What is Bloat in Akitas? | Understanding GDV

Akitas are big and beautiful dogs. It’s their proud stature, barrel chests and bear shaped heads that people love. Purebred dogs are all about breeding dogs that fit the ideal standard of a particular breed, but physical traits of a breed aren’t always positive; many times certain dog breeds have specific health issues that are common to them.

For example breeds like French and English bulldogs have lots of problems with the folds of their skin, as well as their ability to breath from their very flat snouts.

Akitas are no different, and one of the biggest issues that all Akita owners need to be aware of is a deadly condition known as GDV, or more commonly referred to as “bloat.”

What is Bloat in Akitas?

Bloat, also known as GDV (gastric dilatation-volvulus) is a medical emergency that occurs in large and barrel chested dogs wherein the dog’s stomach fills with air and blocks blood flow both from reaching vital organs.  The stomach can also flip upside down, and the twisting of the stomach and other organs will again severely impact blood flow.

Bloat is a medical emergency that will require surgery for your dog to survive, and sadly, many dogs who undergo surgery still won’t make it. That’s why it’s extremely important to take preventative measures against bloat, and to be aware of the warning signs.

How Common is Bloat in Akitas?

Any dog can suffer from bloat, and it’s estimated that just under 6% of all dogs will suffer from bloat at some point, however, that more than triples to 20% for dogs over 100lbs, which is a common weight for many Akitas, both male and female.

While it’s hard to put an exact number on your Akita’s risk of suffering from bloat, we’ve seen many people in the Akita community post about their American Akita passing away from bloat. Some people have estimated the rate of bloat in Akitas is as high as 3 out of every 4.

It’s common enough that every Akita owner should be aware of it, understand how to spot it and prevent it, and what to do if it happens.

What are the Warning Signs of Bloat in Akitas?

Here are the warning signs of bloat in your Akita:

  • Your Akita is restless and won’t stop pacing
  • Your Akita has a distended or swollen stomach/abdomen area
  • Your Akita is vomiting or wretching.
  • Your Akita is drooling or panting excessively.

As you can see by some of the warning signs of bloat, these are things that are common in dogs when they generally don’t feel good, this is one of the reasons bloat is so serious as many people will not realize the severity of their Akita’s condition. Our general recommendation is: If you at all suspect your Akita may be suffering from bloat, do not hesitate and call your vet immediately.

When it comes to your dog’s health, we live by the motto better safe than sorry. I totally understand that trips to the vet can be expensive, that’s why we recommend both pet insurance (we use Figo), and a good treatment plan from a pet hospital network like Banfield (click here to read our Banfield Pet Hospital Review)

But of course the best way to deal with bloat in your Akita is to take measures to prevent it, which we will cover in this article.

What Causes Bloat in Akitas?

Unfortunately the cause of bloat is unknown, however there are a few theories. One theory is that your Akita may inhale too much air into their esophagus and stomach when eating, causing a build up of gas. This theory partly explains why larger dogs with barrel chests are more susceptible to getting bloat, because the shape of their body cavity allows for more air and more gas build up.

With that theory in mind, here are some good practices to follow to keep your Akita from getting bloat:

Find Ways to Slow Down Their Eating

Like many dogs, Akitas like to chow down on their food like a hoover vacuum sucking up dirt. It’s believed that quickly and literally “inhaling” food, can cause too much air to get into the stomach of your Akita and trigger an episode of bloat. This is why we hand feed our Akita via a training session as much as possible. To read more about this technique, check out our article on how to stop your Akita from resource guarding.

By doling out your Akita’s kibble bit by bit, it will stop them from chowing down too quickly.

Slow Feeding Bowl

We like to use a bowl that specifically helps to slow our Akitas down when they’re eating. Click here to see the one we use.

Bowl Height

This next point is a bit controversial. Some people believe a raised bowl will help reduce the risk of bloat, others say that raised bowl increases the risk of bloat. It’s hard to say, but our take on it is, that a bowl on the floor is more akin to how an Akita or other dog would eat in the wild, so we keep our bowls for our dogs on the floor.

Digestive Supplements

While we don’t currently use any digestive supplements for our American Akita, Haga, the owner of the Sire of Haga’s litter told us she uses them with all of her dogs once they reach about a year old. Make sure to always check with your vet before giving your dog any supplement.

Click here to get your gas reducing supplement for your Akita

Exercise Your Akita BEFORE feeding time

Akitas are funny creatures. Our American Akita loves to play right after a meal, but this is the worst time for a big bout of play or exercise. With that in mind we try to exercise our Akitas hard before a feeding time, so hopefully they’ll relax after they eat. Once we’re back from a long walk or play session, we’ll give our Akita some time to let their heart rate come down to normal before feeding. As a general rule we wait at least 30 minutes after a meal to play or exercise with our Akita.

Don’t ever feed your Akita if they are panting excessively, or seem like they have an elevated heart rate.

Stomach Tacking

While all of the above tips may help reduce the risk of your Akita suffering from bloat, the truly best solution is a medical procedure known as a stomach staple or tack. No, we’re not talking about liposuction, we’re talking about a surgery that could potentially save your Akita’s life, that the veterinarian community refers to as a gastropexy.

What is a Gastropexy?

A gastropexy in dogs is a prophylactic procedure, meaning a treatment to prevent something from happening, as opposed to a procedure to fix a problem that already exists. During a gastropexy your vet will literally tack your dog’s stomach down, so it can not twist if your dog incurs a case of bloat. While your dog can still get bloat or potentially die from it, even with a gastropexy, it greatly reduces the risk of serious complications or death from bloat.

According to this study, the mortality rate of dogs with bloat who have not undergone a gastropexy is upwards of 80%, while it is less than 20% in dogs who have had a prophylactic gastropexy. That means your Akita is 4x more likely to die from bloat without a gastropexy than with.

What are the Dangers of Gastropexy?

Always talk with your vet about any surgery you are considering for your Akita or other dog. Like any surgery, a gastropexy is not without its risks, mainly infection, however, infection and other complications from the gastropexy procedure are minimal.

Many people choose to have their Akita’s gastropexy performed at the same time as their neutering or spaying. This is the route that we chose for our American Akita, Haga. We had him neutered and his stomach tacked at about 15 months old. We opted to have both procedures done at the same time to prevent him from having to receive anesthesia multiple times.

Our vet performed the gastropexy laparoscopically, meaning the incision on his belly was quite small, and within a few days after the surgery, he was back to his normal, happy self. Because our Akita had multiple procedures done at one time, it’s hard to tell which side effects he experienced (lethargy, refusing to lay down, general malaise, etc…) were from the neutering, and which from the gastropexy (or the rectal polyp removal he also had done).

If you want see what the whole process was like you can check out our YouTube video about the experience by clicking here.

Haga is now 4 years old and  has shown no ill effects from the procedure, and I cannot overstate the piece of mind we have knowing that he is protected from bloat/GDV.

How Much Does a Gastropexy Cost?

The cost of the gastropexy will vary on a few things, the primary thing being where you choose to get your Akita treated. The cost for our American Akita Haga to receive a gastropexy was roughly $800. In most cases the cost of a gastropexy for your dog will range some where between $600-$1,200.

Conclusion

While many people may feel like doing a prophylactic surgery for a what if is unnecessary, I could never live with the guilt of knowing that I could have done something to save my dog’s life, and chose not to. Also consider the enormous expense of emergency surgery if your dog suffers from a bout of bloat and their stomach flips. I have personally heard people say they spent over $6,000 for the emergency surgery, and their dog didn’t live, which would only add insult to injury.

While some of the more basic tips to avoid bloat may help, there is nothing as scientifically backed as a prophylactic gastropexy. Remember to always discuss all options with your vet, to decide what’s best for you and your Akita.

Here’s to a long and happy life to our furry friends!

 

 

 

 

 

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