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Canine Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is a fatal condition most common in large, deep-chested dogs. The stomach bloats with gas or fluid and then painfully twists itself. This causes blockages at the entrance and exit of the stomach, which cuts off blood flow and causes loss of stomach tissue.
A dog with a bloated, twisted stomach will die in pain within a few hours unless it gets emergency surgery.
The exact cause of GDV is unknown. However, some dogs are more prone to it. Factors include:
- Large breed dogs that eat and drink very quickly (causing air to get trapped in the stomach), and then exercise vigorously (causing the stomach to twist)
- Large Breeds: Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Setters, Greyhounds, Doberman Pinschers, and Old English Sheepdogs
- Only one meal a day
The main symptom is retching, but being unable to vomit. Other signs may include:
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen abdomen
- Shock: the swollen stomach will start to press on blood vessels, blocking blood and oxygen, and the dog will collapse
If you see any of the above signs, rush your dog to the veterinarian immediately. As the stomach swells, it can burst.
Gastric dilatation and volvulus are fairly easy to diagnose. Your veterinarian will only need to perform x-rays and ultrasounds to check if the stomach is bloated or twisted.
GDV is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Treatment consists of:
- Untwisting the stomach and releasing the gas: the veterinarian will use a stomach tube and pump, and this will relieve pressure on the blood vessels
- Shock treatment: IV fluids and emergency medications
- Gastropexy surgery: after stabilization, your pet will need surgery to tack the stomach into a position in which it can never twist. All bloated dogs need this surgery because GDV usually recurs. If there is dead tissue on the stomach, the veterinarian will remove it during surgery. Sometimes, the veterinarian will also remove the spleen, as it may twist with the stomach causing blood supply to be cut off to the spleen. This can cause the spleen to die and need to be removed.
In breeds with a high risk of GDV, your veterinarian may recommend gastropexy as a preventative. This will not prevent the dilation (bloat) but does prevent the volvulus (twisting).
It is a good idea to feed large, deep-chested dogs small and frequent meals.
If you catch GDV in time and surgery is performed right away, there is a 50% chance of recovery. Even with very skilled and immediate veterinary care, some dogs still do not survive this disease.
Irregular heart rate, tissue damage, and spleen removal all worsen the prognosis.
Even once your pet is stable, it is important to have the surgery done because most dogs do not survive without it. If the dog does survive, 75% of cases, will have a recurrence.
Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM