Great Danes are ranked #1 in bloat risk.
Since Great Danes have such a high risk, raised dog food bowls have been commonly recommended to help lower the risk. But is a Great Dane elevated food bowl really a good idea? This question is the source of a spirited debate among Great Dane owners and breeders. But let’s start by looking at the heart of the debate.
The problem is gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), commonly known as BLOAT. When I first heard the term “bloat” it didn’t sound like something that would be a big deal. I mean after eating a Thanksgiving dinner I always feel like I have bloat, but after a short nap I feel better and am back at the pecan pie.
The term, “bloat” sounds kind of funny, but I soon learned that this condition was no laughing matter when Bobbi, our Dalmatian, developed a case of bloat. Just a few days before Christmas, Bobbi was clearly uncomfortable and drooling—not something Dalmatians normally do. It was a Saturday night, so we had to take her to the Urgent Care vet. (Why do these things always happen on an evening or weekend when the normal vet is closed!? But I digress.)
I figured she just ate something out of the garbage that didn’t agree with her, so I was shocked when the vet came out and told me that Bobbi had GDV and would likely die within a few hours unless she had immediate surgery.
We’d had Bobbi since she was a tiny pup and she was a part of the family. So even though the cost of the surgery was not in our budget, Grandpa kicked in and our story had a happy ending.
The surgery gave us many more fun-filled years with Bobbi in our family, but it was a wakeup call for us to learn more about bloat, especially when our next several dogs after Bobbi were Great Danes, the top-ranked dog for risk of GDV.
So What Exactly is Bloat?
Gastric dilatation-volvulus is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal system when the stomach gets twisted and flipped causing blockage that leads to the stomach filling with gas and distending. As the stomach distends it presses on the diaphragm making it difficult to breath. The pressure can also lead to shock as blood flow is restricted to the coronary system. Left untreated it will lead to shock and death.
What Causes Bloat?
Hot food, cold food, too much food, too much exercise after eating, drinking ice water, drinking water after eating, anxiety, big kibble, little kibble, and the list goes on. The problem is that no one has been able to put a definitive finger on the exact causes of the condition. There is no shortage of opinions and folklore, but even the AKC admits “This question has perplexed veterinarians since they first identified the disease.”
One long-standing opinion on the prevention of bloat in Great Danes has been the practice of using raised feeding bowls.
One long-standing opinion on the prevention of bloat in Great Danes has been the practice of using raised feeding bowls. The logic being that the raised bowl puts the food in a more comfortable position making it easier for the Dane to eat. This is what we were taught and have practiced for many years. However, there is scientific information that may debunk this age-old piece of wisdom.
Does a Raised Feeding Bowl INCREASE the risk of Bloat!?
A study performed by the School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University says, “Yes” a raised feeding bowl is a contributing factor to bloat in large breed dogs. (This study was done in 2000, on 1,637 large and giant breed dogs, not exclusively Great Danes.)
Below is an extract from the report of the study as published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: (emphasis mine)
Factors significantly associated with an increased risk of GDV were increasing age, having a first-degree relative with a history of GDV, having a faster speed of eating, and having a raised feeding bowl. Approximately 20 and 52% of cases of GDV among the large breed and giant breed dogs, respectively, were attributed to having a raised feed bowl.
(J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:1492–1499)
That’s 52% of cases in giant breed dogs were attributed to having a raised feeding bowl!
This goes against everything I’ve been told about raised feeding bowls! To put it mildly I was shocked. Even the AKC now holds the position that in light of these findings they can’t make a clear recommendation. It seems that it can no longer be said with any certainty that raised feeding bowls will decrease the risk of bloat. In fact it appears to be quite the opposite!
This study and further research has changed my thinking on using a raised feeding bowl for Lucy. Even though we can’t know exactly what causes bloat, there are some things we can do to reduce the risk.
If an Elevated Feeding Bowl doesn’t Reduce the risk of Bloat, What Will?
We all want to do what’s best for our beloved Great Danes. If the study shows that a raised feeding bowl can now be considered a risk factor, what can I do to reduce the risk?
- Before buying a Great Dane check the family history for instances of bloat.
- Feed smaller portions, 2-3 times a day rather than one big meal.
- Prevent speed eating or drinking.
- Ensure your Dane gets plenty of exercise and maintains a healthy body weight.
For us, we’ve fed our Danes from an elevated bowl for years and have subscribed to the traditional wisdom of feeding from a raised bowl, no water after feeding, and limited activity after feeding. However after reading the results of the scientific studies I’m lowering Lucy’s bowl and paying closer attention to how fast she drinks. While she doesn’t eat much or quickly she is fast and furious when it comes to drinking water, which seems to be a contributing factor.
I moved Lucy to a much lower, but still slightly raised feeding bowl. Like the one pictured here. It will move the rim of her bowl from 24″ down to 11″. I feel this is a good compromise between comfort and good health.
The results of this study came as a surprise to me. It has shifted my focus off of certain practices and onto others. I will continue to be a student of this topic and will post any new studies that I find.
The Bottom Line
Be aware of bloat and know the symptoms. In addition to a distended stomach, if you see unproductive retching, restless pacing, or excessive drooling get to a vet as quickly as possible.
Discuss GDV with your vet at your next visit to find out their recommendation on the altitude of your feeding bowl and any other precautions you can take to reduce the risk of bloat in your Great Dane.
Once you know the facts and have discussed the topic with your vet, you’ll have to decide what’s best for your pup, but it looks to me like the long-time practice of a raised bowl is not longer a good idea!
Let me know what you think about this study from Purdue and if it’s changed or affirmed your practices.
Remember, we’re in this together!
Perdue Study results:
AKC position on GVD
Reduce risk factors: