Wednesday, September 16, 2009


After reading many different e-mails yesterday on some of the German Shepherd lists that I belong to, much of the discussion was about the dreaded killer of some dogs known as bloat (gastric dilation). I sat back and read the letters and input from many different breeders who have been in the breed for a long time. Early on in my association with this breed, one of my beloved dogs was struck down by this “show no mercy” life robber. So I thought I would write something for those who might be reading this blog and who don’t belong to any e-mail lists but love the breed and want to know as much as they can. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. Everything you read here are only my opinions…..what I’ve experienced and what others who told me what they experienced plus some research I’ve done on the subject.

Every breed of dog will have a predisposition for certain health conditions. In the German Shepherd Dog, his gastro intestinal health can become compromised. One would think that the German Shepherd Dog who is bred to be a herding dog, a tracking dog, a therapy dog, a leader of the blind, a war hero, a bomb detecting dog, and a dog who works side by side with the police force must have a strong and healthy body. You would think! Although he is a strong, muscular physical representative of the dog world, he houses a sometimes fragile intestinal tract. So although we do everything to ensure that the dog is healthy….he has a beautiful shiny coat, his weight is proper, his eyes are clear…..yup he’s looking good. But what about what’s going on inside of the dog? Are his insides looking good? In my opinion, one of the most important things that we can do is to take care of his gut. A healthy gut equals a healthy dog.

So just what is a healthy gut? I believe it is one that is fed a healthy diet. Now let me say this right from the start. Dogs that have bloated have done so on commercial dog foods as well as raw diet fed foods. I believe the “environment” of the gut is of the utmost importance when he receives the food of your choice. Once again (my opinion) the dog should be on a supplement or a food that has a significant amount of enzymes and probitiotics. This will help the bad bacteria to be replaced with the good bacteria. I think the build up of bad bacteria in the gut can be a contributing factor in this dreaded disease as well as the horrific toxic gut problem. Now some people might say, “Yeah, my dog was fed these ingredients and he still bloated. I along with some other breeders believe that there are also other contributing factors along with a compromised gut that can spell disaster.

Because no one has come up with a DEFINITE reason why some of our dogs bloat, we are all left to guess. Barbara Williams a long time breeder and researcher in the health and genetics of our dogs have worked feverishly in the study of bloat. Linda Arndt who is a long time breeder of Great Danes has excellent articles about bloat and what she considers may be contributing factors. She too believes in proper nutrition or lack of that might be a contributing factor in bloat. Yet, no one has come up with the WHY or the HOW to prevent it. So we are left to draw our own conclusions and try to do the best that we can.

What are some of the things that a dog who is starting to bloat may experience? The dog may act very agitated, showing high anxiety, pacing back and forth, heavy panting, dry heaves, gagging, whining, restlessness, stomach swelling, and excessive heartbeat. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, quickly responding to them can save your dogs life. Call your vet immediately, and if you have any gas-x in the house, give it to him and get him to the doctors office right away. There are companies that sell bloat kits. Look them up on the internet and invest in one to have in case of this emergency. It could buy you a little time.

There are many theories as to what causes this disease and many who believe it is a combination of factors. I too believe it is a combination of factors that when brought together can spell disaster! Some of those contributing factors MIGHT be, but not proven to be:

Genetics, stress (dog shows, breeding, change of environment, psychological stress), physical structure of the dog, etc. Let’s take a look at some of these a little bit closer. Much discussion surrounds the genetics of the breed. Some think if you look at a dog’s pedigree you might see a predisposition for this disease if the dog has some who have died from bloat in his back ground. The dog that I lost to bloat was sired by a dog that died of bloat. Many of his half siblings also died from bloat. Genetics or the luck of the draw? Stress – dog shows, boarding, psychological stress, etc. I believe (and I don’t care how sound in temperament a dog may be), that being away from his owner at a dog show, or if he’s boarded or the handler takes him home with him, the dog is under stress. Sure he might like the handler, or the people who board or watch him, but they are not his owner. He may even appear calm and relaxed. How about what’s going on inside of him? Do we know that he really is calm and relaxed? It’s a different environment. There’s different dogs he’s surrounded by. He might enjoy and get excited running and playing back and forth in the run. But it’s still not home. I can think of three instances where a dog bloated at a dog show, at a boarding kennel and another when being left for someone else to take care of while the owner went away. We live with a VERY SENSITIVE breed; a breed that needs and wants to be with their owner all the time. As I wrote in an earlier article, I would classify the German Shepherd as a co-dependent dog! Then there’s the physical structure of the dog. It was thought for many years that the deep bodied narrow chest type of dog was the one that we had to be concerned about. Now that theory has changed somewhat as other types of body structures have bloated as well.
This all leads me back to the environment of the gut.

Then there are also some pre-existing health problems a dog may already have. Some of those may be things like SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) and EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency). Both of these diseases can cause an excessive amount of gas in the dog. As I’ve reported in another article, I have a bitch that has SIBO and it is a constant concern for me about the welfare and proper care I give to this dog. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to keep this condition under control by the supplement that I feed her twice a day which is enriched with probiotics and enzymes (Vibrant Pets).

Other factors that are not proven but thought to be a contributor to this disease are: excessive water drinking, especially those dogs who gulp their water and therefore get a lot of air in their systems, rapid eating of their food, eating gas producing food, eating one large meal, elevated feeding rather than divided it into two feedings a day, exercising right before or after eating, large dogs, nervous or excitable dogs, etc.

Some breeders have chosen to have their dogs stomach tacked down. However, this hasn’t been proven to help this condition, because there are those dogs that have still bloated after having this expensive surgery done.

If we humans can suffer gastro-intestinal problems from eating gas inducing foods, then so can our dogs. The pharmaceutical companies make millions of dollars off of products made to treat GERD, indigestion and stomach upsets.

The jury is out on what causes this disease and until a verdict is handed down, we are left to try to do everything we can to insure the health of this breeds intestinal tract. I’m sure there are those who can refute some of these theories, who feed the cheapest food, don’t add supplements, keep water available at all times, let the dogs run all they want, etc., etc., etc. Lucky…..or is it just a matter of time? No one can guarantee that if you avoid pedigrees that carry bloat, if you feed foods or add supplements that contain probiotics and enzymes, keep your dog quiet before and after he eats, etc., that he won’t bloat. If the researchers and the medical community don’t have the answers as to the cause and prevention of this disease, then all we as breeders can do is the best we can when taking care of our dogs. What we do know is that bloat is right next to cancer as being one of the biggest reasons ours and other breeds loose their lives. I experienced loosing a much beloved dog to this disease and I never want any other of my dogs to have to suffer like he did.

Expenses associated with a dog bloating: Hundreds of dollars to over a thousand or more if you tack the dog’s stomach and his follow up care.

My rating: stomach tacking: (2) – because of the risks involved with surgery, research devoted to this disease: (3), bloat kits: (3), probiotics and enzyme enhanced food or supplements: (3)

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