Is My Dog Fat Or Bloated? How To Tell

Is my dog fat or bloated?
Is my dog fat or bloated?

Bloat in dogs is more severe than just a little gas. When a dog has bloat, food or gas stretches the stomach causing abdominal pain while blocking blood flow to the abdomen and stomach. Thirty percent of bloat cases are fatal.

Since bloat is localized to a dog’s stomach and abdominal area, identifying fat in the ribs, limbs, and stomach help diagnose if a dog is fat or bloated. Bloat also appears quickly, while weight gain is slower. Signs of bloat in dogs include:

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Dry-heaving
  • Pacing and anxiety
  • Arching of the back and hindquarters 
  • Lethargy or collapsing
  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Shallow breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Pale gums

If not treated within an hour or two, bloat can be fatal. Seek immediate medical attention if you believe your dog has bloat.

What is bloat in dogs?

Bloat is a medical emergency that leads to the stretching or, in severe cases of Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV), twisting of the stomach. 

Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with air or gas, expanding the belly and restricting blood flow to the stomach, abdomen, and hindquarters. The reduced blood flow and blood pooling at the back end cause dogs to fall into shock.

In severe cases, a dog’s stomach can rupture or flip, cutting blood flow off to the pancreas and spleen. The pancreas then releases hormones that cause further damage to organs and can even stop the heart.

What dogs are at the highest risk of bloat?

Bloat is most common in large and deep-chested dog breeds. Dogs over 100-pounds are at a 20% higher risk, while older dogs and those who eat quickly also suffer from bloat more often.

If bloat runs in your dog’s family, the chances of bloat increase dramatically.

A study by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center analyzed the impact of genetics on bloat in Great Danes — the breed with the highest disposition for bloat. The study found Great Danes with at least one of three genetic risks had a 60% chance of contracting bloat, while non-carriers had a 20% risk.

If your dog is from a breeder or the offspring of a friend or family dog, ask if any direct relatives have a history of bloat. 

Breeds known as high risk of developing bloat include:

  • Great Danes (37% average)
  • Irish Setter
  • Basset Hounds
  • Akita
  • Gordon Setters
  • German Shepherd
  • Weimaraner
  • St. Bernard
  • Boxer

Is my dog fat or bloated?

With a background on bloat and a risk assessment of breed, you’re ready to make a physical assessment to determine if your dog is fat or bloated.

Feel for your dog’s ribs

Overweight dogs store fat in the subcutaneous layer directly below the skin. The subcutaneous layer will create a soft cushion over the ribs, making them difficult to discern.

To examine your dog’s ribs, run both hands from each side of their waist and follow the line of the rib cage. Then, feel along your dog’s ribs from the bottom of the chest up the sides, feeling for each rib.

Each rib should be detectable when a dog is at a healthy weight. When pressing on the rib, there should be no fatty cushioned layer.

Is my dog overweight? A graphic of the body condition scoring chart showing dogs in too thin, ideal, and too heavy size.
Is my dog overweight? Body scoring chart.

Look for a defined taper at the waist

A healthy dog’s abdomen tapers from the side and top profiles. See your veterinarian immediately if your dog’s stomach is enlarged from below but still showing a well-defined taper from above.

An overweight dog will lose the definition of both profiles, but bloat may, too, depending on its severity.

A visual inspection may help but should not be a reliable tool to differentiate between bloat and obesity.

Observe your dog’s behaviors

Symptoms of bloat should develop within two to three hours after eating a meal. While weight gain is slow, building over time. 

Since we see our dogs daily, it can be challenging to identify weight gain. Often, a dog’s behavior is the best way to identify a weight change.

Common symptoms in overweight dogs are:

  • Slowly rising after sleep
  • Limping from joint pain
  • Trouble jumping on furniture
  • Increased appetite
  • Dull coat

If you’ve noticed your dog acting more sluggish and out of shape — or not keeping up with you on walks — it can be a sign of obesity.

Signs of severe pain and discomfort require immediate medical attention.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you determined bloat is not the cause of your dog’s growing stomach. But, that means your dog is overweight and must start a weight loss diet and exercise plan. Follow these steps to maintain a healthy weight for your dog:

  • Feed your dog a well-balanced and nutritious diet.
  • Track your dog’s daily caloric intake.
  • Take your dog on daily walks, runs, or trips to the dog park.
  • Play with your dog at home twice daily for 15 to 30 minutes.

Now that you’ve been through a bloat scare, here are steps to prevent bloat in your dog:

  • Slow your dog’s eating by splitting meals or using a specialized bowl.
  • Avoid exercise and excitement after eating.
  • Avoid dry foods with fat or citric acid as one of the first four ingredients.
  • Lower your dog’s food bowl.

Previously, it was believed an elevated food bowl helps prevent bloat, but a study by Purdue University saw an increased risk from raised bowls.

Focusing on your dog’s health and wellness prevents obesity and obesity-causing diseases. A healthy dog lives longer, has less pain and discomfort in its senior years, and lives a happier life.

Are you starting a weight loss plan today? Share this article to help others, then keep us updated on your dog’s weight loss progress.

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