Stefanie asked a good question...
What is the recommendation for feeding and exercising a dog - especially for deep-chested breeds that are prone to bloat? Is it better to walk a dog first thing in the morning and then wait and hour and feed him/her or feed first, wait an hour and then exercise?
This is a condition that I have personal experience with. When I was 16 we had a German shepherd that had to be euthanized because he developed bloat. We had gotten him when I was three years old, so it was hard for me as that was my friend as I grew up.
For those who aren't aware, let me describe what is commonly called "bloat" in dogs. The proper medical name is gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV. In this condition the stomach twists, either rotating along it's axis or flipping 180 degrees. In either case, the inflow and outflow of the stomach are closed off resulting in gasses building up inside the stomach. This can cause difficulty breathing as the stomach balloons against the diaphragm, but more importantly pressure against the wall of the stomach can cut off the blood supply and lead to a rupture. As can be imagined, this is a critical condition and dogs can die quickly once it begins.
Dogs that bloat most commonly act and look like they swallowed a large beach ball. Their abdomen becomes large and tense, their gums can become pale, they will become suddenly lethargic, and will usually act like they are gagging or retching. If you see your dog act like this with a bloated belly, consider this a life-or-death emergency and see a vet immediately.
Though this can theoretically happen in any dog, there are definitely certain breeds that are more prone to GDV. These breeds include English bulldogs, Weimaraners, Rottweilers, German shepherds, Great Danes, and any other large, deep-chested breed. Though it seems like it's a genetic breed tendency, it's really more a factor of the anatomy of these breeds based on their size and shape. Studies have looked at how to prevent it, and there is really only one thing that has been shown to significantly increase the risk--exercise after filling the stomach with food or water. So take a dog of the right size and breed, fill their stomach with food or water, then let them run around a lot. That's a formula for bloat.
Here are precautions to take to help prevent this deadly condition:
* Wait at least one hour after eating or drinking before allowing exercise. This is the main factor shown to prevent bloat.
* Don't encourage your dog to roll over. Though a low risk, the twisting action has been shown to lead to bloat. In fact, some veterinarians do not rotate a dog over their back while anesthetized due to this risk.
* Feed 2-3 meals during the day rather than one large meal. However, be sure that you're taking the measured amount of daily food and dividing it into the meals rather than giving the once daily amount two or three times.
* Don't allow excessive water drinking immediately before or after a meal. Abnormal amounts of water have the potential to delay breakdown of food and lead to gas production.
* DO NOT raise the food bowl. While this was at one time thought to prevent bloat, a study in 2000 showed that this can actually increase the risk.
* Dogs who have had episodes of GDV are at risk for further occurrences. A surgery can be performed to attach the outside lining of the stomach to the body wall (gastropexy). While this doesn't completely prevent the stomach from rotating, it does lower the risk. Some advocate having this surgery performed routinely on high-risk breeds, but personally I disagree. Even in breeds that are prone to bloat most will never have this happen, and I don't think the benefits of the procedure (since it's not a guarantee that it will never happen) outweigh the risks. Remember, this is only in cases of preventative surgery. I certainly do think that it should be done in a dog who has bloated once since they show a personal tendency.
Stefanie, I hope this fully answers your question. This is a horrible thing to happen, and I hope it never happens to one of your dogs.