Bloat, (in dogs) or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) as it is also known as, is when the dog’s stomach fills with gas and usually – twists, leaving no escape for the gas that builds up more and more, causing excruciating pain.

Some of the signs of bloat are that the dog will struggle to breathe which means that vital processes can be quickly shut off. In many cases, severe distress, pacing, a bloated stomach, excessive drooling and dry heaving is going on. If the gas is not relieved soon enough, death is very possibly!


X-ray showing gastric dilatation ( bloat ) and torsion ( volvulus ) in a German Shepherd Dog. The large dark area is the gas trapped in the stomach ( bowels are bloated too )

As many of my readers and clients are already aware, there has been a BIG move towards feeding our carnivore companions more plant matter AND replacing meat protien with legumes.

In the pet food industry, they have been trying to get in on the money making market of grain free pet food – FINALLY hearing and seeing that grains are not digestable and causes inflammation in dogs and cats which of course leads to many  often devestating health issues.  So, they are now replacing the grains with legume seeds in pet food – up to 40 percent woth of the ingredients!

Legumes are: Beans, Peas, Lentils, Soy beans and Peanuts.  Not only do legumes have to “ferment” to be even remotely digestable, but they contain:

  • Phytic Acid (which binds nutrients in food which PREVENTS their absorption), galaco-ligosaccharides (associated with digestive issues)
  • Lectins (known to damage the intestinal wall by reducing the speed of cell renewal, which leads to ‘leaky gut’, and causes digestive issues such as lack of absorption vitamins and minerals along with autoimmune dis-eases. Too much lectin consumption leads to vomiting, cramping and diarrhea and immune responses of allergy symptoms whih include skin rashes, joint pain and general inflammation.
  • Oligosaccharide – a particular sugar that even the human body can not break down fully. Oligosaccharides are large molecules and are not broken down and absorbed in the same way that other sugars are, by the normal digestive process. It is the bacteria in the intestine that should finally break down these sugars.

However, the carnivore digestive system is not designed to keep things in the intestines for fermentation, it is designed to move raw, meat,bones and organs through and out of the body very quickly, these are broken down in the strong stomach acid and low PH of the stomach.  Any foods that come into the large intestine without having been broken down and absorbed in the small intestine are going to cause fermentation and produce gas.

Dogs (and cats) have a relatively short foregut and a short, smooth, unsacculated colon. This means they are designed to have food pass through quickly, food that does not need to ferment and break down to be digested.

Seeds, legumes, plant matter, grains and cooked foods however, need time to sit and ferment and be broken down.  However,  this sitting and fermentation/breaking down process requires a longer, sacculated colon, larger and longer small intestines, and the presence of a functioning caecum. Dogs have none of these! 

The dog’s small intestine joins to the large intestine, which consists of the under-developed caecum, the colon and the rectum. In carnivores the caecum has no function.  Herbivores and Omnivores, have a much more developed caecum and it is used as a site of bacterial fermentation of plant matter in their digestive system. Not so in carnivores.

You see, herbivores have a high ability to extract nutrition from plant matter as the result of their capability to ferment it, and therefore they have been found to have a high coefficient of fermentation. Carnivores however, aren’t equipped to do this and therefore have a “low coefficient of fermentation”.

The large intestine (colon) of carnivores is simple and very short, since its only purposes are to absorb salt and water. It is approximately the same diameter as the small intestine and, consequently, has a limited capacity to function as a reservoir to hold and ferment/digest plant, seed or vegetable matter, grains or cooked food. The colon is short and non-pouched. The muscle is distributed throughout the wall, giving the colon a smooth cylindrical appearance.

So, back to the use of legume seeds in pet food:

Very interestingly, Greg Aldrich, president of Pet Food and Ingredient Technology said in an article about the use of legumes in pet food: “Notably, this amount of excess fermentable substrate can tip the balance in the colon, shifting the populations within the colonic environment and altering the osmotic balance and gas production. That is to say, the contents of the bowel become more fluid and the result is soft stools, diarrhea and flatulence. There may also be alterations to nutritional balance by changing things like the enterohepatic recirculation of taurine and reductions in mineral utilization.”

This coincided, coincidentally, with something Dr. Morkel Piennar, a veterinarian in the UK, highlighted to *Conor Bradyon  during a phone conversation. Dr. Piennar talked to Bradyon about  how little bloat he has been seeing in raw fed dogs. With 20 veterinarians working in his practice (all promoting raw feeding) it’s fair to say Morkel’s practice has seen a lot of bloat cases. When asked his thoughts on bloat, he sent Bradyon a study that clearly shows bloat is not a matter of too much swallowed and trapped air in the gut (termed aerophagia), but is actually a build-up of fermented gas.

The study took 10 bloat cases and measured the gases released from the swollen gut. They found that carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation, represented 13-20% of the gas present in these bloat cases (in normal air it is less than 1% CO2). This showed for the first time that it was gas resulting from fermentation that caused this build up.

And what produces A LOT of fermentation gas in dogs?! You guessed it, inappropriate foods for a carnivore –  such as legumes, seeds or oils from seeds (flax seed oil, etc.) cooked foods and variety of plant/vegetable material.

While a large, retrospective study of 1,667 bloat cases have indicated a dietary role, including the consumption of cooked/kibble dry foods that listed more than one corn ingredient among the first four label ingredient, as well as 320% increase in risk for dogs who ate dry foods containing citric acid that were also moistened prior to feeding by owners and a 53% increase in risk when dry foods contain rendered (processed/cooked at very high tempratures down to a liquid slurry) meat meal with bone among the first four ingredients, the same study also seemed to directly implicate aerophagia by finding that speed of eating and raised feeding stations, increase the risk of bloat. We also know that large breeds are more affected and deep-chested dogs suffer this issue more.

When Morkel was asked how many bloat cases in raw fed dogs he had seen in the last eight years of moving his entire practice to all-raw, his answer was “Maybe two”. Just two cases.

*Dr. Conor Bradyon holds a doctorate in studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with a raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health.

So, is this the answer as to how to prevent bloat in dogs? NO! Of course not, but it should give you pause for thought and more research don’t you think?

Of course for me and many other species specific raw feeders, the question becomes, what sort of plant material if any were these raw-fed dogs given? And has there ever been a case of a dog fed exclusively a raw meat, bone and organ (no cooked treats or the addition of any seeds, seed oils, legumes, or vegetables of any kind) diet?  I hope someone out here will do such study one day.

Some advice as to how to reduce the risk of bloat in dogs…

If you own an ageing dog, a large to giant or deep-chested breed of dog, then the best advice to reduce bloat in your dogs is to:

  • Feed them a RAW, species specific (carnivore), meat, bone and organ diet
  • Don’t feed cooked/processed treats or vegetables as treats
  • Don’t feed seeds or seed oils
  • Don’t feed legumes
  • Feed it on the ground (or at least NOT from a raised bowl)
  • Limit exercise for at least 45mins before and after eating
  • Don’t have water acessable until after the dog has quieted down from hard play and exercise
  • Keep Simethicone or a product containing it on hand for emergencies
  • Apply Acupressure (see just below)

To find the point, start at the hock, on the front of the leg (anterior), and you can feel the tibia. Move your hand up the leg along the tibia’s sharp crest; what in humans would be called the shin. As your hand approaches the stifle, or the knee the crest becomes very pronounced and then curls around to the outside (laterally). Just inside this curve is a depression. The acupressure point is in this depression. Pressure or massaging stimulates the point. The gastrointestinal tract starts to contract and move (peristalsis) and expels the built up gas before torsion can occur. If torsion has already occurred, massaging the spot will not help. All this does is stimulate gastrointestinal motility so that the dog can hopefully pass enough gas to relieve some of the pressure on the stomach, helping with pain and hopefully buying you enough time to get to the vet.




Image from Irish Wolfhound Club of America and University of Wisconsin

Please note that giving Simethicone or using this acupressure point does not mean you don’t have to take the dog to the veterinarian!


*A consultation is highly recommended before any preventative program or diet change is started.

While I continue to provide educational articles and information for you here, most of them are general in nature. Therefore, I encourage you to set up an appointment with me to tailor a total wellness program specifically for your pet’s needs. This is particularly imperative in pets that are aging, with complicated health issues, or if you’ve done a lot of outside reading and have conflicting information.


The information on this site is based on the traditional and historic use of naturopathy, essential oils and herbs as well as personal experience and is provided for general reference and educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or promote any direct or implied health claims. This information is and products are not intended to replace professional veterinary and/or medical advice

© The Whole Dog, Dr. Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason

This article is the sole property of Dr Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason and The Whole Dog. It cannot be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the expressed written consent of the author.

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