top of page

Battling Bloat: A Guide to Preventing and Managing Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV).

Updated: May 6

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), also known as Gastric Torsion or Bloat, is a life-threatening condition that can happen to any dog breed of any age, but it typically occurs in deep-chested, larger breeds, such as German Shepherds. Bloat (GDV) occurs when the stomach fills with air and possibly food (dilates rapidly) and twists, cutting off the blood supply to the intestines and preventing blood from returning to the heart. This results in tissue death quickly if not treated immediately by emergency surgery. More often seen in German Shepherds, particularly older male German Shepherds 7 to 12 years of age, bloat has become more common in dogs as they've been bred for an increasingly slimmer physique.

We here at Woody's Place Senior German Shepherd Sanctuary have encountered bloat several times over the years, with more incidents happening in males than females.

In this blog post, we will discuss bloat, how to prevent it, and what to do if your senior German Shepherd bloats.

Senior German Shepherds are at risk of bloating because their deep chests allow for large amounts of food and water consumption without difficulty; this puts them at a higher risk than other breeds that have shorter digestive tracts, like a toy poodle who has a limited capacity for larger intakes of food and water. Other factors that make older German Shepherds at risk for bloat include but are not limited to:

* Being male

* Deep, narrow chest

* History of bloat

* Digestive issues

* Cancer

* Drinking too much, especially after eating

* Running and playing right after eating

* Wetting food with citric acid as an ingredient

* An all-kibble diet* Eating too fast

* Eating one large meal a day

* Being stressed/nervous/high-strung

Bloat can be very scary, and it's crucial to know the signs and how to deal with it quickly so your senior German Shepherd has the best shot at surviving this horrible event.

 Symptoms of Bloat include but may not be limited to:

* Drooling

* Retching

* Restlessness/pacing

* Inability to lie down

* Vomiting small amounts of foam

* Posturing to have a bowel movement, but nothing comes out

* Weakness

* Pale gums

* Elevated heart rate

* Weak pulse

* Can't breathe

* Abdominal distension

* Collapse/unresponsive

Given the severity of bloat in senior German Shepherds, the best thing you can do is take steps to prevent it from happening altogether. That being said, we have done everything right in the past and still have had it happen to us twice without immediately being able to determine why. It was later determined that cancer was the underlying cause, particularly stomach cancer. So please, don't beat yourself up if you do everything by the book and your senior German Shepherd still bloats because sometimes, it's out of our hands.

How to prevent bloat the best you can:

* Feed your senior German Shepherd smaller meals more frequently throughout the day instead of one large meal

* DO NOT wet kibble that has citric acid as an ingredient

* Prevent your dog from guzzling water, especially after eating

* Add wet food to kibble

* Don't change their diet rapidly if they have a sensitive stomach

* Prohibit your dog from eating too quickly

* Do NOT elevate your dog's food dish (studies show this is NOT a good thing)

* Don't feed your dog anything that may upset his stomach

* Provide probiotics regularly

* Limit activity 1 hour before and after eating

* Do not feed your dog when highly stressed. IE. during a thunderstorm

* Try to alleviate stress

* Address known digestive issues

* Have your dog's stomach tacked. More about that below

Treatment for bloat.

Time is of the essence here, folks. I can't stress that enough. If you suspect that your senior German Shepherd is bloating, it is imperative that you get immediate medical attention. It is quite literally a race against the clock.

If you suspect bloat, call your veterinarian immediately and tell them what is happening. They will have you come in right away and may even be waiting for you outside with a gurney upon arrival...yes that's how serious this is.

Upon receiving medical attention, your older German Shepherd will undergo IV insertion and stomach decompression, along with the administration of pain relief. Subsequently, blood tests and X-rays will be conducted to diagnose the condition as bloat. Once confirmed, the medical team will carry out surgical intervention.

If caught early enough and there are no underlying issues, the survival rate is about 90 to 95%. However, if a portion of the stomach and intestines is found to have died off at the time of surgery, the survival rate decreases to 50%.

Three times, we experienced a survival rate of only 30 percent. Based on this data, we made the choice to forego surgery and instead opt for humane euthanasia.

Side note. Sometimes, the spleen gets caught up in the twisting and may also need to be removed. When Woody bloated, that happened to him, and he did relatively fine with having a splenectomy.

Another side note. If you opt to have the surgery, that's a good time to ensure a Gastropexy is performed so twisting can't happen in the future.

Gastropexy is when the veterinarian tacks the dog's stomach down to prevent it from twisting in the future. This is essential because, once your senior German Shepherd bloats, they are predisposed to it happening again in the future.

Note: Gastropexy can be performed at any time, so you don't have to wait until it's an emergency.

Once your senior German Shepherd is home from surgery, he will be wiped out, so be sure to give him the time he needs to recover without pushing him to do more than he can.

When Woody bloated at 11 years of age, he made it through the surgery, but it took him almost a month to recover. Sadly, shortly after that, his Degenerative Myelopathy reared its ugly head, which I swear was accelerated by the whole bloat ordeal.

It's essential to keep your dog calm while he recovers. While he is recovering, try to reevaluate what caused him to bloat in the first place. If you can pinpoint what led to the unpleasant event, make any necessary adjustments to prevent it from happening again.

Woody bloated because we had just moved to our new home that day, which happened to be during a scary thunderstorm, and he was petrified of thunderstorms. In addition, someone was giving him treats he normally didn't have, unbeknownst to me, so I could pretty much figure out what caused his bloat.

In conclusion, bloat is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Do not wait to call your veterinarian if you suspect bloat. To those who know what to look for, bloat can be obvious, but it can also be challenging to determine the cause. It can be as simple as overeating or something more serious like stomach cancer.

If you notice any changes in your senior German Shepherd that look like bloat, stay calm and seek medical help.

To listen to the coinciding podcast, click on the link:

***** Disclaimer: Throughout the "20 Most Common Health Issues in Senior German Shepherds" series, each blog post is expressed explicitly from our point of view and is not to be substituted for the professional medical expertise of your trusted veterinarian.


bottom of page