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Akita Bloat

Bloat, sometimes referred to as Killer Bloat, is a serious medical condition that is related to the ingestion of food.  This can happen to any dog; however large breeds are much more prone to this, including the Akita.  Some of the other breeds that are prone include the Boxer and Great Dane.  Both the Japanese and American types are prone to this, without either having a higher rate of occurrence.

The medical term for bloat is Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, GDV for short.
What This Is

Akita bloatIt is a condition that can usually come on very quickly.   The stomach expands and actually twists.  This is very serious and painful…As it becomes worse and worse, the normal blood supply to the surrounding organs is cut off (the spleen is most affected)…And with some dogs, the stomach actually ruptures.

Studies have shown that this occurs to approximately 5 out of every 1000 dogs (including all purebreds and mixes).  Older dogs are more prone (over the age of 7).

With the blood supply cut off, the dog goes into shock and without treatment, this is fatal.

What Causes This

Many people, owners and breeders alike, believe that this only can occur if the Akita eats too much food, or ingests it too quickly.  While this is one cause, there are others.  Some other possible reasons for this are following:

Due to a genetic disorder, from birth, the dog’s stomach is slightly out of position which causes it to be vulnerable to the twisting that occurs.

The pylorus (the part of the stomach that connects to the small intestines)  is impaired,which in a worsened condition, prevents ingested food from leaving the stomach to be digested.  Essentially trapped, bacteria begin to form and the bloat develops.

Stress – It is thought that a dog that is nervous or suffering from anxiety can be more prone to gulping a large amount of air while quickly eating their food.   The air, when compressed begins to trigger the bloat.

Non Food Objects – The ingestion of any non-food objects can cause havoc on the body.  Aside from bloat (the twisting of the stomach), blockage can occur.  Owners should routinely proof the home...Scan the floors and any surfaces within your puppy or dog’s reach.  Pick up any small items.  Dogs investigate by mouthing…So anything is up for grabs…Keys, shoelaces, small crumples of paper, etc.

However, from our experience and by health records, we can say that this will most often occur due to 2 factors:
  • Eating too quickly
  • Exercising too soon after a meal (within 1 hour)
So, with this in mind,  it can be  - to a large extent – avoided.


Let’s first look at the issue of eating too quickly. This is extremely common for just about every healthy dog.  They wolf down their meals in a minute, if not mere seconds.   It’s very typical for them to behave as if they haven’t eaten for days and as if the food you place down may just be their last meal.   There are a couple of ways to help with this.

- Dividing meal times – As we discuss in our food section, this breed does best when adults are fed 2 times per day.  It is common for other dogs to eat just once. 

However, for the Akita the spacing out of the feedings will aid with the possible issue of bloat AND it is beneficial to their particular needs regarding the digestive system.

- Fasting - Also as discussed in our feeding section is the need to give an Akita 1 day of fasting per week.  This is not a full fast.   An owner will offer mainly fruits.  This breed needs a day in which the stomach (and digestive system) is allowed a rest.

- Bowls - It is highly recommended to only feed meals from a special type of bowl which is one that promotes slow ingestion.  

While styles will vary, the goal remains the same: There is a center cone and/or other safe barriers that spread out the food into different sections.  This causes the Akita to slow down. They must work their way around the barriers a bit to get at what they want.  It can increase the time spent eating from 2 minutes to 7 – 8 which is quite good and a fantastic way to help to prevent this from ever happening.

Now, let’s look at the issue of activity.  This breed, while big and strong, is not overly active.  They do, however, require at least 1 walk per day of moderate walking at a brisk pace to maintain muscle and overall health.  While it will vary by age, the average adult should be taken out for at least 30 minutes. Puppies, while more hyper,  will receive plenty of activity playing around…and overexerting them can interfere with the development of growth plates…Therefore, 1 walk per day is best for them as well.

After eating a meal, 1 hour minimum, of no exercising should be given, to allow the food to settle and work its way through the intestinal system.  This does not mean that your Akita must stay still. It only means that purpose, moderate to heavy activity should not be allowed.  This would include running in the yard, going for the daily walk, etc.

The Signs and Symptoms

Immediate treatment is needed if your Akita were to develop bloat.  It is fatal in many cases. For this reason, we encourage all owners to be very aware of the signs.   Your dog may show 1 …OR all of the following:

Agitation - They will behave in an anxious way… nervous, unable to rest, seeming to be uncomfortable. The Akita breed is infamous for a very high pain tolerance which can make noticing signs of a health issue not an easy task.  Be very aware of his or her normal behavior and make note if something seems off.

Vomiting  and/or Forced Elimination -  Triggered by the terrible happenings in the stomach, vomiting or dry heaving can occur. The dog may also try and force a bowel movement in a desperate attempt to find relief from the pain and swelling.

Not Drinking -  If this is to occur, most will refuse to drink , the body will not want to accept any food or water.

Salivating/ Drooling - As we mentioned above, since the Akita rarely shows pain, he or she may not whine as many other dog breeds will.  However, drooling is a sign that there is distress in the stomach.

Swelling - As the condition worsens, the stomach will bloat (hence the name).  If it reaches this point, you may only have minutes to seek professional help.  Dogs can succumb to shock soon after this point and the next phase is either coma or death.

What to Do If You Suspect Bloat

Act fast.  If you are wrong, so be it.  If you are right, you will have saved your dog’s life. Do not waste time wondering what is wrong. Do not waste time keeping an eye on him to see if he improves.

Immediately bring your Akita to the closest animal hospital or veterinarian, this means it may not be your regular vet.  Approximately 35% of canines with bloat will die.  We cannot overstate the importance of immediate care.

What Will Be Done

Surgery is needed.  If surgery is not done, this highly increases the chances of this happening again. So, when the veterinarian asks for your consent, we highly recommend saying yes.  This can be scary, particularly if you had to bring your Akita to a vet that you do not know.  Everything is happening quickly and you want to make the right decisions.  While it is ultimately your choice and obviously there is no time to check out the vet’s credentials, without the operation the stomach will be extremely prone to a re-occurrence within a short amount of time.

Attempts will be made to stabilize the dog before anything is done, this includes treatment if they have gone into shock and efforts to steady blood pressure.   During the operation, the goal will be to move the dog’s stomach back into its normal position,  remove necrotic tissue (surrounding tissue that is dead or dying due to the bloat) and to perform what is known as a gastropexy.

During this procedure, the stomach will be connected to the abdominal wall cavity, which works to greatly prevent this from happening again.  For those that survive and have this surgery, the chance of bloat occurring again is a small 4.4 percent.  For those that do not have this done,  that number flies up to a scary 55 percent.

Bed rest and very light meals will be required for 7 to 10 days afterward.

Survival Rate

This depends on the dog’s overall health, but in large part depends on how quickly professional medical intervention can be given. It also is dependent on how experienced the veterinarian is in performing this particular operation and dealing with this serious medical issue. 

Since this breed is prone to this, we suggest that owners speak to their vet about this subject to learn of his or her experience. If they are located far from home, we suggest asking for a recommendation for a facility as close to home as possible, for any cases of emergency and making contact with them to find out about their credentials.

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