be gentle with it and help it recover gradually. This means keeping it from licking or gnawing on stitches, as well as limiting its activity.
- Sadly, up to 15% of dogs with bloat do not survive surgery despite the skill of the veterinarian.
Feed your dog multiple small meals a day. Researchers at Purdue University have compiled research into the causes and prevention of bloat in large-breed dogs, such as the Great Dane. Through this valuable research, they have determined that many ways to prevent bloat revolve around how you feed your dog. One key prevention technique is to feed your dog multiple small meals, instead of one big meal.
- For dry food feed, give your dog no more than one cup per thirty pounds of body weight per meal.
Do not feed from a raised bowl. Feed from a bowl on the ground, which provides a better angle for the dog. This also applies to water bowls as well.
- There is some controversy surrounding whether this actually impacts a dog’s chances of developing bloat. However, what little research there is suggests that not using a raised dish may help.
Slow down your dog’s eating. If your dog is a greedy eater and gulps its food, invest in a food dish that forces the dog to eat slower such as the slow feeder or fun feeder. Slowing down your dog’s eating will help it more slowly digest its food, and will lessen the chances the stomach turns due to excess food.
- You should also restrict gorging on water, as this can impact the dog’s stomach as well.
Restrict activity immediately after eating. Wait one hour before and two hours after eating before letting your dog exercise or before going for walks. Especially avoid vigorous exercise that involve running, jumping, or swimming.
- Activity increases the chance of the stomach turning. Instead, let your dog have some quiet, calm time to digest its meal.
Control your dog’s diet. This means that if you live in a rural area, don’t allow your Great Dane to roam. He or she may find unsuitable food (deer or other animal carcasses, piles of grain left over from harvesting), gorge on them, and then develop bloat.
- Also, do not feed table scraps to your Great Dane. A large-breed dog, such as the Great Dane, needs a controlled diet.
Feed an energy-dense diet. An energy-dense diet should be given to your dog to reduce the risk of bloat because it will mean that you have to feed the dog less for it to get enough calories. Check labels so that fat isn’t in the top four ingredients.
- Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are uncertain what to feed.
Do not feed an all dry food diet. Include wet foods, for instance the canned variety of the food you are feeding, or large meat chunks in the diet. Again, ask your veterinarian for advice if you aren’t sure what to feed.
- However, do not moisten dry food. Get a canned variety of the food if you want to add a little wet food to the diet.
Consider preventative surgery. Discuss with your veterinarian if your Great Dane would be a good candidate for a precautionary gastropexy. The procedure consists of attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall, which prevents it from turning. 
- Military service dogs (large breeds like German shepherd and Belgian Malinois) are frequently given a precautionary gastropexy to avoid any emergency situations when they are on the battlefield.
- However, most owners opt to monitor their large and giant breed dogs, instead of taking this measure.