Canine gastric dilatation-volvulus

Canine Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus
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Filed under Dogs, Elderly Dogs.
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Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is otherwise known as ‘bloat’, stomach torsion, or ‘twisted stomach’. It can have tragic consequences and result in death in as short a time as two to three hours. The stomach bloats as a result of the rapid accumulation of gas.

Eventually, the distended stomach rotates around its supporting ligaments, trapping the gas and choking off its own blood supply. The distended stomach presses on the chest, making it difficult for the dog to breathe and this compresses large veins in the abdomen, preventing blood from returning to the heart. The difficulty in breathing and the poor blood flow eventually result in collapse and death unless prompt emergency treatment is instigated.

Symptoms of gastric dilatation-volvulus

The symptoms of gastric dilatation-volvulus include any combination of the following:

  • Distention of the abdomen (if the abdomen becomes drum-tight, the diagnosis is almost certain)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent retching
  • Abdominal pain
  • Distress
  • Eventual collapse
Treatment of gastric dilatation-volvulus is successful in up to 70% of cases if the owners recognise the signs of the condition promptly. The most important sign is the distention of the abdomen.

What treatment is needed?

Treatment begins with rapid intravenous fluid therapy (to replenish lost fluid and improve blood flow) and decompression of the bloated stomach. Decompression of the gas-filled stomach is usually performed by placing a needle directly into the stomach through the abdominal wall or by passing a tube into the stomach via the mouth. Drugs may be required, including antibiotics, drugs to help prevent shock and drugs to reduce damage to the stomach lining.

Dogs that are medically stable can and sometimes should be operated on to return the stomach to its original place. This operation is very risky and only experienced veterinary surgeons have to facilities to attempt such an operation. In addition, the surgeon will attempt to attach the stomach to the abdominal wall in the correct position in the hope of preventing a further bout(s) of bloat. This is called a ‘gastropexy’. Without this procedure, the likelihood of recurrence of the bloat is as high as 80%.

If the surgery reveals extensive areas of dead stomach, the likelihood of the dog surviving the postoperative period is very low. Sadly, in this situation, the attending veterinarian may advise euthanasia on the operating table to avoid further suffering.

What is the prognosis?

The postoperative period is full of risk for dogs with bloat. After correction, abnormal beats of the heart are common, as are life-threatening problems such as severe ulcers or holes (perforations) in the stomach and bowel, pancreas or liver damage, infections and excessive blood clotting. For this reason, dogs usually remain under veterinary care for several days after the surgery.

What can be done to prevent gastric dilatation-volvulus?

Prevention of gastric dilatation-volvulus is difficult because the underlying cause(s) of the condition are unknown. However, some risk factors that predispose a dog to develop bloat have been recognised.

Dogs with an over-full stomach are also prone to bloat. Image from

Avoidance and/or management of the following risk factors (where possible) minimises the likelihood of the disease occurring:

  • Be especially wary of symptoms of GDV where large, deep-chested dog breeds are concerned. Dogs with this type of conformation are predisposed to this disease. Examples of such breeds include Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, Irish Setters, Dobermans, and German Shepherds, among others.
  • Eating only one meal per day – this leads to a larger stomach size compared with eating two or more meals per day.
  • Eating faster
  • Nervous temperament
  • Exercise on a full stomach
  • Genetically predisposed dogs in stressful situations

By feeding the correct amount of good-quality large breed dog nutrition multiple times a day, the incidence of GDV can be significantly reduced. See our Premium Pet Food section for more information.

The content of this article is directly reproduced with permission from Ettinger & Feldman – Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine Client Information Sheets and is copyrighted © 2005, 2000, 1995, 1989, 1983, 1975 by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the author
About the author
Renier is a qualified, experienced companion animal veterinarian whose main interests are animal health and strengthening pet-owner relationships.
View all posts by Dr Renier Delport (BVSc.)

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