Bloat or GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) in dogs

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Bloat or GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) in dogs

A dog with bloat or GDV is a true emergency. GDV is a sudden and potentially fatal condition in dogs that develops when the stomach becomes distended (dilates) and rotates within the abdomen (volvulus). It is sometimes referred to as a twisted stomach, or bloat. GDV is similar to bloat, where gas, liquid or solids accumulate excessively in the stomach. Twisting of the stomach prevents the dogs being able to vomit or expel gas. It also cuts off the blood supply to the stomach, spleen, which can lead to circulatory shock and death. Read more about GDV in this article.

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Causes of bloat in dogs

Whilst the exact cause of bloat in dogs is unknown, a variety of risk factors are thought to contribute, such as genetics, anatomy and the environment. Only a number of these risk factors can be managed. Large breeds of dog with deep and narrow chests are most at risk, for example, Great Danes, Saint Bernards and Boxers. Male dogs are more at risk than females. Stress, a nervous temperament, and being underweight are additional risk factors. Bloat is also more commonly seen in middle to older aged animals.

Potential risk factors factors for bloat include:

  • Large portion sizes

  • Feeding once a day

  • Eating fast

  • Exercising after eating

  • Eating from a raised bowl

  • Eating dry food that has been mixed with water

  • Gorging

  • A previous episode of bloat

Signs of bloat in dogs

  • Anxious behaviour

  • Restlessness

  • Rapid or laboured breathing

  • Excessive drooling

  • Retching or attempting to vomit without bringing anything up

  • Enlarged/swollen/bloated abdomen

  • Abdominal pain

  • Depression

  • Collapse

Treatment of bloat in dogs

Your dog must be taken to a veterinary clinic immediately and without delay. This condition requires hospitalisation and aggressive treatment. Diagnostic tests, such as x-rays and blood tests will help to assess the severity and plan treatment.

Bloat causes blood flow to be compromised so your vet will initially stabilise the circulatory system by putting your dog on a fluid drip. Next, the bloated stomach is decompressed by passing a tube through the mouth and down into the stomach. However, if the stomach is twisted this may not always be possible. If the stomach is twisted surgery will be required to untwist the stomach, return any displaced internal organs back to their normal positions and assess any damage. The stomach will be permanently, surgically attached to the wall of the abdomen to prevent it from twisting again. This surgical procedure is called a gastro-pexy.

This surgery is often risky because the patient is usually unwell to start with and the organs are compromised due to lack of oxygenation where blood supply has been cut off as the stomach has twisted. There is a risk with both the anaesthesia and complications at the surgical site e.g. infection and breakdown of the wound.

After surgery, your dog will require hospitalisation for supportive therapy including continued fluid therapy, painkillers and other supportive medication, as well as monitoring for potential complications. Your dog will be discharged from hospitalisation one the pain is controlled and they are bright and eating again. Activity must be restricted for two weeks whilst the surgical site heals; activity must be limited to short lead walks for toileting only.

Unfortunately, it is possible for this condition to be fatal despite treatment. Fatality is often due to the damage suffered by the internal organs as a result of the twisted stomach.

Having had a previous episode of bloat or GDV will also make a dog more prone to further episodes. However, in these cases, surgical treatment is available, which involves permanently securing the position of the stomach with the aim of preventing twisting (volvulus). This surgical procedure does not prevent dilation (bloat). Please see the treatment section below for further details.

How to prevent bloat in dogs

Feeding advice:

  • Avoid strenuous exercise after eating and drinking

  • Ensure your dog eats slowly

  • Feed frequent small meals, rather than infrequent large portions

  • Discourage your dog from drinking large volumes of water in one go

  • Do not mix dry food with water

  • Avoid diets with a very high fat or oil content

Elective surgical fixation of the stomach to the abdominal wall may be done in certain dogs to prevent GDV from occurring.

When to see a vet

  • Sudden onset unproductive retching or attempts to vomit, typically shortly after eating a meal

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Enlarged/bloated stomach

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Published: 09/10/2019
Last updated: 21/05/2021

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