Bloat is a sudden-onset, deadly condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself.
As a deep-chested breed, Boxers are anatomically predisposed to bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV).
However, many other factors — including the feeding of kibble — are known to increase the risk.
Prevention is the key and there is a lot you can do to protect your dog.
What Is Bloat?
Gastric dilatation-volvulus involves two distinct phases.
First, the stomach suddenly fills with gas and fluid.
It swells and may rotate slightly.
This first stage is what’s meant by gastric “dilatation”.
The second, more serious phase involves the distended stomach twisting on itself, by 180 to 360 degrees.
This is the “volvulus” part.
The spleen, attached to the wall of the stomach, can be displaced as well.
Not all cases of bloat are complicated by severe twisting.
And sometimes the twisting seems to happen without owners noticing any initial bloating.
Once twisting has occurred though, the situation has become dire.
The twisting seals both ends of the stomach, trapping the gas and fluids.
Your dog has no way to relieve the pressure.
He can’t burp or vomit. Nor can the gas pass into the lower gastrointestinal tract.
This gas continues to build up as the food ferments.
Unless urgently treated by a veterinarian, GDV rapidly progresses to involve:
- necrosis (tissue death) of the stomach wall
- acute dehydration
- bacterial septicemia
- circulatory shock
- cardiac arrhythmias
- gastric perforation
- peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal wall)
Collapse and death can result within as little as a few hours.
Signs Of Bloat In Boxer Dogs
Your Boxer could be suffering from bloat if he displays symptoms like:
- restlessness, or pacing, standing up rather than lying down
- drooling or salivation
- appearing uncomfortable
- hanging the head low
- tight-feeling abdomen
As the condition worsens you may see:
- unproductive retching or dry heaving
- whining or moaning
- swollen abdomen (this may not always be visible)
- strange posture or stiff-legged walk
- signs of pain including possible aggression
- “tympanic” abdomen (sounds like a hollow drum when tapped or flicked)
- signs of shock eg. pale gums and tongue, delayed capillary refill, rapid heart rate, weak pulse, cool skin and rapid, shallow or labored breathing
Causes Of Bloat
The causes of bloat are not well understood … and the research is, at times, contradictory.
Despite the lack of scientific consensus, bloat has been associated with:
- large, deep-chested breeds like the Boxer
- kibble consumption
- eating from raised food bowls
- eating too fast
- eating a single large meal per day rather than two smaller ones
- strenuous physical exertion before or after meals
- drinking a large amount of water in one go, particularly after eating or exercising
Bloat is known to strike down healthy, active dogs in the prime of their life.
The risk is thought to be highest between the ages of three and seven .. but puppies and dogs of any age can be affected.
If your Boxer is highly strung, or excessively skinny, he may be at higher risk.
A European study published in 2015 found intact males were at greater risk, which could be because they are usually leaner than their neutered counterparts.
Some of the literature suggests male dogs may be slightly more at risk than females.
The exact mechanism that causes a particular dog’s stomach to fill with gas is a mystery.
One theory implicates the hepatogastric ligament, which holds the stomach in place.
A 1995 study found dogs that had suffered GDV had longer hepatogastric ligaments.
But it’s unclear whether those ligaments were stretched prior to the bloat, and involved in causing the GDV … or if they were stretched as a result of the bloat.
How To Reduce The Chances Of Your Boxer Getting Bloat
To protect your Boxer against ever getting bloat, take a multi-pronged approach, mitigating as many of the risk factors as possible.
Boxers owners should:
- feed a fresh, raw diet — never kibble
- feed from floor-level bowls, not raised platforms
- use a slow feeder bowl
- wait at least 2 hours either side of vigorous exercise before feeding
- control your Boxer’s water intake
- split the day’s food into several smaller meals
Multiple studies have linked kibble to an increased risk of bloat.
According to Dr Malathi Raghavan and his fellow researchers, who wrote a 2006 paper on kibble and GDV, “The widespread practice of extruding dry dog food began in 1957. An epidemic of GDV in dogs was reported in the United States from 1965 to 1995”.
A Tufts University review in 2014 said, “During the past 30 years there has been a 1500 per cent increase in the incidence of bloat, and this has coincided with the increased feeding of dry dog foods. There is a much lower incidence of bloat in susceptible breeds in Australia and New Zealand. Feeding practices in these countries have been found to be less dependent on dry foods.”
Kibble may cause bloat because:
- it’s high in calcium carbonate (which delays gastric emptying and is associated with gastrointestinal upset in humans including constipation, flatulence and bloating)
- it contains suboptimal, hard-to-digest ingredients and fillers like wheat and corn gluten and beet pulp
- it’s high in fat (which slows digestion)
- it contains citric acid
- dry food expands when it hits the stomach
- it contains chemical antimicrobials that mess with gut bacteria (A 2018 study of Great Danes with GDV found they had a disrupted gut biome or dysbiosis compared to dogs without GDV)
There is no evidence that soaking dry food in water reduces the risk of bloat.
In fact, moistening kibble was found to increase the risk of bloat in large breed dogs.
See also: Should Boxers Eat Kibble?
It’s important to note that raw feeding does not completely remove the risk of bloat.
Raw-fed dogs can and do still get GDV.
So, it’s crucial to take other measures to reduce the risk.
No Raised Food Bowls
There are a lot of mixed messages when it comes to raised food bowls and Boxers.
The old advice is the exact opposite of the current recommendation, which has understandably created a lot of confusion amongst owners.
The most up-to-date information suggests raised food bowls increase the risk of bloat, possibly because they increase the chance of swallowing air along with food.
Regardless, eating from ground-level is clearly a more natural feeding position for dogs.
You don’t see any raised bowls in the wild!
Unless your dog is unable to bend his neck to the ground, there is no reason for a Boxer to eat from a raised food bowl.
Don’t use buckets as water dishes for your Boxer.
The water level of a full bucket is so high as to create the effect of drinking from a raised bowl.
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Use A Slow Feeder Bowl
Rapid eating is associated with a higher bloat risk.
There are plenty of good, affordable slow feeders on the market.
The ones with a spiral pattern are most effective at slowing dogs down.
We use and recommend the Outward Hound Fun Feeder.
It’s made from food safe material and has the right size ridges to slow a Boxer down. It can go in the dishwasher.
No Heavy Exercise Near Mealtimes
Most Boxer owners know not to exercise their dogs heavily after dinner.
In fact, the available studies vary in their findings when it comes to the link between bloat and exercise near mealtimes.
Some studies find no link at all.
But, with so much uncertainty around how bloat happens, it seems smart to err on the side of caution.
It’s easy enough to organize your dog’s routine so he takes it easy after meals.
Dogs in nature run before a meal to catch their prey, but what happens after?
Control Water Intake
Make sure your Boxer is never allowed to guzzle a large volume of water all at once.
Supervise your dog and interrupt him.
If necessary, temporarily take away the water bowl.
In particular, don’t let your dog drink a lot of water straight after eating.
The theory here is that too much water with meals dilutes the stomach acid and interferes with digestion.
It’s also recommended to avoid tap water. It is chlorinated, which disrupts the gut flora.
Give Two Smaller Meals
Multiple studies have found an association between feeding a lot of food in one sitting, and bloat.
Smaller meals also promote most efficient digestion.
What To Do If Your Boxer Shows Signs Of Bloat
Bloat is a genuine veterinary emergency.
If you’re even slightly suspicious your Boxer has bloat, get him in the car and rush him to the vet.
This is not something you can manage at home or delay seeking help for. It will not go away on its own.
Call ahead while you’re en route, so the clinic is ready to help right away. Minutes can make the difference.
Immediate treatment to release the gas and untwist the stomach is life saving.
Respected veterinarian Dr Jean Dodds has this advice for those who can’t get to a vet in time:
“If it is too late .. be brave and take a clean, sharp knife and insert it quickly into the bloated side of the dog to let the trapped gas escape from his distended stomach. This emergency procedure has saved lives — then immediately go to the closest veterinary hospital.”
How Is Bloat Treated?
If the dog has bloating without volvulus, it may be possible to insert a tube into the dog’s stomach through the mouth, to release the gas.
There will be an audible rush of air and fluid, and immediate relief.
The vet then rinses out the stomach.
The dog usually receives intravenous fluids while being dry fasted (no food or water) for a day and a half.
However, if this tube procedure fails, or the dog’s stomach has twisted … he’ll need emergency surgery.
The surgeon will try to restore the stomach and spleen to their normal positions.
Depending on how much tissue damage has occurred, parts of the stomach and spleen may need to be excised.
What Is The Survival Rate For Dogs That Get Bloat?
According to Dr Jean Dodds almost half of all dogs that get gastric dilatation-volvulus will die.
However, a study of almost 80 000 dogs attending 50 clinics across Britain from 2012 to 2014 found almost 80 per cent of dogs that received surgical treatment survived.
Early recognition and prompt veterinary intervention are critical to your dog making it through GDV.
How Common Is Bloat In Boxers?
Not common, thankfully.
Boxers don’t rank among the top ten breeds most likely to get bloat.
The Great Dane and the German Shepherd top that list.
Most Boxers will live bloat-free lives.
However, Boxers are more anatomically predisposed to bloat than smaller breeds without a deep chest.
Keep in mind, though, that the dog populations in which bloat has been studied are not only predominantly kibble-fed but also highly vaccinated, dosed with chemical wormers and quite possibly taking other medications.
There is increasing awareness that all of these factors have an influence on a dog’s overall state of health and susceptibility to all manner of disease.
Other Breeds Susceptible To Bloat
Breeds regarded as prone to bloat include:
- Great Dane
- German Shepherd
- Saint Bernard
- Labradors and Labradoodles
- Irish Wolfhound
- Great Pyrenees
- Old English Sheepdog
- Irish Setter
- Chow Chow
- Curly Coated Retriever
- Scottish Deerhound
- German Longhaired Pointer
- Grand Blue de Gastogne
- Neopolitan Mastiff
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Doberman Pinscher
- Gordon Setter
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Standard Poodle
Medium-sized dogs most susceptible to bloat include:
- Basset Hound
- Chinese Shar-Pei
Small dogs are rarely affected except for:
- Dachshunds (this low-slung breed is actually deep-chested)
Should You Get Your Boxer’s Stomach Tacked To Prevent Bloat?
Some vets sell stomach tacking or “gastropexy” to Boxer owners, recommending it as an add-on procedure during neutering.
The stomach is sewn to the abdominal wall to prevent it ever twisting.
This may make sense for dogs like Great Danes that have an exceedingly high risk of bloat, particularly if they have a known relative that has already suffered from GDV.
A Great Dane with a relative that’s suffered bloat has such an elevated risk of bloat that the dog is actually more likely to get it than to not.
However, for the average Boxer with no history of bloat in the bloodline, there are many other non-surgical steps you can take to minimize your pup’s risk of bloat.
For a dog that has had bloat once and been treated non-surgically, the risk of recurrence is 70 per cent.
In this case, gastropexy may warrant consideration.
Other Things You Can Do
Get Familiar With Your Dog’s Body
Know what your dog’s stomach normally feels like, before and after a meal.
This way you’ll be better able to detect when something is wrong.
Install A Dog Cam
If you work an eight hour day or are away from home for long stretches, a dog cam is a good idea.
It allows you to live stream your living room from your mobile phone.
This way you can check in on your dog and potentially spot if something unusual is going on.
Better than coming home to find your dog’s been collapsed on the kitchen floor all day long.
Have Your Dog Sleep In Your Bedroom
Bloat has been known to strike in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.
If your dog sleeps downstairs or in another part of the house, you may not wake up and notice he’s unwell, and he may not be able to make it to you for help.
Avoid Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are known to cause gassiness.
They include beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and collard greens.
These plants are also poorly digested by dogs.
As carnivores, canines lack the enzyme to break down cellulose, and don’t have the grinding teeth that herbivores use to crush cell walls.
Avoid Chemical Wormers and Drugs
Chemical wormers, antibiotics, steroids and NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are all known to disrupt intestinal health.
Given the association between anxiety and bloat, keep your Boxer’s life as stress-free as possible.
Especially avoid excitement or anything stress-inducing (like cutting nails) around mealtimes.
Ask Your Breeder About Bloat
It’s important to know whether any of the dogs in your Boxer’s line have ever experienced bloat.
This is a question to ask before settling on a breeder.
A 2000 study found having a relative with a history of GDV increases a dog’s risk by 63 per cent, especially if that relative is first-degree — a sibling, parent or offspring.
This suggests a genetic basis for bloat.
However it could also be related to the fact that related dogs are more likely to be owned by the same breeder … and therefore managed the same way and eating the same food.
Still, it’s worth taking family history into consideration.
This is a good reason to stay in touch with your breeder throughout the life of your dog.
Some breeders now have Facebook groups for owners of their pups.
These are a great way to keep abreast of any health issues affecting your dog’s family.
Avoid Sending Your Boxer To A Boarding Facility Or Doggy Daycare
Your Boxer is at increased risk of bloat if you board him or send him to dog day care.
This could be because dogs are often stressed in these settings.
To make matters worse, these facilities are often lax with how dogs are fed and monitored.
Even with the best intentions, staff-to-dog ratios will inevitably mean your Boxer is not managed as carefully as you would like.
Have A Plan
Know where your nearest 24-hour emergency vet is, and how you’ll get your dog there if the need arises.
You don’t want to be trying to work all this out in a panic.
Bloat is a scary prospect.
The good news is there are many things you can put in place to make it less likely.
And, by knowing the signs, you will be able to act fast if the worst happens.
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