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Gastric Dilation Volvulus and What You Need To Know

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, otherwise known as Bloat, Gastric Torsion, or GDV, is a life-threatening medical condition that is the second leading cause of death in dogs behind cancer. It is a condition primarily found in large dogs with deep chests, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, St. Bernards, Boxers, Basset Hounds, and Weimaraners, to name a few. However, that is not to say that other dogs can’t succumb to GDV as well because any dog with a history (hereditary) of GDV is potentially susceptible.

What physically happens to a dog when GDV strikes? The dog’s stomach becomes filled with contents such as excessive gas, food, water, and even foam, causing it to distend to abnormal proportions (this is the dilation or bloat part of GDV). Next, the stomach twists (this is the volvulus or torsion part), thereby trapping the excess gas and other contents inside the stomach. When this happens, there is no way for the dog to alleviate the pressure because the stomach has twisted so much (sometimes the rotation is 360 degrees) that there is no way the dog can vomit or even belch. As the GDV progresses (which is usually quite rapid), the stomach begins to put pressure on all the surrounding organs. Additionally, no blood can pass through the stomach lining, which means there is a greater risk for hypotension, decreased blood return to the heart, and decreased blood flow to other bodily organs, some of which help remove toxins and absorb bacteria from the blood.

GDV is so detrimental to your dog’s health that if not treated immediately, it can lead to blood poisoning, peritonitis, and even death.

What causes Gastric Dilatation Volvulus in dogs? As mentioned previously, hereditary and physical design can make one dog more prone to GDV than another. There are additional factors such as:

  • Being an older male dog

  • Eating kibble only

  • Eating one large meal a day

  • Eating quickly

  • Eating or drinking too much at one time

  • Eating then exercising too soon after

  • Eating or drinking out of an elevated bowl

  • A dog who has a nervous personality

  • Dogs with a history of underlying digestive issues

What are the symptoms of Gastric Dilatation Volvulus in dogs?

  • Restlessness

  • Pacing

  • Crying/whining

  • Inability or unwillingness to lay down

  • Panting and possibly drooling

  • Trying to vomit

  • Trying to release their bowels

  • Lethargy

  • If the dog can eliminate, consistency changes in feces and possibly blood.

  • Gagging

  • Teeth clenched

  • Pale gums

  • Foam around mouth

  • Stomach distention

  • Rapid heartbeat

Right click on this image to save to your computer. You can then print it out and keep in where you will see it.

Right-click on this image to save it to your computer. You can print it out and keep it where you will see it.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Gastric Dilation Volvulus.

It can not be stated enough that time is of the essence if you suspect your dog is bloating. DO NOT WAIT TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP BECAUSE YOUR DOG’S LIFE DEPENDS ON IT! Some vets recommend keeping Simethicone (Gas X) on hand and giving it to your dog at the first signs of GDV while transporting your dog to the ER vet. A typical dosage for larger dogs is 80 milligrams but check with your vet first. Once your dog is in the care of a medical team, they will do a physical, run blood work, and take X-rays to determine whether or not your dog is experiencing GDV or if it is something else. They will also decompress your dog’s stomach and possibly give him pain medication, steroids, and IV fluids. If your dog has stomach dilation alone, then a long tube will be inserted through his mouth to alleviate the pressure in the stomach. If it is full-blown GDV, your dog will require surgery to correct the condition, or he will surely perish within 24 hours or less.

Your dog has survived the surgery; now what? Once your dog has experienced GDV, he will be prone to it again. The good news is that during the surgery, your dog’s medical team should have performed a surgical procedure in which the stomach is sutured to the abdominal wall or the diaphragm to ensure that it stays in place. The surgery is called gastropexy. So, while your dog’s stomach may dilate in the future, it won’t twist.

Sometimes when your dog is young and getting spayed or neutered, the medical team will ask you if you want your dog’s stomach tacked down while they already have your dog under anesthesia. Preventing GDV is the reason they are asking you this.

Your dog’s medical team will want to keep him for a few days to ensure he is stable and on his way to recovery. During his recovery, you may be able to visit your dog if permitted. Still, if your dog becomes upset over your presence and wants to go home, it may be in his best interest for you to wait it out at home and let him recover fully before seeing him. If he is okay with you visiting, then, by all means, visit.

Once you get the green light to bring your dog home be mindful that he just endured a major life-altering event and will not be himself for days, maybe even weeks to come, so don’t force him to do things he’s not ready for, like jumping up into the car or taking long hikes Let him take his time recovering.

Preventing Gastric Dilation Volvulus While not all cases of GDV can be prevented, there are some actions you can take to reduce your dog’s chance of bloating.

  • Feed your dog several small meals throughout the day

  • Add canned food to your dog’s kibble to reduce the amount of air swallowed

  • Use a special bowl designed for dogs who eat too quickly

  • Monitor how much water your dog is drinking, and do not allow him to drink large amounts

  • Do not add gas-promoting foods to your dog’s diet

  • Do not use an elevated food or water dish

  • Wait an hour before and after a meal to exercise your dog

  • Stick to a low-fat diet

  • Do not put your dog in stressful situations; if he is stressed, change his environment to a calm one.

  • During sterilization of your dog, have your Veterinarian perform a gastropexy.

  • Keep Gas X on hand

Here at Woody’s Place Senior German Shepherd Sanctuary, we’ve had several dogs bloat (that’s several too many as far as we are concerned), and in all but one instance, they were older male German Shepherds. One was an older female German Shepherd.

We were completely aware of the warning signs and acted immediately, but sadly only one survived, and the others did not.

The cost of corrective surgery for full-on GDV is approximately $2,000 - $6,000. That’s a big financial pill to swallow, especially when deciding immediately.

Even though all the dogs were ten years old (or slightly older), we opted to have the surgery for only one because he had a good prognosis. Unfortunately, the others had a low survival rate, and at the end of the day, we concluded that even though we loved them, it didn’t seem fair to put them through all that at their advanced age.

We are adding this portion of the story because someday, you may be faced with having to shell out thousands of dollars for your dog who is suffering from GDV, and you will have to make a decision.

Our advice is to talk to your dog’s medical team and weigh the options. Another piece of advice would be to have a medical fund in place for your dog should something like GDV arise, so you are, at the very least, prepared financially.

Woody after his GDV surgery and splenectomy in 2009.

Woody after his GDV surgery and splenectomy in 2009.

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


American College of Veterinary Surgeons

Becker, Karen. Dr. Gastric Dilatation Volvulus: This Life-Threatening Emergency Kills 30% of the Dogs It Afflicts, November 11, 2015

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