With the holiday season right around the corner, the thought of eating oversized, high-calorie meals is probably on a lot of people’s minds (for better or worse). But for most dogs, eating a large meal is probably on their mind all the time, holiday season or not. Yes, dogs love to get into food, beyond what’s given to them in their doggie dishes, and recently Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital has seen an above-average number of dogs that have done just that. From getting into the cat’s free feeder, to eating human party food left on a counter, to breaking into a cabinet where 8 pounds of dog food was stored, to entering a neighbor’s doggie door and gobbling up another pup’s food, we have seen quite a variety of overeaters lately. And while for people, apart from a bit of indigestion, eating a big feast might not seem that much of a problem, going on a food binge can become very serious very quickly for our canine counterparts.
When a dog has overeaten, many owners will notice their dogs acting restless and unable to lie down in a comfortable position. They may also start panting, drooling or even acting like they want to vomit (including frequent retching, with little to no food being brought up). The most telltale sign, however, is a distended abdomen that is hard to the touch. If you observe any of these symptoms, act quickly and bring your dog to your regular veterinarian during the day or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital after hours. These symptoms can also be signs of an even more serious problem called GDV, in which the stomach can twist in your pet’s abdomen.
Overeating causes the pain receptors in a dog’s stomach to stretch, which in turn causes the discomfort they experience. The majority of ingested food is usually very dry in the stomach, so fluids from other parts of the body are often absorbed into the stomach, potentially causing your pet to become dehydrated quickly. The GI tract is also considered a shock organ, so any compromise to blood flow or fluid volumes is a serious concern.
In an overeating situation, when your pet arrives at our Charlottesville vet hospital, baseline radiographs are taken to see the size of the stomach, and additional radiographs are usually taken at 12 hours and 24 hours after presentation. An IV catheter is placed, and your dog is started on IV fluids and pain medications. We also tape-measure your dog’s abdomen to monitor changes in size and walk them every hour to help increase blood flow to the GI tract. Your dog’s heart rate and pulse are also monitored every hour. Inducing your dog to vomit when their abdomen is distended is usually contraindicated, as it could potentially rupture the stomach. In addition, with the stomach so distended, it can be difficult for them to vomit.
In more severe cases, depending on how your pet is doing, he/she may be sedated to have the stomach lavaged (which is sort of like stomach pumping) to help remove food. If foreign material is suspected or the food cannot be removed with tubing, surgery may be warranted. Thankfully, with aggressive fluid therapy and support care, most dogs do well after 24 hours.
In any case, be sure to take appropriate measures to keep your dog from getting into unintended food sources, and take caution the next time your pet overeats — as a “food bloat” can be far more serious than it looks.
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