Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or bloat is a relatively common and life-threatening disease that affects primarily large, deep-chested breeds of dogs. When GDV develops, a dog's stomach fills with air and rotates into an abnormal position, which prevents the gas from escaping. The pressure caused by the expanding stomach is extremely painful and disrupts normal blood flow within the stomach wall and throughout the abdomen.
Dog's that are suffering from gastric dilatation and volvulus are obviously very uncomfortable, will retch and unsuccessfully try to vomit and have distended abdomens. This condition is a true emergency, so if an owner has even the slightest suspicion that a dog may be bloating, he or she should call a veterinarian immediately. A veterinarian will diagnose GDV based on animal's clinical signs and abdominal x-rays. Blood work is also necessary to plan for anesthesia and surgery and to determine what other treatments may be necessary.
Surgery is the only definitive way to treat GDV and prevent it from recurring. A veterinarian will remove the gas and any other materials from the dog's stomach, rotate it back into its normal position and attach the outside of the stomach to the body wall. Removing the spleen and/or portions of the stomach may be necessary if severe tissue damage has occurred. During the postoperative period, cardiac arrhythmias and other complications can occur. If gastric dilatation and volvulus is caught and treated quickly, most dogs will survive, but with delayed treatment, death becomes increasing likely. To reduce the chances of GDV, at risk dogs are fed twice daily, dry foods should not be moistened with water, and exercise is restricted for a couple of hours before and after eating. Owners may want to consider surgery to attach a dog's stomach to its body wall before bloat develops in breeds that are at a very high risk of the disorder.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008