Gastric Dilation Volvulus and What You Need To Know

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 that is 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 volulus 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 that there is a great risk for hypotension, decreased blood return to the heart, and decreased blood flow to other bodily organs, some which help remove toxins and absorb bacteria from the blood like the liver. 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 his/her bowels

  • Lethargy

  • If dog is able to eliminate, consistency changes in feces and possibly blood.

  • Gagging

  • Teeth clenched

  • Pale gums

  • Foam around mouth

  • Stomach distention

  • Rapid heartbeat

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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 you are transporting your dog to the ER vet. A typical dosage for larger dogs is 80 milligrams, but check with your vet first to be sure of what is right for your dog. 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, possibly steroids, and an IV. 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 however, it is full blown GDV, your dog will require surgery to correct the condition, or he will surely perish within a mere 24 hours or less.

Your dog has survived surgery, now what? Once your dog has experienced GDV, unfortunately, they may 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. This is known as a gastropexy. So, while your dog’s stomach may dilate in the future, it won’t twist.

Sometimes when your dog is young and being sterilized, (typically females) the medical team will ask you if you want your dog’s stomach tacked down while they are in there already. 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 that he is stable and on his way to recovery. During this time, it’s up to you whether you visit your dog or not. If your dog will become more upset at your presence and want to go home, it may be in his best interest for you to wait it out at home and let him recover. If he is fine with you visiting, then by all means, go 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 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, or if he is stressed, change his environment to a calm one.

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

  • Keep Gas X on hand

Here at Woody’s Place Senior German Shepherd Sanctuary, we’ve had two dogs bloat (that’s two too many as far as we are concerned), and in both instances they were older male German Shepherds. We were completely aware of the warning signs and acted immediately, but only one survived, and the other did not. One dog’s GDV was brought on by a move to a new physical location and a simultaneous thunderstorm, which stressed him out. The other Woody’s Place dog that suffered from GDV was thought to be caused by stomach cancer.

The cost of corrective surgery for full on GDV is around $2,000 - $6,000. That’s a big financial pill to swallow, especially when you are thrust into having to make a decision immediately. Even though both of the dogs were 10 years old (or slightly older), we opted to have the surgery for only one of the dogs, because he had a good prognosis. Unfortunately, the other (who was thought to have stomach cancer) only had a 33% survival rate, and at the end of the day, we concluded, that even though we loved him, that was a lot of money for a maybe.

The reason we are adding this portion of the story is because someday you may be faced with having to shell out thousands of dollars for your dog who is suffering from GDV, and you are going to 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.


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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