The Dangers of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)

All About Bloat and Torsion in Dogs (GDV)

Radiographic Image of Bloat or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)
Ventral-dorsal radiograph of dog with GDV: The stomach is distended with food and the intestines are dilated with gas - note the white outline of the large, round stomach. Image courtesy of Georgia Veterinary Specialists

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), commonly called bloat, is an emergency medical condition that is seen most commonly in large and giant breed dogs. This is a life-threatening situation that occurs when the stomach fills with gas and/or food, expands, and then rotates, trapping gas inside the stomach and cutting off blood supply to the stomach and spleen. As pressure builds up in the stomach and cannot be released, the stomach tissue becomes necrotic (dies) and the stomach can even rupture.

The expansion of the stomach also has a serious effect on the heart and lungs, causing difficulty breathing and abnormal heart rhythm.

What Are the Signs of Bloat in Dogs?

Most dogs will go into shock soon after the signs of GDV are seen. Death can occur within a matter of hours (or less). The most common signs of GDV include the following:

  • Distended (bloated) abdomen
  • Unproductive retching / heaving
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Excess salivation
  • Heavy panting
  • Restlessness / pacing
  • Pale gums

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should go to a veterinarian immediately, especially if you have a large dog. Some dogs will experience gastric dilation (bloating) without the volvulus (torsion / twisting) – these dogs still need immediate veterinary attention. Either way, catching this condition early enough will increase your dog’s chances of survival.

What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

Many studies have been done to determine the causes of GDV, but researchers are still not completely certain why the condition occurs.

However, most experts agree that the following circumstances may increase a dog’s risk for GDV:

  • Breed (large or giant)
  • Large, deep chest
  • Gulping food / eating too quickly
  • High activity following large meals
  • Feeding only one meal a day
  • Stress / anxiety
  • Thin body condition
  • Genetic predisposition

It is without question that certain dog breeds are predisposed to GDV.

According to most studies, the most common dog breeds at risk for GDV are large, deep-chested dogs including (but NOT limited to) Great Danes, Weimaraners, Standard Poodles and Saint Bernards.

Can GDV Be Prevented?

There are many theories about GDV prevention though studies have contradicted these methods throughout the years. One of the most surefire ways to prevent GDV is prophylactic gastropexy, an elective surgery that involves tacking the stomach to the body wall. This can often be performed during the routine spay or neuter of a young dog. Prophylactic gastropexy is highly effective at preventing GDV, but it can also be quite expensive. Some surgeons also offer laparoscopic gastropexy – this procedure involves the insertion of rigid cameras through tiny incisions. It is less risky than traditional surgery, but may be more expensive. Prophylactic gastropexy is usually only recommended in dogs that are considered at risk for GDV. Talk to your veterinarian about the available options for your dog.

Other preventative measures are up for debate. Not all experts agree on the efficacy of the following methods, so please discuss them with your veterinarian:

  • Eating two or more meals per day
  • Eating more slowly (some dog bowls are designed to slow down eating, but do not always work)
  • Avoiding vigorous exercise after meals
  • Adding canned food to the regular diet
  • Elevating the food and water bowls (some research shows that this may actually increase the risk for GDV)

Beyond prophylactic gastropexy, the most important thing you can do is to observe you dog closely. Watch for any changes or signs of illness and report them to your veterinarian. Once again, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to discuss prevention with your veterinarian.

Learn more: GDV Treatment for Dogs