Dog Owning 101

Dog Ownership 101: The Basics
The things I wish all dog owners knew, or knew to consider.

1.  What type of dog is best for you?

Granted, it might be too late, but this is something that should be given huge consideration for someone getting a (or another) dog.

Becoming a dog owner is not just adding a cute, furry addition to your daily routine; dogs are a commitment of your time and money, and becoming a good dog owner requires a life-style change.  Different breeds have different needs and will provide you with different challenges, and you have to be very honest about what will be best for both you and your dog.  Sure, Australian Shepherds are darn cute, but do you actually have 2-3 hours per day (every day, for the next 12-15 years) to dedicate to providing your dog with the physical and mental stimulation it needs?

Make a frank assessment of your lifestyle and what kind of companion you’re looking for.  In addition to how cute the dog is, consider energy levels, size, type of coat (shedding), etc.  Great Danes make very cute puppies, but shelters and rescue organizations frequently see them surrendered once they are full grown and the previous owner decided they couldn’t handle a dog that size.  But with a little foresight, these and similar situations are entirely preventable.  Do your research; know what you’re getting yourself into.

2.  Where to get your dog from?

I am not going to go into detail, and I honestly don’t think I should have to in any event, because information concerning the horrors of puppy mills abound.  Everyone considering a puppy should do their best to ensure their money is not funding these organizations.  Yes, puppies sold in pet stores are often from puppy mills.  Stay away.

Also beware of the notorious “backyard breeder”.  These are breeders who are trying to turn a profit, and who treat the dogs akin to livestock.  They do not pay attention to breeding lines, hereditary diseases, or cases of inbreeding, and often have one female giving birth to multiple litters per year.  Watch out.

And if you are seeking a dog from a breeder, do your homework and ask lots of questions.  A good breeder will ask you lots of questions, too.  Make a visit to see the puppies and any other dogs they may have in advance and check out the living conditions.  If you’re not comfortable, don’t support them.

If you want to rescue a dog, research is again very important – both into your potential new dog, and into the organization itself.  Have a lengthy conversation with the people at the organization who have spent the most time with the dog you have in mind, since they should be able to give you good insights about your chosen dog.  And remember, when adopting a rescue – whether adult or puppy – you may be also adopting a variety of potential mental or physical problems (also possible when getting a dog from a breeder, too, of course), so ensure you are prepared (mentally, physically, financially) to deal with what may arise.

3.  Exercise!

First, lets be clear on what I mean by “exercise”:  I mean a proper WALK.  I do not mean running around the backyard, playing fetch, or going to an off-leash park.  I mean walking with your dog heeled next to you.  The other aforementioned activities are play-time perks you dog can certainly enjoy after his or her daily walk.

A proper dog walk is important for several reasons.  Some are:

a)  Physical exercise.  Obviously.  Many pet dogs are overweight, and lack of physical exercise is half the problem (being over-fed would be the other).  Our dogs need exercise to build muscle and be physically fit, just like we do.  At minimum, your dog needs an hour walk per day.  Every day.  For his or her entire life.  This is a responsibility you agreed to when you decided to get a dog.

b)  Release of pent-up energy.  In addition to the physical health benefits of walking, there are mental benefits as well.  Dogs that have pent-up energy from lack of physical and mental stimulation tend to take it out at home, and chewing and digging are great indicators of this – they’re just trying to keep themselves busy.  A daily walk will help alleviate boredom and keeps them mentally and physically engaged.

c)  Bonding.  An hour or more of walking per day is a great opportunity to build a bond with your dog.  With them heeled next to you, they have to pay attention to you when you turn, stop, and change pace.  Their attention is focused on you, and they look to you for leadership.  This can actually improve other aspects of your relationship with your dog, such as their obedience to commands and rules and your other expectations of them.

d)  Socialization.  Getting your dog out daily to see, and possibly meet, people and other dogs along the way is a great way to ensure they’re polite when greeting new people and other dogs.  Getting out regularly to new locations and on different routes also helps them to be relaxed and confident in all sorts of situations.  Our dogs are our companions, so the more places we can take them with us, the better.

e)  Gives your dog a job.  While dogs are believed to have been domesticated since as early as 10,000 BCE, dogs have only been urban, household pets for the last 100 years or so, a trend that developed as a status symbol, together with the modern kennel club institutions.  All breeds of dogs were engineered for one type of job or another: herding, hunting, drafting, tracking, guarding, etc.  And yes, even Fido, as he sleeps on your couch, has instincts associated with his intended “job”.  So even if you’re not able to take your dog to herding trials or tracking classes, at the very least his or her job can be to walk nicely next to you for an hour or two per day.  It’s not asking a lot, and they are receiving a much more luxurious lifestyle than the working dog of centuries past as it is.

4.  Training

All I am simply going to say here is: train your dog! I am going to try to remain uncontroversial here and avoid commenting on the different schools of thought, but the importance of training your dog in general is huge.  All dog owners represent the whole dog owning community when they’re out in public (which should be daily, if you’re exercising your dog regularly), so just as it’s important to pick up after them, it’s also important to ensure you don’t have a crazy furry monster at the end of your leash.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that there’s probably not one style of training that will work for every single dog and every single owner, so it’s important to look into local training organizations and pick one you agree with and think will work for both you and your dog.  And once you’ve picked it, for the love of Zeus, try it!  Give it 100% for the duration of the class.  Do what your trainer tells you, and if you don’t see drastic results immediately, be patient and consistent and practice at home.  While one method probably won’t work for everyone, no method will work unless you actually give it an honest effort.  Because, yes, what they say is true and it’s more like people training anyway.

I’d also like to take this moment to say that training isn’t a one-time fix for anything.  Just because you signed up for a 6 week course, doesn’t mean you can throw it all out after the class is over and will have the perfect dog for life.  Training, and maintaining rules and boundaries, continues throughout the lifetime of your dog, and is just another responsibility you accepted upon getting a dog.

5.  Diet

If you can purchase your dog’s food at the grocery store, simply put, you’re probably feeding them garbage.  Information on the perils of feeding cheap, poor-quality dog food can easily be found once one looks for it, so I invite you to do so.  There have been lots of pet food recalls in the recent years among those “grocery store brands”, and as a responsible dog owner, it’s up to you to educate yourself on what exactly is in that kibble and what it means for your dog.

A dog fed a proper, healthy diet has fewer medical issues, a healthier body weight, and a longer life-span.  Look into raw diets or quality dried foods that aren’t full of grains and unnecessary ingredients.  Your dog will like them better and be healthier for it.

And that’s it: the very basics of dog ownership as I see it.  While there is really a lot more to it than that, these are the big-picture concerns, which, if addressed, would lead to more fulfilled dogs and happier owners alike.

Advertisements

Perfecting “Go Pee”

Setting Pace at the Dog Run:
How to Give Fido a Designated Backyard Bathroom Location

Saving your lawn and teaching your dogs to do their “business” in a particular location is extremely easy – in theory.  But as we all know, if there is any sort of grey area or inconsistency, our dogs usually can find it and will exploit it.  Here’s how you can start the process and deal with potential struggles.

First, I recommend beginning in the spring/summer to encourage your own dedication to the process, since no one really wants to accompany their dog for every bathroom break in -20°C weather.  It will also provide many months of habit-forming before snow covers your yard.

Next, pick a bathroom command for your dog.  This command will refer to all bathroom activities.  It will also help to ensure all family members are using the same command and helping with the training.  The process will take a few weeks of dedication and consistency from everyone, but once the habit is learned your lawn is always safe.

And, of course, once you have your designated bathroom location decided upon and set up, make sure you clean all of the dog waste out of the rest of the backyard before starting the training process.  Give your lawn a thorough soaking, focusing on the areas your dog used to go to the bathroom, in order to eliminate the scent from those areas.  It is also recommended to place some of your dog’s waste in the dog run area so the scent is there.  Scent is what triggers a dog to release his or her bladder or bowels, and can be very helpful in the training process (remembering that dogs can only learn through instinct and repetition – and here we will use both).

Once you are ready to begin (and barring any particular medical issues your dog may have which could affect success), the training is a simple matter of accompanying your dog to the designated location – on leash – for every bathroom break for the next two weeks.  There are no exceptions; consistency is important.

Keeping Fido on leash at first is key so he doesn’t wander from the dog run and so you don’t have to catch him and bring him back.  Instead, you will simply walk your dog out to the dog run, give the bathroom command, and wait.  A standard six foot leash is plenty to provide your dog with personal space while ensuring he or she doesn’t stray to the grass.

Like initial house training, once Fido has completed the task perfectly, a little praise (such as a nice, slow chest rub or some go-play time in the yard) can be helpful.

Of course, because we’re trying to teach something new, this means Fido should not get unsupervised play time in the yard during these initial weeks lest do his business elsewhere while no one is watching.  In the event Fido does sneak away and leave his mark outside of the designated dog run area, don’t punish him for it.  Instead, your two weeks starts over and you now know you need to keep a better watch.

Once you’ve completed two weeks of consistent bathroom breaks in the designated area, you can lose the leash and move on to unaccompanied – but still supervised – bathroom breaks.  You will still need to monitor Fido in the backyard, and if you see him begin to wander to or sniff around an unauthorized location (by now you should be very familiar with your dog’s pre-bathroom routine), try a simple verbal interruption such as “hey!” to get his attention.  This alone could be enough to make him aware that he’s in the wrong spot.  If that’s not enough, personally bring him over to the dog run, give him his bathroom command, and wait nearby to make sure he uses it.  If you find yourself repeating this process, you may have to try another week of on-leash bathroom breaks before the habit sticks.

However, if Fido successfully and consistently uses his dog run, and you’ve got confidence that he’s learned this new habit, you can begin to slowly decreased your supervision; for example, from nearby in the yard, to on the deck, to at the doorway, to monitoring from inside, to no supervision at all.  At the final stage, you’ve got to trust that Fido is using his dog run 100% of the time without any help from you.  You can also begin to let your dog have his usual free time in the backyard, but remember to supervise him at first to ensure he keeps on track.  For those who have a dog who is prone to marking his territory, extra supervision will be required to ensure he’s not marking all over the yard, which can spread the scent and slowly lead to him using the whole yard as a bathroom area once again.

Of course, as simple as this sounds, dogs always seem to find the loopholes, and you may face challenges.

Some dogs may not readily take to the idea of going to the bathroom on gravel – or another surface – instead of grass.  As a result, to avoid using the dog run, you may find that your dog “holds it” until it’s time for the daily walk.  There are a couple of ways to get around this while still ensuring your dog gets his necessary exercise regime.

Knowing your dog’s typical bathroom routine can help.  If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the beginning of the walk, you can try walking around the block and then returning to the dog run for a bathroom break.  Repeat as necessary.  If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the middle or end of the walk, try breaking the daily one hour walk into two half-hour walks, finishing each with a supervised stop at the dog run.  Don’t forget to use your bathroom command.  If you’ve got to use these techniques, ensure your dog is only spending time in the yard during on-leash bathroom breaks.

If this still doesn’t work, try spacing out your walks (but maintain your typical feeding schedules).  For example, if you walk your dog from 7:00-8:00am on Tuesday, and then again at 9:00pm on Wednesday, your dog has still received an hour long walk each day, but now there is 37 hours between them – odds are your dog is going to need to go to the bathroom at least once during that time.  You just need to make sure you provide ample on-leash bathroom opportunities in the dog run during those 37 hours.

Of course, in the event your dog does do his business during the walk, don’t worry about it and certainly don’t punish him.  We don’t want to train our dogs into thinking there’s only one place in the entire world where they can go to the bathroom – just one specific place within in the confines of the yard.

If you’re worried about your dog opting to go to the bathroom inside the house in favour of the dog run, make sure he/she is supervised while in the house (perhaps by keeping him/her on hands-free/umbilical) and in a crate when unsupervised.

As your dog becomes comfortable and consistent with using his or her assigned bathroom area, ensure that the dog run is cleaned regularly, so your dog never thinks to look for a different, cleaner spot.  While scent is important to encourage dogs to use a specific bathroom area, an area that is too messy will discourage them from using it altogether.  It is also important to thoroughly rinse off the dog run once or twice per year to help control excessive odours.

Finally, as winter comes, ensure your dog still uses the same location even once it is snow-covered.  This will save you from having to re-train him or her every spring.

And of course, once you’ve trained your dog once, you can easily use the same process again to train him or her to go in another new location in the event you’re moving, going out of town, or simply relocating the dog run.

Happy training!

Sign available at jnmnt53's Etsy shop

To Ban the Breed?

To Ban the Breed?
Pit bull ownership: just another topic too controversial for the dinner table

Simply put, Ontario’s pit bull ban isn’t working.[i] Results of a recent (2010) survey reveal no significant drop in the number of dog bite incidents in Ontario since the provincial government passed breed specific legislation in 2005.[ii]

Similarly, studies in Great Britain and Spain have shown that their respective bans have had similar results (read: none). Further, the Spanish study found that the dog breeds most responsible for bites, both before and after implementing the bans, were by breeds not even covered by them.[iii] Of course, both of these jurisdictions are carrying on with their bans in place. 

The Toronto Humane Society’s spokesperson, Ian McConachie, sums it up when he says “dogs are not born violent… they are made that way by irresponsible owners who train them to be that way or neglect them and they develop behavioural problems. […] If we want to reduce the number of dog bites we have to address the root cause of the problem: those irresponsible owners who do not appropriately care for their animals”.[iv] 

So the question is what do we do now? Clearly there is a problem, and the misguided breed ban seems to be a failed solution. But where did this trend come from and why? What can really be done about these blood-thirsty unruly dogs and what apparently is becoming an epidemic? 

First, let face facts. As Clever Canines Behaviourist and Trainer Tracie Nielson teaches her clients, all dogs bite. There. It’s been said. Or perhaps more specifically, all dogs can and will bite given certain circumstances. Yes, even your kind-hearted Golden Retriever. So the cat (dog?) is out of the bag. When dogs and people interact, it can sometimes end in someone being injured. Now what? 

Well, in an attempt to curb the number of times a small child is met with the pointy end of 42 teeth, our benevolent public officials have taken it upon themselves to do what they do best: legislate. 

Like Dogs, Dog-Related Legislation Comes in Many Shapes and Sizes 

There are a number of different types of breed specific legislation, and canine-related laws span the globe. The most strict form is an outright breed ban where, under no circumstances, is one allowed to posses a dog of a particular breed. This is the type of ban present in Ontario. No one is allowed to own, breed, purchase, or import a pit bull. This legislation was grandfathered in to allow folks who already had pit bulls (or ones that were to be born within 9 months of the legislation coming into effect) to keep their pets, provided they spay/neuter them, only use a leash 1.8 metres long or less,[v] and muzzle them in public. In the event the dog is proved to have bitten or attacked anyone, or “posed a menace”, they are to be immediately euthanized. 

The City of Winnipeg is the only other place in Canada presently with breed specific legislation. Theirs dates back to 1990 and bans owning “Pit Bull dogs”, which are defined as “(i) Pit Bull Terrier; or (ii) Staffordshire Bull Terrier; or (iii) American Staffordshire Terrier; or (iv) American Pit Bull Terrier; or (v) Any dog which has the appearance and physical characteristics predominantly conforming to the standards for any of the above breeds, as established by the Canadian Kennel Club…”.[vi] 

In the alternative to breed bans, related legislation can also involve mandatory spaying/neutering, mandatory registration or licensing as a “dangerous dog” or similar status, breed specific insurance requirements, or size/weight restricts. For example, in Fairfield, Iowa, all dogs upwards of 100lbs are banned.[vii] These bans can apply to individual dogs with a history of aggression or to breeds as a whole. 

A group called the Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States compiled a list of all dog breeds for which there is some sort of ban or restriction somewhere in the United States, finding that there are 75 different restricted breeds the US, from the Airedale Terrier right down to the Wolf Spitz. I will give special mention to the following included breeds: Blue Heeler, English Springer Spaniel, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Komondor, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Pug, and Samoyed. 

Breed bans and restrictions are certainly not a North American phenomenon, either. Twelve countries in total have some sort of ban against pit bulls (pit bulls being the most common – and sometimes only – target of these types of bans). 

In Germany, ownership of pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, or bull terriers is banned and punishable by fines and a maximum of two years in prison. Great Britain authored its Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991,[viii] banning pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosas, Argentine Dogos, and Fila Brasilieros. The Ukraine has a Dangerous Breed List naming over 80 breeds, including several varieties of Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Livestock Guardian dogs, Boxers, Briars, Labrador Retrievers, Welsh Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs and their mixes. The Ukrainian resolution also includes compliance requirements such as mandatory insurance and micro-chipping, restricted leash length, and muzzling dogs in public places, and further allows adapting municipal laws to enforce even more restrictions. In Ecuador, ownership of pit bull-types and Rottweilers is banned, and Venezuela has legislation pending for 2014 to enforce a ban on “pit bull-type” dogs. 

Why the Ban? 

In the United States, because state and local jurisdictions are afforded broad police powers, including protecting the public’s safety and welfare, lawmakers have not had trouble finding that breed specific legislation is rationally related to the issue of public safety from allegedly dangerous breeds of dogs.[ix] 

The reasoning behind these breed bans is easy to figure out: when dogs and humans mix, sometimes someone winds up wounded. In the United States, approximately 800,000 people per year[x] seek medical attention due to a dog bite.[xi]  Breed specific bans are an attempt to pin-point the repeat offenders, or the most dangerous dogs in the eyes of the public, and protect us from these menaces.  The bans usually come about as a reaction to a highly-publicised fatal dog attack. 

But one could argue – and I do – that such bans are misguided, have over-simplified the situation, and neglect a number of important realities. Not to mention they don’t seem to actually be preventing dog bites and other injuries. 

Problems & Criticisms 

1. While we appreciate Big Brother looking out for our safety and well-being, based on the numbers of dog attacks, you’re about 20 times more likely to get struck by lightening than you are to be attacked by a pit bull.[xii] Just sayin’. 

2. As we’ve heard, all dogs bite. Not just pit bulls. And we can now see that the pit bull bans in Ontario and elsewhere have done nothing to reduce the number of reported dog bites over time. Simple bites aside, many attacks – and even fatalities – can be attributed to dogs whose breeds are not widely addressed by bans, and to ban one or two specific breeds and their mixes does nothing more than enforce an incorrect breed stereotype and encourage “breed profiling”. Most pit bull owners will be happy to attest that their dog is loyal, loving,[xiii] gentle, trainable, and a good working dog. In ban-free areas, pit bulls have been successful police and rescue dogs, as well as general service dogs. 

3. We largely have the media to thank for public concerns about pit bull ownership. It is not hyperbole to suggest that one is more likely to hear of a pit bull attack on the news than, say, a poodle attack. And no, that does not mean that poodles never attack. It just means that it takes some extra searching to find the story of the Daschund who killed the elderly woman,[xiv] or the Jack Russell Terrier responsible for the death of a six week old infant.[xv]  Of course, prominent in the story about the Jack Russell was the fact that the family owned a second dog – a pit bull. That the pit bull was not part of the attack was not mentioned. 

An American report on media bias by the National Canine Research Council[xvi] compared the type of media coverage given for dog attacks that occurred during a four day period in August 2007. On day one, a Labrador mix attacked an elderly man, sending him to the hospital. News stories of his attack appeared in one article in the local paper. On day two, a mixed breed dog fatally injured a child. The local paper ran two stories. On day three, another mixed breed dog attacked a child, sending him to the hospital. One article ran in the local paper. On day four, two pit bulls broke off their chains and attacked a woman trying to protect her small dog. She was hospitalized and her dog was uninjured. Nevertheless, this attack was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers, on the major cable news networks, and was reported in far more detail than the incidents of the first three days. 

It is not a stretch to see how such news coverage influences calls for breed bans from the frightened public and its legislators. 

4. The statistics often cited to justify a breed ban and as “proof” that pit bulls (and other breeds) are truly heartless killers are dubious at best.[xvii] 

One particular example I will note is the frequently referenced study by Merritt Clifton,[xviii] which pin points pit bulls as the most frequent offenders of dog bites and serious attacks. This study has several key problems. First, Clifton leaves attacks involving dogs whose breed was uncertain out of his study completely. Second, he starts with biased breed definition; why does he classify a dog as a “Pit bull/Lab mix” or a “Pit bull/Sheltie mix”, rather than Lab/Pit bull or a Sheltie/Pit bull? It appears that whenever one of the stereotypically “dangerous” breeds is in the mix (e.g. pit bull, Rottweiler, Akita), that breed is listed first and the bite or attack is accredited to the first breed and not the latter. This can definitely swing the results, and for Clifton to then tell us that pit bulls and their mixes are responsible for 74% of serious dog bites and attacks has to be taken with a grain of salt. Not to mention Clifton got his data pool solely from press reports and not hospital records or animal services, which, as noted above, is highly problematic, allowing media bias to influence his results. 

Statistics on dog-related fatalities are more readily available than just simple dog bite incidents, and in Canada between 1990 and 2007 there were 28 human fatalities attributed to dog attacks.[xix] While some dogs responsible are listed as an unknown breed or generally as a mix, not one death is specifically attributed to a pit bull. 

In addition, as the National Canine Research Centre reports, the majority of dog-bite statistics are misleading since they include a number of animal exposures such as nips from excited puppies, scratches from a dog’s nail or tooth, individuals who are bit helping an injured dog, or bites by police K9 professional dogs while on duty.[xx]  All incidents are tallied up under one heading, and the specific circumstances of each bite are not accounted for. 

5. Have we learned nothing from Michael Vick? Pit bulls have their unfortunate involvement in illegal dog fighting partly to thank for the reputation of the breed as a whole. This, of course, is not at the behest of the dogs themselves, but due to the irresponsible, cruel, and morally reprehensible folks who buy, breed, or “train” these dogs to be aggressive specifically for the purpose of fighting. Until more is done to prevent these activities and punish the participants, we simply need to remember that the population of pit bulls and other dogs used for this awful purpose is not an appropriate representation of all pit bulls. To think otherwise would actually be judging a book by its cover, as they say.[xxi] Cesar Millan[xxii] himself is a big advocate of avoiding breed stereotypes; dogs are dogs. 

6. Although breed bans are well-intentioned, they inherently assume breed is the most significant factor in dog bites and related incidents, when several other criteria should be taken into consideration when looking at the issue. 

For instance, it should be noted that most (77%) of dog bites and attacks involve the dog’s owner or a friend, and over half of the bites occur on the dog owner’s property. Children are the most frequent victims of dog attacks, and of the 28 Canadian fatalities mentioned above, 24 of them (or 85.7%) were children under the age of 12.[xxiii] 

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a study from Oregon which analyzed the number of overall dog bites was and found lower income neighbourhoods produced more biting dogs of all breeds, and fewer dogs that were neutered, which is considered to be another biting risk factor.[xxiv] 

Further, in Canada, instances of dog attacks are disproportionately higher when involving multiple dogs and dogs in rural areas.[xxv] (This is not the case in the US.) 

7. Once a ban is in place, problems with enforcement become an issue. Who determines whether a dog is one of the banned or regulated breeds, and what is the procedure for that determination? In North Salt Lake, Utah, the city manager has sole authority to make those decisions. In other places it is animal control officers or even the mayor; no special training in breed identification is required. Some places have implemented breed bans without any input from a veterinarian, which would presumably be expert to consult regarding identification of a dog’s breed). Ideally, I suppose, the advance of DNA analysis for dogs is becoming more available to remedy the current methods of “canine profiling” and arbitrary enforcement. But because, in the US at least, the government has the burden of proving that a suspect dog is one of the breeds banned,[xxvi] cities will have to seriously weigh whether or not they will pay the high cost of DNA tests or simply give up trying to enforce the ban.[xxvii] 

8. Of course, the common – and largely unsuccessful – objection to these and related breed bans has been that the legislation itself is unconstitutionally broad or vague, and the terms used (such as “pit bull” or “wolf-hybrid”) are poorly defined if at all. 

It was on these grounds in Cochrane v. Ontario (Attorney General)[xxviii] that one Ms. Cochrane sued to attempt to prevent enforcement of the Ontario ban. She also argued that allowing the Crown to introduce a veterinarian’s certificate certifying that the dog is a pit bull as evidence violates the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. In the end, the Court of Appeal[xxix] found that her “over-breadth” claim failed since the legislature had acted on a “reasonable apprehension of harm”, and disagreed that the definition of “pit bull” in the Act was insufficiently precise. The court restored the original wording of “pit bull terrier” in the ban on the basis that, when read in the context of “a more comprehensive definition”, the phrasing “pit bull terrier” was sufficiently precise. The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear further appeal and the thus ban is currently upheld in its original form.9. And finally, why are we banning dogs when it’s the owners we need to be addressing? Dogs do not bite without warning and rarely behave in an unpredictable manner. Dogs actually send very clear signals. As responsible owners (and ideally our dog’s Alpha figure), it is our duty to take steps to educate ourselves and learn to understand those signals. Dogs rarely bite without warning you first, and just because a human does not recognize that warning does not mean a ban on their existence is the only or best solution. A large number of dog bites and attacks could have easily been prevented with proper education. 

Further, dogs that have been labelled as “aggressive” or “dangerously insecure” often have mistreatment by owners to blame for their dispositions. In fact, National Canine Research Council reports that 84% of US dog attacks that took place in 2006 involved owners who abused or neglected their dogs, or failed to properly contain them.[xxx] Instead of legislating dogs by breed, we should be focusing on dog owners by competence. 

So What Now? 

Simple: better legislation. Or more specifically, better, owner-focused legislation that has nothing to do with dog breeds. 

Firstly, we can look at better enforcement of the dog ownership legislation currently in place. For example, the City of Calgary readily admits its animal by-laws are enforced on a complaint-only basis, when better enforcement of leash/dogs-at-large laws with adequate penalties for violators could help to curb the instances of dogs roaming loose or out of control. Calgary’s current animal by-laws limit leash length (2 metres/6 feet) and prohibit unsupervised tethering of dogs, which would be a step in the right direction if these laws were adequately upheld. 

There should be improvements to the laws that hold dog owners financially accountable for failure to adhere to animal control laws in place, and also hold them civilly and criminally liable for unjustified injuries or damage caused by their dogs. 

Instead of a breed ban, enact non-discriminatory dangerous dog legislation in its place.  Take, for example, the Michigan dog bite statute which specifies that “[i]f a dog bites a person, without provocation while the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the owner of the dog shall be liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness”.[xxxi]  A law like this or similar targets the behaviour and the owner, rather than the breed of the offending dog. 

Dog owners that have been found guilty of violating animal laws should be adequately punished and monitored in the future. This is an area that will need improvement, as Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act does not prevent a person from owning another dog after an incident. 

There should be harsher punishments for individuals found guilty of abusing or neglecting their pets, and they should be prohibited from owning future pets and be monitored. Currently in Canada, animal cruelty – other than upon cattle – is a “summary conviction” offence, and not a more serious “indictable” offence, meaning the accused is only “liable to a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for six months or to both”.[xxxii] Oddly enough, the penalty for uttering a threat to kill, poison or injure an animal that is the property of any person, is greater than actually being cruel to the animal, as it can be proceeded with as a indictable offence with attendant liability to imprisonment for a term of up to 24 months. 

We also need to address the existence of puppy mills, where dogs are being interbred and poorly cared for (both physically and socially). Cross-breeding within generations can create unhealthy and unstable dogs that are potentially very dangerous and prone to life-long behaviour issues regardless the amount of training and socialisation. Dogs removed from their parents too young (so they are still “cute” for the pet store window display) frequently arrive poorly socialised and may require extra training, care, and attention. 

In the US, where the population of abused, neglected, and rescue dogs is a serious problem, laws that mandate the sterilization of shelter animals and make low-cost sterilization services widely available are appropriate. 

And of course, proper training and socialisation for all dogs should be encouraged and promoted. While these services do not come cheap, perhaps discounted obedience for low income families could be offered by municipalities.[xxxiii] Or perhaps government tax breaks to a certain extent for pet owners is an option. Owner and community education when it comes to dog ownership and interaction is the best and most immediate solution to the problem. 

Once a ban is in place, by no means is it permanent. Legislation can be amended and reversed.  In April 2007, Italy revoked its dangerous breeds list and replaced it with laws holding owners more responsible for their pets’ actions.[xxxiv] In 2008 the Netherlands also revoked their fifteen-year ban on pit bulls, acknowledging that the ban was unsuccessful.[xxxv] Cincinnati also lifted their ban on pit bulls after finding the ban expensive to enforce ($160,000/year) and after a number of losses in court, including one instance where an owner sued after the seizure of American Bulldogs that were mistakenly identified as “pit bull mixes”.[xxxvi] 

In the Meantime… 

Until dog-related legislation makes rational sense and is properly enforced, there are some common sense steps the rest of us can take to avoid been a dog bite statistic and fuel for breed ban advocates. 

For Dog Owners: 

1. Train your dog! It’s very simple and is the best preventative measure. And this applies to owners of dogs of all breeds. Just because your Chihuahua is not big enough to bite deeper than the leg of someone’s pants, and can be picked up when he’s being a jerk, doesn’t mean he isn’t a dominant little bastard in need of some serious obedience training. According to animal behaviourist, Stanley Coren, Ph.D., when dogs are given a basic course in obedience training they are 89% less likely to be involved in a dog bite incident.[xxxvii] 

2. In relation to the above, avoid treat-training if you can. Now, I realise that suggestion opens up a whole different can of worms, but think of it this way: dogs who are constantly seeking food will be more likely to nip should someone’s small child still have the remains of his lunch on his face or hands. And then if his mother happens to report your otherwise friendly dog to animal services…. Well, the main point here is make sure you do not create a dog that is food-obsessed.[xxxviii] 

3. Be in control of all interactions between other people and your dog, or other dogs and your dog. Just because someone says “he’s so cute” or “I love dogs” does not mean they are automatically qualified to pet your dog. If your dog is too excited, or if the person makes you uncertain of how the greeting will go, it is okay – and recommended – that you simply not allow them to meet your dog and move on. If/when someone asks to pet your dog, it is okay to say no; they are not public property. 

4. Don’t leave your dog alone with children unattended. Ever. 

5. Don’t leave your dog tethered and unattended, whether it be outside of 7/11, in your yard, or in the box of your truck. You never know who will attempt to approach her or if she could possibly escape. 

6. Throw out your flexi-leash. You cannot control your dog (or keep them safe) when they’re 20 feet away. And it’s probably against the law anyway. 

7. Take steps to properly socialise your dog with other dogs and other people. A good training regiment will include this.[xxxix] 

8. If your dog does bite a person or another dog – no matter how serious – seek professional help to ensure it does not happen again.[xl] 

9. If you’re going to rescue a dog (through a shelter, rescue organization, or privately through adoption), do your research. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and you’re ready and willing to meet the challenges of the commitment you are about to make. Be prepared – financially and emotionally – to deal with any behaviour or health problems you may discover. 

10. If you’re going to get any dog, do your research; make sure you’re not supporting a puppy mill. 

11. Ensure your dog is properly exercised. Always. Interactions involving over-excited dogs with pent-up energy can often go south – quickly. 

12. Educate yourself about the laws and by-laws that affect you and your pet. If you see something you don’t like, canvass your representative for change. 

13. Be a courteous and responsible dog owner in general. Believe it or not, not everyone likes dogs, and sometimes they’re simply not appropriate to bring along with you. Make sure you always pick up after your dog. Also be sure to register your dog with the proper authorities. Those fees usually go to the maintenance of the municipal shelter and the dogs there, and the up-keep of your local off-leash parks – not to mention registration will ensure he’s returned should he get loose and reported to the local animal services. 

For Everyone Else: 

1. Never ever pet a dog without asking the owner first. Ever. Remember: all dogs have the capacity to bite. 

2. Never approach an unattended dog (even if they’re tethered). 

3. Never leave your children unattended with a dog and always closely monitor child-dog interactions. Note that children are the most frequent victims of dog attacks. Ensure your child remains calm and are not running around or screaming. Excited small children can trigger herding, protecting, correcting, and prey instincts in all breeds of dogs – all of which can lead to nipping, biting, or even attacks. 

4. When greeting a new dog, be calm. Teach your kids this. 

 5. Skip the baby talk: you’re just embarrassing yourself, the dog does not understand you, and it can cause excitement in the dog which can lead to jumping up and mouthing or nipping. 

6. If you’re scared of dogs and one is approaching, remain calm. Don’t scream, run, or stare at them in horror; simply move confidently away from them. If you’re scared of dogs, avoid off-leash parks. 

7. Don’t be afraid to report unruly or dangerous dogs, or dogs you suspect of being abused or neglected to the authorities. The animal by-laws are in place to protect you as well as the animals. 

This article has been reproduced with permission at CanadasGuidetoDogs.com and CleverCanines.ca.


Resources/Citations

[i]  The Toronto Sun, April 28, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/28/13747081.html
[ii]  Toronto Humane Society: http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/
[iii]  http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html
[iv]  The Toronto Sun, April 28, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/28/13747081.html
[v]  I completely agree. No dog ever needs a leash longer than 1.8 metres (approximately 6 feet), regardless of breed.
[vi]  The City of Winnipeg, The Pound By-Law No. 2443/79
[vii]  Read the ban here: http://cityoffairfieldiowa.com/utility/showArticle/?ObjectID=78&find=dog
[viii]  Northern Ireland has the same restrictions under the Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, 1991
[ix]  Campbell, Dana (July/August 2009). “Pit Bull Bans: The State of Breed–Specific Legislation”. GP-Solo (American Bar Association) 26 (5). http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html.
[x]  Consider when reading this that there are approximately 74.8 million dogs in the United States.
[xi]  http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/50238067.html[xii]     Ibid.
[xiii]  At the risk of humanising.
[xiv]  Walsh, Barry (2005-05-18). “Dog mauling victim dies”. Chronicle-Tribune (Marion, IN).
[xv]  “Kentucky Infant Killed by Family Dog” http://www.wbko.com/news/headlines/13946527.html
[xvi]  (2008) Full report available on this website: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/dog-bites-and-the-media/audience-interest
[xvii]  Always read the fine print.
[xviii]  Link to full text of study here: http://lassiegethelp.blogspot.com/2007/08/dangerous-breeds-dog-bite-statistics.html
[xix]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/
[xx]  http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/
[xxi]  You’re not supposed to do that.
[xxii]  Yes, the one and only Dog Whisperer. Highly recommended. Start with his book Cesar’s Way
[xxiii]   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/#b12-cvj49pg577
[xxiv]   http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/50238067.html 
[xxv]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/#b12-cvj49pg577 
[xxvi]  Under Ontario’s ban, it is actually the owner’s burden to prove their dog is not a pit bull. 
[xxvii]  http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html 
[xxviii]  2007 CanLII 9231 (ON S.C.) 
[xxix]  Cochrane v. Ontario (2008 ONCA 718) 
[xxx]  http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=1029 
[xxxi]   M.C.L. § 287.351; http://www.animallaw.info/articles/aruslweiss2001.htm#n47 
[xxxii]  Criminal Code, s.787. 
[xxxiii]  One could always argue that low-income people who cannot afford pets should not have them in the first place, but we all know this is nearly impossible to enforce and people are going to do what they’re going to do. It is no coincidence that dog bites in low-income neighbourhoods is disproportionately high, and something should be actively done to remedy the issue. 
[xxxiv]  http://network.bestfriends.org/10615/news.aspx 
[xxxv]  http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/newsandevents/stories/2008/08-08g.asp 
[xxxvi]  http://www.thedogpress.com/SideEffects/side_effects_leg_01.asp 
[xxxvii]  Quote from Dr. Coren, article from Canada.com, September 11, 2009. 
[xxxviii]  Or toy obsessed, for that matter. 
[xxxix]  See: www.clevercanines.ca  – all-encompassing dog training for dogs of any breed, age, or temperament. 
[xl]  Ibid.

Bloat / Gastric Torsion

Bloat / Gastric Torsion:
A Compilation of Available Information (or the lack thereof)

Prelude

Written after having an alarming episode of bloat with Moses (Newfoundland, 1½ years old at the time) in October 2009, the severity and unexpected nature of the experience prompted me to, in my typical fashion, immediately start to learn everything about bloat that I possibly could, and find an answer to my favourite question: why?  Thankfully, Moses survived and recovered well after his surgery.  Our emergency veterinarian credited our quick response and his young age to his speedy recovery.  And, for those of you who are curious, the surgery – at a 24 hour vet at midnight on a Friday – cost us $4,500.  But it’s Moses, and he’s absolutely worth it.

Moses’ x-ray:

Moses' x-ray

The information that follows is easy to come by.  As soon as Moses was in surgery, I began reading everything I could find.

Anyone who undertakes a similar task will likely meet the same frustrated realisation about the lack of empirical, scientific research concerning bloat/gastric torsion.  Many of the resources conflict and many are even internally inconsistent.  A lot is based on opinion and personal experience of reputable breeders, but there is limited information from the veterinary sciences.  The most quoted is the Purdue University study by Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD et al., which, while it does provide limited insight, still falls short of providing an understanding of the causes of bloat, and definitive methods of prevention for those of us with at-risk dogs.

One resounding fact is that any actual causes of bloat remain unknown, despite the multitude of speculations.  Even the renowned Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan’s website simply states “the causes of bloat are not yet well understood”.

My ultimate goal then was to compile the research and information on bloat available to the layperson.  This will undoubtedly expose the shortfalls, but more importantly, I aim to educate fellow dog owners to the best of my ability.

I also specifically note I cannot claim any authority or expertise with respect to the enclosed information.  I do not have a degree in veterinary medicine or anything of the sort.  On the whole, most of the information below is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  The Purdue study results are easy to find and oft-cited by breeders and kennel clubs, and what is mostly found is the same information repeated over and over.  In addition, I have inquired of three different veterinarians on the issue: our emergency vet from Vancouver, our two local veterinarians, and another local vet here who came highly recommended.  The bottom line remains, and they all agree: there is no known cause of bloat, yet it statistically remains the second leading killer of dogs.  No theories on the cause of bloat have been scientifically proven and all seem to be only partially true.

What is “bloat”?

Bloat is a generic term for two occurrences:

1.  Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV): the accumulation of gas and fluid in the stomach that cannot be expelled.  GDV can and often does escalate to Gastric Torsion.

2.  Gastric Torsion:  the rapid enlargement of the stomach caused by the twisting of the stomach in such a way that it is impossible for contained gases and fluid to escape.  GDV may result in a stomach that is rotated by anywhere from 90° to 360°.

GDV results in physiological changes that create a medical and surgical emergency. Changes are both localized (limited to the organs involved, i.e. the stomach and the spleen) and systemic (affecting other vital organs in the body).  Increased pressure inside the stomach causes blood flow there to slow and eventually stop.  Severe torsion can tear the short branches of the artery between the spleen and the stomach, thus increasing the potential for necrosis (death of cells) of the stomach wall.  Displacement of the spleen can cause blood clots in the blood vessels there or even torsion of the spleen.  Obstruction of blood flow from these abdominal organs to the heart causes systemic changes.  The rapid and often massive reduction of blood returning to the heart reduces cardiac output and therefore deprives tissues of sufficient nutrients and oxygen.  Furthermore, the abdominal organs become engorged with blood, which makes the intestines more permeable to the bacteria and bacterial products within them, thus releasing bacteria and their toxic substances (endotoxin) into the bloodstream.  The reduced blood flow to the heart, coupled with the circulation of substances released from the pancreas, spleen and other organs severely impair cardiac functions, and cause cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).  Blood flow to the kidneys falls which increases the risk of acute kidney damage.  A condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC, a life threatening bleeding disorder of the blood clotting mechanism) may occur. Finally, the stomach and/or intestines may perforate, resulting in the contamination of the abdominal cavity with stomach contents and bacteria. A combination of shock, septic peritonitis (acute and painful inflammation of the membranes lining the abdominal and organ walls), and DIC, together with multiple organ failures, results in death within hours of the initial signs of bloat.

A diagram of how the stomach bloats:

How the stomach bloats

Treatment

In a simple case of GDV, in which the stomach fills with gas, the veterinarian will insert a tube down the throat, relieve the gas, pump out the stomach and give the stomach a thorough washing.  Acute GDV or torsion requires immediate veterinary care and surgery.  Post-operative treatment for shock often requires prolonged hospitalization.  In the case of torsion, the stomach is surgically “tacked down” to the body wall to prevent the twist from occurring again (called “gastroplexy”), because once a dog suffers from bloat, there is a 75 to 90% chance it will happen again, often within days of the first attack.  After the stomach has been “tacked down”, the chances of torsion occurring again are reported to be between 2 and 6%.

The reported mortality rates in dogs suffering from bloat ranges from 10 to 60%, even with treatment.  With surgery, the mortality rate is reported between 15 to 33%.  If tissue damage is so bad that part of the stomach must be removed during surgery, the mortality rate is said to be between 28 and 38%.  If the tissue damage is so bad that the spleen must be removed, the mortality rate is 32 to 38%.

The immediate aim of surgery is to return the stomach to its normal position and to evaluate it and the spleen for signs of irreversible damage (such as tissue necrosis – cell death).  Long-standing or severe twisting may occasionally cause necrosis in portions of the esophagus (the food canal down the throat).  If so, chances for survival are poor.  If gastric perforation at any site (perforation of the organ wall) has occurred, then the chance for survival is extremely poor.  Barring any sign of irreversible damage, the veterinarian will perform gastropexy.  There are a number of techniques of gastropexy, and debate continues as to which method is more effective. The fact that there is still heated debate in the techniques indicates that none is currently totally satisfactory.  Medical and dietary management after GDV is important to help prevent recurrence.

Diagnosing Bloat

If you think your dog is suffering from bloat, the most important thing is to get him/her to a vet immediately for treatment.  Call your veterinary clinic to tell them you’re on your way with a suspected case of bloat.  Early diagnosis and treatment are the most important factors for a successful outcome and speedy recovery.

Symptoms to watch for include extreme restlessness, excessive panting, salivation, drooling, and unsuccessful attempts to vomit or defecate.  The dog may whine, and will seem to have trouble getting comfortable.  As the condition progresses, the stomach area appears swollen and distended.  Bloat can usually be detected when you make the dog stand up and you gently feel his/her abdomen.  The abdomen should feel soft and tapered inward when the dog is relaxed; with bloat, the abdomen feels hard, and will have a hollow “thump” when gently tapped.  Rapid breathing, pale-coloured mouth membranes, and collapse are signs of shock due to a more advanced phase of bloat.  High numbers of dogs with bloat have cardiac arrhythmias (40% according to one study).  

If bloat is untreated, the dog will die within hours, and in a worst-case scenario, the dog may die within 30 minutes of the first recognised symptom.  Sometimes a dog will progress from bloat to torsion in minutes, so do not attempt home remedies yourself: get him/her to a veterinarian immediately.

Of course, because immediate treatment is the most important factor in a favourable prognosis, it is a good idea to know where your local emergency veterinary clinic is located and the quickest routes there.  If you’re not convinced your dog has bloat, it is better to err on the side of caution.

Which dogs are at risk for bloat?

Breed

While any dog can suffer from bloat/gastric torsion, it is largely agreed that large-chested breeds are at the greatest risk for bloat.  According to the University of Purdue, the following breeds, in order, have the most reported incidents of bloat:

1.         Great Dane
2.         Saint Bernard
3.         Weimaraner
4.         Irish Setter
5.         Gordon Setter
6.         Standard Poodle
7.         Bassett Hound
8.         Doberman Pinscher
9.         Old English Sheepdog
10.       German Shorthaired Pointer
11.       Newfoundland
12.       German Shepherd
13.       Airedale Terrier
14.       Alaskan Malamute
15.       Chesapeake Bay Retriever
16.       Boxer
17.       Collie
18.       Labrador Retriever
19.       English Springer Spaniel
20.       Samoyed
21.       Dachshund
22.       Golden Retriever
23.       Rottweiler
24.       Mixed
25.       Miniature Poodle

The sources are split on whether or not bloat is a hereditary condition, and some even disagree with themselves on this issue, stating that while bloat is not hereditary, you shouldn’t breed dogs with a history of bloat.  The Purdue University study suggests that the incidence of GDV is closely correlated to the depth and width of the dog’s chest, and several different genes from the parents determine these traits.  If both parents have particularly deep and narrow chests, then it is highly likely that their offspring will have deep and narrow chests and the resulting problems that may go with it. 

Age

The Purdue University study concluded that dogs over 7 years of age are more than twice as likely to develop gastric torsion than dogs 2-4 years old.  Some believe that the ligaments that hold the stomach in its normal position stretch with age, causing the increased risk.  This does not mean bloat in young dogs is unheard of, and stories of bloat in young puppies thought to have over-eaten are common.

Sex

While many sources report that male dogs are at an increased risk for bloat, many other sources report that male and female dogs are at an equal risk.  It is widely agreed that spaying/neutering your dog has no impact on the dog’s potential for bloat.

Non-genetic factors which may or may not affect the risk of bloat

The other factors which may or may not have an impact on the risk of bloat are largely disagreed upon from one source to the next.  Most, if not all, have no scientific backing or research evidencing the claim, and many are simply based on common sense or personal experiences.  It is important to note that since the veterinary community acknowledges there is no known “cause” for bloat, much of the following is speculation.

Eating Habits

The Purdue study suggests that dogs fed once a day were twice as likely to develop bloat as those fed twice per day, and it is widely recommended to feed your dog 2 or 3 smaller meals per day.  The reasoning behind this is that dogs that eat more hurriedly are at a greater risk for bloat because they gulp air.  Smaller, more frequent meals will help prevent this.  All three vets I spoke to recommended this as a basic preventative measure, although doing so will not guarantee prevention of gastric torsion, and many dogs who are fed two or more meals in a day have still experienced bloat.  It is also recommended that dogs be fed individually if possible and in a quiet location.  Dietary changes should be made over the course of 3-5 days.

Raised Food/Water Dishes

As the older sources demonstrate, it used to be widely believed that feeding your dog from raised food and water dishes was an important measure to help reduce the risk of bloat, and many breeders still recommend this practice.  However, recent studies suggest that eating off raised dishes actually significantly increases the risk of bloat, with some sources suggesting the risk is increased as much as 200%.  It appears that the more recent sources (2007 and newer) seem to agree that eating off of raised dishes is not recommended, and the Purdue research says that dogs at an increased risk should eat at floor level.

Access to Water

While opinions here differ, it is often suggested that providing your dog constant access to water throughout the day will help prevent bloat – perhaps because it will prevent them from becoming overly thirsty and gulping water.  However, a number of sources recommend limiting the dog’s access to water during meals and shortly thereafter.

Exercise

While the cause of bloat is unknown, all sources consulted agree that vigorous exercise, excitement, and stress should be avoided after meals for up to two hours.  Cases of stomach torsion resulting from a dog engaging in high-energy activity after a meal are common according to the vets consulted.

Temperament

The Purdue University study advises that dogs that tend to be more aggressive, fearful, or anxious appear to be at an increased risk of developing bloat.

Weight

It is often reported that dogs that are lean or underweight are at an increased risk for bloat.  Some believe it is because fat takes up space in the abdomen allowing less space for the stomach to “rotate” or move around, but there is really no scientific basis for this suggestion.

Stress

Many sources agree that stress, such as that which occurs during kennelling, can be a significant factor in the increased risk of bloat.  There are many reported cases of dogs experiencing bloat following their first meal once returning home after a major surgical procedure. 

Gas

There is believed to be a relationship between dogs with intestinal gas and dogs that bloat. Dogs that belch or have frequent bouts of flatulence are believed to be at an increased risk.  Whether the cause is due to physiology or diet is not speculated upon.  Many sources recommend avoiding feeding foods that are known to cause flatulence, including beans, peas, onions, beet pulp, etc, as a preventative measure.  Many sources also recommend avoiding soy in a dog’s diet, while there still has been no study that links soy with bloat.  Some sources also advocate the feeding of large pieces of fresh/raw fruits and vegetables (e.g. apples, oranges, carrots) 3 to 4 times a week, effectively adding roughage, to ensure the digestive system functions properly.

Some people even give their dogs over-the-counter anti-flatulent (simethecone products such as Gas X®), just before or after they put their dogs through stressful situations.  It may also be useful when the dog appears to have a lot of gas.  Some sources even suggest providing your dog with anti-flatulent drugs as a short-term remedy for GDV, as it may help as long as torsion hasn’t already begun.  While this and a number of other home-remedies are sometimes discussed, no treatment is equivalent to proper veterinary care.

Diet

When asked, all three veterinarians I spoke to informed me that there is no correlation between diet and instances of bloat, and no scientific research exists to suggest such a relationship.  Despite the hypotheses from a large number or sources, no specific diet or dietary ingredient has been proven to be associated with bloat.  The Purdue study also states that at this time, no cause-and-result relationships between dietary factors and bloat have been established.

It is sometimes suggested that feeding your dog a raw diet may aid in the prevention of bloat, although there is no study supporting this, and there have still been many reports of dogs on raw, natural, or BARF diets that have experienced bloat.  A raw diet is not an insurance policy against bloat.

One source suggests that the raw diet is beneficial because it does not expand in the stomach and is digested faster, thus remaining in the dog’s stomach for a shorter period of time.  On the other hand, it has also been reported that some dogs fed wet or raw food were actually more likely to bloat due to the increased speed at which they ate.  Many studies have found little difference between wet, raw, and dry foods and their effect on bloat.

There has also been speculation regarding specific ingredients in dog food and their relationship to bloat, and many websites advocate avoid feeding your dog food preserved with citric acid, or foods with an oil or fat listed among the first four ingredients.  A nested case-control study was conducted with 85 GDV cases (and 194 controls) consuming a single brand and variety of dry food.  Neither an increasing number of animal-protein ingredients nor an increasing number of soy and cereal ingredients among the first four ingredients significantly influenced GDV risk.  It was found that dry foods containing an oil or fat ingredient (e.g., sunflower oil, animal fat) among the first four ingredients seemed to be associated with an increased risk (2.4 times more likely) of GDV.  These findings suggest that the feeding of dry dog foods that list oils or fats among the first four label ingredients predispose a high-risk dog to GDV, but this is based only on a single study, and more research must be done to confirm the finding.

For those feeding dry dog foods – kibble – the sources seem split on whether or not you should moisten the food prior to feeding or not, as a prevention of bloat.  Many sources say moistening food preserved with citric acid will increase the risk of bloat, while others recommend you moisten the food so it expands before reaching the dog’s stomach.  Again, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established with respect to kibble and bloat.  Occurrences of GDV are still reported even when kibble is moistened prior to being fed.

Basically, and according to the veterinarians spoken to, it is simply advisable to feed your dog a quality diet regardless of any speculations concerning bloat, simply for all the other overall health benefits provided to your dog.

Vaccinations and Bloat

It is reported that the instances of bloat in dogs have increased significantly since the 1960s.  According to one source, this increase is unlikely to reflect changing diagnostic criteria, disease recognition, or genetic factors, but that it could be related to changes in canine vaccines or their pattern of use (i.e. multivalent vaccines).  One specific example speaks of a breeder in the U.S.A. of Standard Poodles who had major problems with bloat in her dogs when multiple modified live virus vaccines started to be given as a matter of course.  When she stopped giving these vaccines and followed a vaccine protocol of giving only single killed vaccines, she stopped getting bloat in her Poodles.

However, there seems to be no study dedicated to this issue, and it appears to be speculation without much evidentiary backing.

Is Bloat a Neurological Disease?

Only one source touched on this possible issue, and suggests that neurotoxins in the environment have begun affecting the production of the hormone motilin in dogs. 

Motilin is an important factor in controlling the pattern of smooth muscle contractions in the upper gastrointestinal tract in dogs.  It is controlled by the central nervous system and is secreted into the circulation at intervals of every one hundred minutes to sweep out undigested material from the stomach and small intestine.  Motilin also stimulates secretions of bile and pancreatic enzymes into the duodenum. 

The study cited suggests that neurotoxic chemicals, which now persist in the residential environment due to pesticide use, bioaccumulate (meaning the chemicals are taken up and stored in fatty tissue faster than they are metabolized or excreted) in the bodies of our canine companions (and ourselves, for that matter).  Recent studies show that such chemicals are consistently present in the air, rain and surface waters, suggesting a long environmental half-life.  These pesticides (neurotoxins) build up in the dog’s body to lead to the degradation of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to improper and insufficient release of motilin, thus increasing the risk of bloat.

Preventing Bloat

Since the causes of bloat are virtually unknown, it is nearly impossible to prevent it and many dogs that would seem to be at a low risk for bloat still manage to get it. 

All veterinarians spoken to recommend feeding more frequent, small meals throughout the day as a common-sense preventative measure.  They also recommend keeping exercise and activity to a minimum after meals. 

As for the other possible factors listed above, they are left to personal preference and judgment.

One preventative option recommended by some parties is to have your dog in for gastroplexy (stomach tacking) before the first instance of bloat occurs.  Provided the stitches heal properly, once the stomach is tacked to the side cavity, it cannot flip, therefore preventing torsion.  To get this done in advance – often when the dog gets spayed or neutered – is significantly less expensive than to proceed with late-night surgery at an emergency clinic (not surprisingly, most bloat cases occur after 6:00pm).

One source mentions that for dogs known to be highly susceptible to GDV (e.g. ones that have already bloated before), owners may wish to discuss the use of medicinal prevention (such as Metoclopramide Hydrochloride, or Reglan®) with their veterinarian.  The medicine is widely used in humans after abdominal surgery to combat painful intestinal flatulence.  It chemically decompresses the stomach and intestines, forcing the gas out.  Like all drugs, there are side effects, so the benefits and problems of long term use should be carefully weighed and discussed.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there are very few conclusions concerning bloat at present.  Most importantly, it is a serious medical situation which can be faced by any dog and any owner.  Ultimately, and regardless of any preventative measures taken, or how low-risk you believe your dog to be, the most important thing is to be aware of the signs and symptoms so you can respond quickly when you suspect your dog may be suffering from gastric torsion.

References / Further Reading

  • The Pet Health Library: Bloat, the Mother of All Emergencies
    www.veterinarypartner.com
  • Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana:  http://www.vet.purdue.edu/epi/update2.htm
    or:  http://www.vet.purdue.edu/epi/bloat.htm
  • Effect of Ingredients in Dry Dog Foods on the Risk of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs:  Malathi Raghavan, DVM, PhD, Nita W. Glickman, MPH, PhD and Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH
  • Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs.  Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH; Nita W. Glickman, MS, MPH; Diana B. Schellenberg, MS; Malathi Raghavan, DVM; Tana Lee, BA  (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 217, No. 10, November 15, 2000)
  • Understanding Bloat and Torsion: http://www.kifka.com/Elektrik/Bloat.htm
  • www.totallyrawdogfood.com
  • Newfoundland Dog Health: http://www.newfoundlanddog-health.info/bloat.htm
  • The Dog Owner’s Guide: http://www.canismajor.com/dog/bloat.html
  • http://www.briard.com/about/bloat.html  
  • Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America: http://www.bmdca.org/health/Miscellaneous/Gastric_Dilatation_Volvulus_Bloat.php
  • Meyer-Lindenberg A., Harder A., Fehr M., Luerssen D., Brunnberg L. Treatment of gastric dilatation-volvulus and a rapid method for prevention of relapse in dogs: 134 cases (1988-1991) Journal of the AVMA, Vol 23, No 9, Nov 1 1993, 1301-1307.
  • Beck, J.J., Staatz, A.J., Pelsue, D.H., Kudnig, S.T., MacPhail, C.M., Seim H.B, and Monnet, E. Risk factors associated with short-term outcome and development of perioperative complications in dogs undergoing surgery because of gastric dilatation-volvulus: 166 cases (1992-2003). Journal of the AVMA, Vol 229, No 12, December 15, 2006, p 1934-1939
  • Brockman D.J., BVSc, CVR, CSAO, MRCVS, “Gastric Dilation-Volvulus Syndrome in the Dog”, Pedigree Breeder Forum, Vol 3 # 3, 19-23, 1994
  • Woolfson J.M. and Kostolich M., Sch Vet Med, Tufts Univ, “Circumcostal Gastropexy: Clinical Use of the Technique in Dogs With Gastric Dilation-Volvulus”, JAAHA 22:825-830.
  • Hall J.A., College of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University, “Gastric Dilation-Volvulus is Associated With Altered Gastric Electro-Electromechanical Activity”, Proc Ann ACVIM Forum, 1990.

Electronic copies of this article can be found at CanadasGuidetoDogs.com and the Tail Blazers website.  I post it here as I am the author.