Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus

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Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus

If you have a large breed dog, you’ve likely heard the term “bloat” or “GDV”. This is for good reason, as GDV is one of the most serious conditions encountered in veterinary medicine. It can be rapidly and devastatingly fatal for many pets. But what is GDV or bloat? What can you do to prevent it? Keep reading to learn about the “mother of all emergencies”- gastric dilatation and volvulus.

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What is Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus?

GDV or “bloat”, is a commonly occurring emergency condition that most often affects large breed, deep-chested, and older dogs. In this condition, the stomach becomes distended (mostly filled with air) and twists inside the abdomen. This is incredibly painful and uncomfortable for the dog. When this happens, damage is often done to the surrounding organs such as the spleen. Blood supply is cut off to the stomach as well as many other organs in the body. Because of these problems, GDV is often rapidly fatal if intervention and treatment aren’t performed immediately.

How is GDV treated?

Without rapid treatment (minutes to hours), GDV can be a painful and fatal condition in dogs. Treatment includes addressing the underlying problem, which is the stomach being stretched and enlarged, as well as it being twisted and cutting off normal blood supply. Care should be sought with urgency, where a veterinarian will assess the pet.

Diagnosis is often made on presentation and confirmed with x-rays. Aggressive care starts immediately to treat the systemic shock of the patient, which includes IV fluids, as well as decompressing the stomach (removing trapped air) if possible.

Surgery is performed to untwist the stomach and repair damage to surrounding tissues. This might include removing the spleen as it normally sits near the stomach and is often severely damaged. Additionally, sections of the stomach that did not receive enough oxygen may need to be removed. These procedures add to the severity of the condition and the critical nature of the recovery.

Secondary problems like blood loss, abnormal heart rhythms, and decreased gastrointestinal motility (intestinal movements) are all addressed in the patient if needed.

In all cases, however, one thing remains the same: the earlier the pet is treated, the more likely they are to survive. Even in uncomplicated cases with quick and aggressive care, GDV kills almost 1 out of every 5 dogs it affects.

What dogs are at increased risk of developing GDV?

Certain breeds are commonly affected with GDV. Typically, this includes those with deep and wide chest cavities. Breeds seen most frequently include Great Danes, St. Bernards, Mastiffs, German Shepherd Dogs, Boxers, Weimaraners, Bassett Hounds, and Standard Poodles. Any dog of any breed, however, can develop GDV.

GDV seems to affect geriatric or senior dogs most commonly. It is unknown why some dogs develop GDV, while others do not. GDV can also occur shortly after eating a meal (within a few hours), although it can develop at any time.

Other known risk factors of GDV include:

  • Weight over 100 pounds
  • Older age group (7 years of age and up)
  • Underweight or thin body condition
  • Having a nervous or anxious temperament
  • Feeding only one meal a day
  • History of family member developing GDV (mother/father/brother/sister)
  • Rapidly eating meals

What can decrease the risk of my dog developing GDV?

  • Feeding multiple (at least two) meals a day
  • Easy-going personality or relaxed temperament
  • Adding wet or canned food to meals
  • Feeding a dry food containing a calcium-rich meat meal (such as meat/lamb meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal, meat meal, or bone meal) listed in the first four ingredients of the ingredient list

Can I prevent my dog from getting a GDV?

Although there isn’t a therapy that prevents GDV 100% of the time, there is a procedure that can drastically reduce the risk of it happening. A prophylactic (preventative) gastropexy can be performed in large breed dogs at around 1-2 years of age, decreasing their chance of developing this condition.

A gastropexy is a procedure in which the outer layer of the stomach is sutured to the inner muscular layer of the abdominal wall. As this heals and scar tissue is formed, the stomach is permanently attached to the inside of the dog’s abdomen. This, ideally, prevents the stomach from twisting, which is the most damaging component of a GDV. In dogs that have a GDV and are treated with surgery, a gastropexy is performed to reduce the risk of this recurring in the same patient.

If you happen to own one of the high-risk breeds discussed, or have a concern your pet may develop GDV, speak with your vet about performing a preventative gastropexy.

Read more:

Everything You Need to Know About Vomiting in Dogs

Help! Why is my dog vomiting blood?

Stomach Ulcers in Dogs and Cats

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Published: 11/13/2020
Last updated: 11/11/2021

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