Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV or “Bloat”). By Laura McLain Madsen, DVM

Bloat is a scary word for many dog owners. You might have heard of people’s beloved pets dying from bloat, also called torsion, gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV.

GDV is a rapidly life-threatening condition. The name literally means: gastric = stomach, dilatation = distended, and volvulus= twisting. In GDV, the stomach fills up with air to an enormous size, and twists around on itself. The stomach, which would normally be around the size of a softball, swells up to basketball-sized. When it twists around, it cuts off its own blood supply as well as the blood supply to the spleen. A dog with bloat will rapidly become shocky as the stomach and spleen start to die from lack of blood flow and oxygen.

What causes bloat?

There are many causes of bloat, but important risk factors include:

  • Breed: Bloat can occur in any breed but is more common in large- and giant-breed dogs: St. Bernards, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Akitas, Mastiffs and Great Danes.
  • Age: Middle-aged to senior dogs.
  • Body structure: Dogs with a narrow, deep chest (such as Dobermans and Standard Poodles) and thin or underweight dogs.
  • Genetics: Dogs with a closely-related dog (e.g., sire, dam, littermate) who has bloated.
  • Feeding habits: Dogs who eat only one large meal per day, eat from a raised dish, exercise or play immediately after eating, “wolf down” their food rapidly, or who eat only dry kibble.
  • Personality: Higher-stress or anxious dogs.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of GDV in dogs include pacing, restlessness, drooling, retching, trying to vomit but not bringing up anything, panting, weakness, and a rapid heart rate (you can feel the heart beat on the side of the chest behind the elbow). Later, as the stomach fills up with air, you can see the belly distending, and it may feel hollow and tight like a beach ball.

What is the treatment of bloat?

If you suspect your dog may be bloated, take him to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible. The veterinarian will perform a physical examination and take x-rays. If the exam and x-rays confirm GDV, the dog requires immediate treatment. The veterinarian will start pain medications and treatment for shock, and may pass a stomach tube through the mouth into the stomach to relieve pressure. Surgery will be required to untwist the stomach, assess the stomach and spleen, and “tack” the stomach to the body wall to prevent future episodes of GDV.

How can bloat be prevented?

If you have a dog at high risk of bloating, there are several measures to decrease his risk:

  • Feed multiple, smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Prevent the dog from exercise or rough play for an hour after eating.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about having the “tacking” surgery performed as an elective procedure. This surgery, called gastropexy, prevents the stomach from twisting around itself.
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV or “Bloat”). By Laura McLain Madsen, DVM
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