Category: emergencies


Poisoning can occur if a poisonous substance is swallowed (solids or liquids), breathed in (gases) or absorbed through the skin (normally liquids). Poisons are substances that damage the cells in the body. In order to cause harm they must enter or come into contact with the body.

Many poisons are products we use every day and can be found in food, medications, household and garden substances. Accidental poisoning in dogs is usually caused by substances we commonly have around the house, e.g. human medications and pest control products.

Almost all cases of poisoning are accidental so the best way to prevent poisoning is to ensure that all poisons are kept out of sight and reach of your pets (and children):

  • Dispose of unwanted medicines safely.
  • Read the product label and follow the instructions for correct use.
  • Ensure lids are replaced correctly to prevent spillage if the container is knocked over.
  • Clean up drips and spills promptly.
  • Dispose of empty containers and waste food safely.
  • Put pest control products in pet-proof containers before putting them out.
  • Be vigilant when walking your dog to ensure it does not pick up any unusual things.

Younger animals are more likely to be affected as often chew strange objects.

In many cases of poisoning the owners are aware that their pet has eaten, or been in contact with, something unusual before signs of illness develop. You should be worried that your pet might have been poisoned if they suddenly develop severe clinical signs, or if they become ill with breathing difficulties, seizures or severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

Every poison produces different effects and a poisoned pet may show a number of signs such as:

  • Restlessness or drowsiness
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Salivation or drooling from the mouth
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Muscle tremors, twitching or seizures
  • Confusion, changes in behaviour or an abnormal reaction to sound or light
  • Hallucinations
  • Wobbly gait (ataxia)
  • Changes in gum colour to blue, pale or even very red
  • Unusual odours or smells (either on the breath or from contamination on the skin)
  • Bite marks – poison can result from a bite or a sting
  • Burns to the mouth or the tongue
  • Irritation or inflammation of the skin
  • Foreign material passed in the stools

A rapid response is critical in cases of poisoning. If you suspect that your dog may have been poisoned:

  • Protect your pet and remove it from the source of the intoxication
  • If you can do so safely, remove any suspect material from the pet’s mouth
  • Don’t let other people handle your pet (disorientated or frightened animals may become aggressive and other people may be contaminated with the poison)
  • Allow your dog to drink water, which may dilute ingested poisons
  • Contact your vet for further advice and be prepared to take your pet and the suspect material or product to the hospital

The sooner a poisoned animal receives treatment, the higher its chances of recovery. If you think that your pet has been poisoned then contact your veterinary emergency service immediately; your pet’s life may well depend on it. It is always better to phone in advance to warn the surgery that you are on your way. This will give them time to prepare everything they need and for you to check that there is someone available at the surgery to help you.

In most cases the best course of action is to get your pet to the veterinary surgery as soon as possible. However, in some cases you may be advised to give some immediate first-aid treatment at home. If your pet is already showing signs of poisoning do not attempt to make it vomit or drink anything but seek immediate veterinary care.

If your pet has a toxic substance on its skin or coat the worst of the contamination may be washed off to reduce further absorption. Protective clothing must be worn and only water should be used. Make sure you do not get contaminated in the process.

If a poison has been eaten in the last 2 hours it may be possible to remove it from the stomach by making the animal vomit. If your pet has swallowed a corrosive or petroleum-based substance, e.g. some solvent-based paints, some toilet cleaners, some drain cleaners, petrol, turpentine substitute (white spirit) do notinduce vomiting (as this may cause further damage to the throat if the substance is brought up). Instead wash the mouth and face with water and give milk or water to drink (within 10 minutes of your pet swallowing the substance).

It is only safe to make your pet vomit if it:

  • Is conscious
  • Is alert or only mildly depressed
  • Has an intact gag reflex, ie gags when you place your fingers at the back of its throat
  • Is known not to have ingested corrosive (caustic) or petroleum-based substance

Never induce vomiting if your pet:

  • Has already been sick
  • Is unconscious, very sleepy or depressed
  • Has eaten a corrosive (acidic or alkaline) product (highly corrosive products can do more damage if vomited up)
  • Has eaten a petroleum-based product (volatile products can do more damage if vomited up)

Do not try to make your dog vomit (unless specifically instructed to do so by your vet), particularly if the agent or timing of exposure is uncertain. If you are able to make your dog vomit or it has already vomited, collect a sample and take it to your vet in case it is required for identification of possible intoxicant.

Never give salt water to make your dog vomit; this is potentially very dangerous and can cause salt poisoning. Washing soda can be used on the advice of your vet – give as big a piece as you can get down the animal’s throat. Place the crystal over the back of your pet’s tongue so that it is swallowed. Your pet should vomit within 5 minutes – if not you can repeat this once. If your pet will not be sick do not keep giving further doses as soda crystals can themselves be poisonous.

Note: It is essential to use washing soda (soda crystals) and not caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) as this is very corrosive and will cause serious injury.

If you have any doubts – do not make your dog vomit.

On arrival at the veterinary surgery someone will assess your dog immediately and make sure that its condition is stable before any other treatments are instigated. Your vet will want to know:

  • If your pet has known access to possible poisons
  • If so, what poison – is a sample or container available?
  • When your pet had access to the poison – how long ago?
  • How much was eaten or drunk – how much is missing from the container?
  • Has your pet shown any signs of being unwell?
  • If your pet is receiving any medication or has any pre-existing medical conditions?

If you are able to take a sample of the poison or any packaging associated with it then this may help your vet to provide the best care for your pet.

One of the most common causes of accidental poisoning in dogs is owners giving human medication to their pet for pain relief. Never give medication to your pet unless instructed to do so by your vet.


Although this painkiller can be bought in any chemist for humans it is extremely toxic to dogs. Just one tablet can cause stomach ulceration, liver damage, kidney failure and death. It is one of the most common causes of poisoning in dogs.


In overdose paracetamol cannot be broken down safely and toxins quickly build up to dangerous levels.

Slug pellets

The most common active ingredient in slug pellets is metaldehyde. Dogs often find slug pellets attractive and will wander around the garden hovering up pellets from treated areas. The poison causes excitement and seizures followed by depression and collapse. Avoid the use of chemicals in the garden if you have pets or confine your pets indoors or fence off treated areas.

Rat poison

Many rat poisons contain anticoagulants (such as difenacoum or bromadialone). Dogs often eat the poison directly but can also be poisoned by eating dead or dying rodents. Animals remain well for several days after eating the bait as the poison takes effect. Repeated small doses are more toxic than a single large dose. Signs include depression, weakness, breathing problems, and prolonged bleeding from any minor wounds or abrasions. Poisoned animals can bleed to death without treatment.


Dogs quite commonly eat cannabis, and although they can show signs of toxicity for several days, it rarely causes serious side-effects. Most affected dogs become excited and may salivate a lot. Sometimes affected pets will seem disorientated and may hallucinate. Just as in people, appetite may be increased.

Food stuffs (Raisins, Onions and Chocolate)

Pets can be poisoned by human foodstuffs and these poisonings can be fatal. Raisins (and sultanas, currants and grapes) cause damage to the kidneys, chocolate poisoning affects the brain and the heart, and onion poisoning can cause anaemia. In animals which are susceptible to these poisonings even a small amount (a piece of fruit cake, a few squares of dark chocolate) can have serious effects.

Adder bites

The only native venomous snake in the UK is the European Adder. Snake bites are most common in late spring and summer when the snakes are active. Dogs can become unwell very quickly after an adder bite with pain and progressive local swelling. Treatment often includes administration of antivenom.

Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol)

Antifreeze is palatable to dogs. The initial signs are very non-specific (vomiting, wobbliness/weakness, thirst) and are easily missed. These are followed by kidney failure, seizures and coma. Treatment with an antidote may be possible but only if started very soon after ingestion.

Toad poisoning

In the UK the common toad is relatively harmless but all toads have glands in their skin which secrete unpleasant substances. Animals that have put toads in their mouth show excessive salivation and may paw at their mouth. Usually the signs resolve without treatment (pets may appreciate having their mouth washed out with a hose). In more severe poisonings signs include weakness, limb swelling and seizures.

Heat stroke

We have all heard that ‘dogs can die in hot cars’ – the frightening thing is how quickly this can happen. A healthy dog can suffer fatal damage from heat stroke in only a few minutes in a car. The interior of cars can also reach damaging temperatures on days that do not seem very hot so great care should always be taken before leaving your dog in a car. Heat stroke also happens to dogs outside of cars. Whenever it happens it is a true emergency and veterinary attention must be obtained immediately.

A dog’s body temperature is normally maintained between 37.8°C / 100°F and 39.3°C / 102.7°F

In warm environments dogs regulate their body temperature by panting. If they cannot lose heat fast enough, their body temperature will rise. A rise in body temperature of just 3 degrees (to a temperature of 40.6°C / 105°F) can be very serious for your pet. If body temperature increases to 42.2°C / 108°F, the important organs like the heart, brain, liver and kidneys become damaged. Even immediate treatment and effective cooling can leave the dog with internal damage that may affect long term health.

Leaving your dog in a hot car is a sure way to bring on heat stroke as temperatures inside the car can rise to fatal levels within a few minutes. However, car temperatures can rise to dangerous levels even on days which appear cool. Whilst being locked in a hot car is an obvious cause of heat stroke dogs can be affected in other ways too. A dog left outside in the heat without adequate shade, or exercised in hot/humid conditions is also at risk.

Large dogs, especially those with heavy hair coats, understandably find it more difficult to lose excess heat and are more at risk of getting overheated. Brachycephalic breeds (those with short noses), e.g. boxers and bulldogs have inefficient panting mechanisms and may be more affected by environmental temperatures than other breeds.

Recognition of the early signs of heat strokes is very important. Initial changes include:

  • rapid breathing
  • dry mouth and nose (drooling can be seen later)
  • unsteadiness
  • fast heart rate
  • dull greyish or red gums
  • vomiting and diarrhoea are not uncommon

This is an emergency!

Even at the earliest stage of heat stroke, you may be fighting for your dog’s life. You must get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. These signs can be followed in minutes by collapse, seizures (fits), coma and death.

Do not delay in contacting your vet, but you may need to take steps to cool your dog whilst awaiting veterinary attention. Move the dog from the hot environment and start cooling by placing cool, wet towels over the back, neck and tummy/groin and also by applying cool water to the ear flaps and paws. Directing a fan onto the dog can also be helpful.

Do not use cold water or ice or overcool your dog – it is best to use water at cool tap water temperature.

Seek emergency veterinary help as soon as you can. Ask someone else to call the vet while you start to cool your pet.

Your vet will need to admit your dog for treatment. In the early stages the most important action is to reduce your dog’s body temperature. This can be achieved with cooling baths and fans and administration of cool fluids into the blood and cool enemas.

Once the body temperature has been reduced any additional problems caused by the overheating need to be addressed. Your vet will need to do many blood tests to monitor the function of organs such as the kidneys and liver.

Dogs that survive the initial few hours following over heating will often need to be in intensive care for many days. Clotting disorders are very common in the aftermath of heat stroke and your vet will want to monitor your pet closely.

Heat stroke is a very serious condition and sadly many dogs do not survive. However with prompt treatment some dogs will make a full recovery. Others may survive but may be left with permanent damage. Prevention is definitely the safest option!

Heat stroke is a very frightening condition and can kill a healthy animal in as little as 20 minutes. Prevention is your best protection but if you do suspect heat stroke in your dog then immediate veterinary attention is essential. If you have any questions regarding this or any other aspects of your dogs health please contact your vet for advice.

Fitting in dogs – an emergency?

If you have witnessed an animal or person having a seizure (convulsion or fit), you will know how frightening it can appear. An animal suffering a generalised seizure (also known as grand mal seizure) will be unconscious. They may show violent, rhythmic movement of their legs, excessive drooling and twitching of the face and jaws. Some animals cry out and it is not uncommon for them to lose control of their bladder or bowels.

Although time seems to slow down when you are faced with a seizuring animal most seizures only last for 2 minutes or less. Seizures are not uncommon in dogs, but many dogs have only a single seizure in their lifetime therefore do not be unduly alarmed if you witness your dog having a seizure. Remember your dog does not know what it is doing during a seizure so it is important to keep you and your pet safe.

The most important thing is to stay calm. Remember that your dog is not in pain or distressed during the seizure itself. The seizure is likely to be more distressing for you than your pet. Ensure your dog is in a safe place, i.e. not at the top of a flight of stairs and then do not intervene further or you may get hurt.

It is a good idea to have a plan that you can enact every time your pet has a seizure. If everyone in the family knows what to do in advance they will be less alarmed when a seizure starts. Print out the seizure plan and pin it in a prominent place in the house so everyone can access it in an emergency.

During the seizure keep notes as these may be helpful to your vet later on – write down the time the seizure started and finished and what your pet did during the seizure.

If your dog stops seizuring within 5 minutes allow them time to recover quietly. Immediately following the seizure your pet may show some strange behaviours and may be abnormal for minutes to hours after. If this is the first seizure your dog has had you should contact your vet and let them know. Your vet may ask you to bring your dog into the next routine appointment for a check and some routine blood tests. It is far better for your dog to recover quietly at home rather than be bundled into the car and carted off to the vet right away.

If your dog continues to have an active seizure as described above for more than 5 minutes or fails to recover fully before another seizure starts, or has repeated seizures within hours of one another, then you should contact your vet immediately.

Your vet will give some advice over the phone. If your dog has a history of seizures your vet may have given you medication to keep at home for emergency use. Some drugs (diazepam or valium) can be given per rectum or nasally (i.e. up the nose) and this can be given during a prolonged fit and/or after individual seizures if the dog is predisposed to severe clusters. If you have to give medication by mouth wait until your dog is fully recovered and never try to put tablets in your dog’s mouth while it is still dazed. Your dog may not be sufficiently aware to swallow properly and you may get bitten.

If your dog has more than 3 seizures in a day you should contact your vet for further advice.

If your dog is still having an active seizure after 5 minutes your vet will probably want to see it straight away. Always call your vet’s practice before driving there to be sure that there is someone on hand who can help your pet.

Immediately after a seizure your dog may be very confused and could show strange behaviour such as aimless pacing, wobbliness or a desire to eat and drink excessively. You must be very careful during this time as they can become aggressive.

Most of the time epileptic dogs recover perfectly well after a seizure. A very small number of dogs die as the result of an injury that has happened because of a seizure. In some cases, dogs do die during a seizure without any obvious explanation. Sudden unexplained death in epilespy (SUDEP) also occurs rarely in people affecting 1 in 1000 epileptics. Non-one knows how rare this is in dogs.

These directions will help you manage your pet in a safe way during and after a seizure.

Before Seizure

1. Write your vets contact number here so you have it to hand

  • Vets contact details………………………………………….
  • Emergency contact number………………………………..

2. Know where emergency drugs are stored.
3. Instruct all adult members of household how to administer these drugs correctly.

During Seizure

1. Ensure your dog is in a safe place and if necessary move them away from hazards such as the top of stairs.
2. Ensure that any other household pets are shut up away from the seizuring dog. Other animals can become distressed seeing a companion having seizures and may get hurt if they go to investigate. In some cases dogs will attack a seizuring companion.
3. Write down start and finish time of seizure. If seizure lasts more than 5 minutes call your vet for advice.

After Seizure

1. Keep other household pets locked away from seizuring dog until it is fully recovered.
2. Keep human contact to a minimum until pet is recovered.
2. Immediately after seizure dogs may be hungry, thirsty or need to go out to toilet.
3. Allow animal to fully recover in a quiet peaceful environment but you should expect that your dog may be restless or agitated and may move around a lot so it is important that you provide a safe environment for this.

Fever – is it serious?

Often when you put a hand on your dog it feels warm, particularly on a patch of bare skin. This is because the normal body temperature of a dog is higher than that in people. Body temperature is maintained within a fairly narrow range (between 37.8°C / 100°F and 39.3°C / 102.7°F) although it varies slightly during the day, with lowest temperatures recorded in the morning and the highest in the evening. Fever is simply an increase in body temperature and can be seen with many disorders in dogs.

Body temperature is kept constant even when the dog is exposed to wide changes in environmental temperature. Any change in body temperature is detected by specialised receptors (thermoreceptors) that send signals to the body organs that are able to lose or generate heat.

If the body temperature goes up, blood flow through the skin increases so that heat is lost from blood flowing near the surface of the dog. In hot conditions the dog will pant and seek out a cool place to lie.

When the environment is cold shivering occurs (because muscle activity increases heat production), dogs curl up in a ball and their hair coat becomes erect to trap warm air against the skin.

Since body temperature is so closely controlled in the normal dog a fever is an indicator that something is wrong. In some diseases short fever ‘spikes’ occur (where the temperature is suddenly raised for a short period of time only to drop to normal and then rise again later). In other diseases persistent fever occurs and the temperature is always above normal.

A dog with a fever is usually depressed and may not want to eat but short-term moderate fever does not do any permanent damage to the body. If the fever gets very high (above 41ºC / 105.8°F) body tissues can be damaged and it is important to try to bring the body temperature down. Soaking the coat with cool water and using fans may help but veterinary advice must be sought immediately.

Fortunately it is very rare for body temperature to rise this high and such high temperatures are more often the result of heat stroke or serious seizures (fits) than infections.

Fever is caused by the action of ‘pyrogens’ – substances which change the level at which the body temperature is maintained. Once the ‘normal’ body temperature has been reset, the animal now tries to keep body temperature at a higher level. Pyrogens include bacteria, viruses, toxins, some drugs and natural substances released by the body in response to inflammation.

In many cases a moderate fever can be a good thing. Bacteria may not grow so quickly at higher temperature and so raising body temperature gives the dog a better chance of dealing with the infection. It is not always wise to suppress a fever without trying to find out what has caused it, and it is always better to try to treat the underlying cause if possible.

If you suspect that your dog has a fever you can check their temperature to be sure. Digital thermometers are easy to use and fairly reliable. If your dog’s temperature is high check it again a few hours later (if the temperature rises above 40ºC / 104°F or is persistently higher than normal contact your vet).

Occasionally a falsely low temperature reading is recorded if the thermometer is accidentally inserted into faeces in the rectum – if you think this might have happened check the temperature again after your dog has just passed a motion.

  • Turn on the thermometer (usually by pressing the button on the side).
  • Dip the end of the thermometer into vasoline or similar lubricant.
  • Lift your dog’s tail gently and slowly insert the thermometer into the rectum.
  • Keep the thermometer in place until a steady temperature reading is recorded (most digital thermometers will automatically ‘bleep’ when temperature has been recorded).
  • Remove the thermometer and read the temperature displayed in the small window.
  • Turn off the thermometer and wipe clean before storage.
  • Record the time and date that the temperature was recorded.

Most fevers in dogs are caused by infections of some kind. Body temperature usually returns to normal spontaneously or with the help of antibiotics to control the infection. In some cases fever persists and despite simple tests no obvious cause of the raised temperature is found – in this case the condition is given the name Fever of Unknown Origin or FUO. There are many different diseases in which the only abnormal finding is a fever.

If your dog’s temperature remains high after a few days of treatment your vet may want to undertake further tests to try to identify the cause of the problem. Investigation of an unexplained fever will usually require blood samples, X-rays, and ultrasound, but there may be many more tests that need to be run.

Some tests will have to be repeated a number of times in order to confirm or rule out particular diagnosis. Unfortunately investigation often continues for several weeks, may cost many hundreds of pounds, and there is no guarantee that a specific diagnosis will be found. However once certain conditions have been eliminated from the checklist it may be possible to try medications to reduce the fever even if the diagnosis is not known.

Never give medications to your dog without veterinary advice because you may mask the signs of a more serious disease and make it harder for your vet to find out what is going on, and many human drugs can be toxic to pets unless used correctly.

In some dogs with unexplained fever the fever may resolve without treatment but may then recur months or years later, again with no apparent cause.

Emergencies – what to do

Immediate veterinary attention can mean the difference between life and death for an injured dog following all but the most minor of accidents. Getting your dog to your vet (where all the necessary equipment is on hand) is quicker and gives the dog a better chance than calling a vet out to the scene of the accident. The most important thing to remember in an emergency is – don’t panic! – this could cause further anxiety for an already frightened animal and it wastes valuable time.

If it is your own dog that is injured then you should take it to your own vet if possible. However, if the incident occurs when you are away from home you will need to find the nearest veterinary practice. If there are no passers by or local residents to help, find a telephone box and call directory enquiries or ask at the closest police station, post office, village shop, etc.

Whether you are near home or away, always telephone the veterinary surgery first as many practices have branch surgeries which are not open all day every day. Alerting the practice staff means that they can give important advice and are ready to deal with your dog immediately upon arrival, which may greatly improve its chances of survival.

Any dog in pain is likely to be unpredictable and aggressive. If it can still walk it will probably try to run away and hide. A proper travelling box of plastic or fibreglass is the best way to transport small dogs securely and prevent them escaping.

However, an animal which has collapsed or has been involved in an accident (and so may have spinal injuries) should be moved as little as possible to avoid causing further damage. A sheet of wood, heavy card or even a blanket held taut can serve as a makeshift stretcher. The dog should be lifted gently on to the stretcher and put carefully into the back of the car.

If the vet clinic is within easy walking distance, or if there is no way of getting there by car, it may be possible to carry a small dog with only minor injuries. However, it is very important to avoid getting injured yourself as a dog bite can be serious. Wrapping the dog in a blanket or coat will help to restrain it. If a dog is small its body should be held with one arm, supporting its weight with your forearm, while using the other hand to hold it firmly but gently beneath the chin. Two people will be needed to lift larger dogs securely.

The aim of any first aid is to keep your dog alive and comfortable until it can receive proper veterinary treatment. The most important tasks are to ensure that your dog can breathe comfortably, to keep it warm and to control any bleeding.

If the animal is unconscious, check its mouth for any obstructions such as chunks of food and pull the tongue forward. Be very careful not to get bitten while your fingers are in its mouth. Wrapping the animal in a blanket will prevent it losing body heat, but if no suitable material is available newspapers or kitchen foil, etc may be used instead.

Serious bleeding is more likely to occur inside the dog’s body and will therefore be invisible. Paleness in the membranes around its mouth and eyes will show there is a problem. Bleeding from a skin wound should be minimised by applying a pressure pad with a bandage and cotton wool. A tourniquet may help stem the flow of blood from an injured limb or tail. However, unless someone has some training in first aid, the injury may be best left alone until the dog arrives at the veterinary surgery.

Any accident or injury which threatens the dog’s life will constitute an emergency but three possible problems are:

Road accidents

If you see a dog hit by a car and it is still lying in the road the immediate job is to prevent it from being run over again. Despite the risk of causing further damage, the dog should be moved to a safe place although avoid putting yourself at risk (remember that it may be difficult for drivers to see you at night). Approach the dog slowly and deliberately to avoid scaring it even more.

Not all road accidents are witnessed but if you see a dog which is limping, dishevelled, possibly with oil marks on its fur it may have been in such an accident. It may have suffered severe internal injuries and need urgent veterinary attention.


Sudden attacks of violent vomiting and/or diarrhoea, dribbling from the mouth, staggering and sudden collapse are all possible indications that a dog has been poisoned. If you believe that you know what the dog has eaten, it may help to take the packet, a sample from the plant, etc. with you to the vets.

If you do not know what caused the problem, scrape a sample of vomit or diarrhoea into a jar and take it for tests. Keep the animal warm and quiet until you can get it to a veterinary surgery.

Burns and scalds

The damage caused by fire or hot liquids can be reduced by soaking the wound in plenty of cold, clean water to cool the skin as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to treat the injury with ointments etc.Get the dog to a vet as quickly as possible since delays can increase the pain and the risks from shock and loss of bodily fluids.

To prevent unnecessary suffering in animals, it was made illegal many years ago for unqualified people to carry out veterinary treatment. Therefore, dog owners can only carry out first aid on their animals to save life or prevent further injury until the patient can be cared for by a vet. However, it is sensible for a caring dog owner to keep a first aid box at hand to deal with minor scratches etc or to save time in a genuine emergency. This could contain:

  • a range of bandages and dressings of different sizes
  • a blanket
  • a length of soft cord
  • scissors
  • disposable gloves.

Unless instructed by your vet, it is not advisable to treat wounds with ointments or TCP as dogs will often lick off anything applied to the skin and can make themselves ill swallowing distasteful substances.

Bloat (gastric dilation)

Gastric dilation, or ‘bloat’ as it is often known, is a very serious condition mainly affecting large breed dogs with a deep chest. Dogs with bloat are restless and unable to settle, they may drool saliva and vomit frothy foam. If you suspect that your dog has bloat you should call your vet or emergency service at once. Time is of the essence (bloat can kill in less than an hour). Your vet will want to see your dog immediately but try not to turn up at the practice unannounced – if you call ahead they will be ready for you when you arrive.

Bloat is an accumulation of gas in the stomach. The gas can be produced from fermentation of food material in the stomach or from swallowing of air. In normal dogs, burping quickly relieves the pressure in the stomach but in some dogs there is a problem that prevents normal emptying of the stomach. Gas continues to build up causing the stomach to inflate like a balloon. As the stomach swells it may flop over to one side. This can block off the exit for gases – making the problem progress more rapidly. The stomach can also twist on itself. If this occurs the condition is termed gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) and this is quickly life-threatening.

Large breed dogs, particularly the German Shepherd Dog, Irish Setter and Great Dane, are most at risk from this condition. Bloat most commonly affects middle-aged or older animals.

Dogs that are highly stressed appear to be more likely to develop bloat and there is in an increased risk in any dog with a close relative that has also had bloat.

Generally the first signs noticed in a dog affected by bloat are restlessness coupled with retching and drooling of saliva. The dog may show attempts to vomit but only a little frothy foam may be produced. The abdomen may become swollen and firm to the touch (although this isnt always obvious). Affected dogs may look at their sides or show other signs of abdominal pain. Some dogs may cough and others want to drink a lot of water.

As the condition progresses the dog may have difficulty breathing and eventually will collapse and be unable to get up. If untreated, dogs that develop a twist in the stomach will die.

If you suspect that your dog has bloat, you should call your vet or emergency service at once. Time is of the essence because bloat can kill in less than an hour. Your vet will want to see your dog immediately but try not to turn up at the practice unannounced. If you call ahead they will be ready for you when you arrive and will therefore be better prepared to deal with the emergency.

Unfortunately you cannot change many of the risk factors for bloat. However some practical measures can help to reduce the risk.

Feeding several small meals daily (instead of one large one) can help reduce the risk in susceptible breeds and individuals. Since swallowing of air is increased when dogs eat quickly, it can be helpful to separate dogs when eating so that there is no competition for food and eating is not rushed. Special barrier bowls are available that are designed to slow down a dogs eating. Exercise and excessive drinking should be restricted for an hour before and after eating.

Contrary to common belief, feeding a dog from a raised food stand actually increases the risk of bloat,so avoid doing this and feed from the floor as usual.

Stress is another factor thought to influence the development of bloat. In highly strung dogs, an upset in normal routine, eg boarding kennels, dog shows and the introduction of a new dog to the household can bring on an episode, so owners should be especially vigilant at these times if they have a susceptible dog.

The diagnosis is based on the dogs history (i.e. what you notice and tell the vet) and a physical examination. Your vet will be looking to detect a distended gas filled stomach and other signs indicating the condition. Your vet will also take into account whether your dog is of a type likely to have a gastric dilation.

Diagnosis may be confirmed with an X-ray. This can also allow your vet to see whether the stomach is twisted or not a twisted stomach is much more dangerous. If there is no twist to the stomach, your vet may be able to pass a tube into your dogs stomach to allow the trapped gas to escape. The stomach contents can also be washed out through this tube which may help to improve the dogs condition.

Your vet will also want to take blood samples and perhaps an ECG (as dogs with bloat may develop abnormal heart rhythms). In severe cases, treatment may be started before all test results are obtained as early treatment may be essential to save the dogs life.

Animals with bloat may be suffering from shock. To treat this your vet will give intravenous fluids (a drip) and other drugs. To treat the bloat itself a tube is passed into the stomach to let some gas escape and reduce pressure on the internal organs. However, this is not possible in every case sometimes the tube cannot enter the stomach due to the way the stomach has twisted. In these cases it may be necessary to operate to empty the stomach.

Unfortunately the condition is serious no matter how it is managed. About 3 dogs in 20 will not survive even with surgery. Some dogs will have widespread organ damage at the time of surgery. This may not be known until surgery has actually started and the vet is able to examine the internal organs directly. Sometimes organs, or parts of organs, may have to be removed to save your pet’s life.

In nearly all cases a procedure to fix the stomach in place will be carried out. This procedure is called gastropexy. If this is not done about 8 out of 10 dogs will get a further episode of bloat.

Once the stomach has been deflated a tube may be fitted between the stomach and the body wall (a gastrostomy tube) to allow any further gas to escape safely.

A gastrostomy tube is a rubber pipe that is placed at the time of stomach surgery. One end of the tube is attached to the inside of the stomach. The other end passes through the stomach wall and then through the body wall and fixed to the outside of the body. This tube serves 2 purposes; any gas produced in the stomach can be safely vented through the tube without risk of stomach dilation; and the stomach becomes fixed to the body wall at the point where the tube leaves. This prevents stomach twisting ever happening again.

The gastrostomy tube may be left in place for a week and can be removed without further surgery when your vet feels that your dog is making good progress. After removal a small hole will be left in the body wall but this soon heals over.

Once a dog has had gastric dilation we know that they are at risk of developing it again. In fact 8 out of 10 dogs with bloat will have a recurrence if preventative measures are not taken. At the time of surgery your vet will attach the stomach wall loosely to the inside of the body wall (known as gastropexy). This prevents the stomach from moving and twisting and significantly reduces the risk of a recurrence. In fact only 3 of a hundred dogs with bloat will have a second episode after this procedure.

If your dog had a gastrostomy tube placed then this also causes the stomach to stick to the body wall at the scar site once the tube is removed and the wound has healed.

Bloat is a life-threatening condition in dogs and emergency treatment is important to ensure the best outcome. You may want to discuss risk factors for your dog and possible preventative measures with your own vet.