Bloat, gastric dilation volvulus, or GDV—no matter what you call it, this dangerous condition is considered the mother of all veterinary emergencies. When gastric dilation volvulus (GDV) occurs, emergency stabilization and surgery are essential for survival. Neighborhood Veterinary Centers want all dog owners—especially those with large, giant, or deep-chested dogs—to know and understand the following five facts about GDV.  

#1: GDV occurs when the dog’s stomach fills with gas and rotates

Understanding what happens during GDV can help pet owners recognize the warning signs and the urgency for emergency veterinary care. 

During GDV, the dog’s stomach distends with gas or food, and then rotates or flips, compressing its own blood vessels and trapping its contents inside. The expanding stomach then affects other nearby structures, including the caudal vena cava (i.e., the large vessel that returns blood to the heart) and the spleen, and causes widespread shock and severe pain. Left untreated, dogs experience rapid deterioration and death.

#2: Affected dogs experience rapid and progressive signs

If you’re concerned or questioning whether your dog is suffering from bloat, be safe, and visit Neighborhood Veterinary Centers for a full exam—whenever you are in doubt, your dog should be checked out. Once warning signs appear, GDV is a race against the clock. Fortunately, once owners are familiar with the classic clinical signs, recognizing a potentially bloating dog is relatively easy.

Typical GDV signs include:

  • Unproductive vomiting (i.e., retching, dry heaving)
  • Visibly enlarged abdomen
  • Repeated play-bow or praying position
  • Restlessness, anxiousness, or visible distress
  • Panting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Drooling
  • Pale gums 
  • Weakness and collapse

#3: Any dog can bloat, but deep-chested and large-breed dogs are most susceptible

Although GDV’s exact cause is unknown, experts have isolated several risk factors that increase its likelihood, including:

  • Being a large- or giant-breed dog (e.g., Great Dane, Saint Bernard, weimaraner, boxer, German shepherd dog) 
  • Having a deep chest
  • Increased age
  • Eating from elevated bowls
  • Having a close family member with GDV
  • Eating rapidly 
  • Consuming food or water in large quantities
  • Having a nervous or anxious personality

Owners with at-risk dogs should stay alert for bloat signs and consider preventive measures, such as gastropexy surgery.

#4: Emergency surgery is the only treatment for dogs with GDV

When our veterinary team suspects GDV, we will quickly stabilize the patient and determine an accurate diagnosis. Abdominal X-ray is a fast and effective way to confirm whether the dog’s stomach is only enlarged (i.e., simple bloat, food bloat, or gastric dilation) or has also rotated (i.e., gastric dilation volvulus). If we confirm GDV and the patient is stabilized, we ready them for anesthesia. During surgery, the veterinarian returns the stomach to the correct orientation, feeds an orogastric tube through the pet’s mouth to decompress the stomach and empty its contents, and assesses the stomach and other organs for damage. Compromised or dead tissue is removed and splenectomy is often required.

The surgery concludes with a gastropexy, a simple procedure in which the stomach is sutured (i.e., tacked) to the abdominal body wall to prevent future rotation. Dogs who develop GDV once are at increased risk for a second occurence, often within hours, so we perform a gastropexy to eliminate this threat, although simple bloat may still occur. Fortunately, gastric dilation alone is not an emergency and is easily treated with fluids and other strategies to enhance  gastrointestinal motility.

#5: Gastropexy is the best way to prevent GDV in at-risk dogs

The internet is filled with propositions and methods for reducing GDV risk. However, gastropexy surgery, which can be performed at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers, is the only way to ensure your at-risk dog’s safety. Gastropexy is a safe, relatively quick procedure that can be combined with a spay or neuter surgery, or can be performed as a stand-alone procedure and at any age. 

Additional GDV preventive strategies include:

  • Slowing your pet’s food intake (e.g., using a slow-feeder bowl)
  • Adding moisture (e.g., water, wet food) to the diet
  • Exercising at least one to two hours after feeding
  • Feeding smaller meals throughout the day
  • Preventing large food or water intake

GDV is a cruel condition that strikes without warning and gives owners little time to think or respond. If you’re concerned about your dog’s condition, do not wait or wonder if or when—take action. Immediately contact your trusted southeast Texas veterinary team, Neighborhood Veterinary Centers, for emergency assistance.