Have you heard of GDV or twisted stomach or bloat? It's a serious condition that dogs can develop. Without treatment the condition can become fatal quickly. But what is it exactly and how do you know if your dog has GDV? We've answered those question as well as how to treat it and how to prevent it.
What is GDV?
Gastric Dilation and Volvulus, also know as bloat, stomach torsion and twisted stomach, refers to stomach distension and twisting. It occurs when the stomach fills with gas, fluid or food causing it to swell. It then does a 180 to 360 degree twist on itself - referred to as volvulus. The twisting causes the distended stomach to press onto large blood vessels, disrupting the blood flow to internal organs, including stopping the blood flow to the stomach and spleen. Dogs who experience GDV go into shock quickly. It can also affect breathing since the swelling limits chest movement.
What causes twisted stomach in dogs?
The exact reason why GDV occurs is still unknown. However, there are a number of factors that increase a dog's risk. These include:
- Ingesting bones which can block the outflow of food, fluid and gas from the stomach
- Foreign body obstruction (ingesting toys, corn cobs, for example)
- Having one large meal a day
- Eating quickly
- Eating or drinking too much
- Vigorous exercise after eating
- Genetic predispositions (see below)
There are currently several studies looking into what happens physiologically in dogs that develop GDV to help us understand the condition more.
Are there dogs predisposed to GDV?
Any dog can develop GDV, but it is more common in some breeds than others. Large dog breeds with deep, narrow chests, like Great Danes, Shepards, Weimeraners and Dobermans, are more likely to develop GDV. The problem can occur in small dogs, but only rarely.
Interestingly, male dogs are twice as likely to develop gastric dilatation and volvulus as females. Dogs over seven years of age are more than twice as likely to develop GDV than those who are two to four years of age.
It's not just dogs who can develop GDV, we've also treated guinea pigs in our hospitals with the condition.
X-rays of a Dafney the guinea pig showing her bloat resolving after treatment at Animal Emergency Service
What are the signs and symptoms of twisted stomach?
There are a number of signs and symptoms of GDV, some are obvious while others aren't. The more obvious signs include:
- Abdominal distention (swollen stomach)
- When tapped the stomach makes a 'ping' sound
- Non-productive vomiting (appears to be vomiting, but nothing comes up or only produces white froth)
Other signs include:
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive salivation
- Weak pulse
- Rapid heart rate
- Pale gums
Bloat is a serious condition and needs immediate treatment. Without treatment the condition can prove fatal within an hour. With early treatment more than 80% of dogs will survive.
Our pets can have bloated stomachs for other reasons, such as pregnancy, cancer and infection, these reasons are serious and also require an immediate trip to the vet.
What is the treatment for GDV?
When you arrive at your vet clinic or emergency hospital your vet will assess your pet. The first step is radiographs (x-rays) to assess whether the stomach is simply dilated or if it is twisted as well. If the stomach is twisted, immediate emergency surgery is the only treatment option.
Dogs with GDVs are in shock, or are likely to go into shock, so fluids will be administered. As this is also an incredibly painful condition, pain relief is administered rapidly.
Your vet will then release the pressure that has built up in their stomach either by passing a stomach tube or inserting a large needle into the stomach and releasing the gas. This improves blood flow and assists in stabilising the patient prior to surgery.
This is a very challenging and complex surgery, requiring a high skill level, close anaesthesia monitoring and multiple medications. During surgery, as well as untwisting the stomach, the surrounding organs, including the stomach and spleen will be inspected to see if any damage has been done. As well as properly repositioning the stomach during surgery, your vet will also perform a procedure called a gastropexy, which is when the stomach is stitched to the inside of the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting again in the future.
After surgery, your pet will be closely monitored for several days for signs of infection, heart abnormalities, stomach ulceration or perforation, and damage to the pancreas or liver. Antibiotics and additional medications may also need to be given.
Some dogs with GDV develop a bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), in which small clots start to develop within the dog's blood vessels. This is a life-threatening complication which requires management by a pet intensive care unit.
Your dog's heart rate and rhythm will be closely monitored throughout their treatment, as some dogs with GDV can develop heart arrhythmias. Dogs who already have heart issues will most likely be given medications to help manage their condition.
Can you prevent GDV?
While your pooch might be predisposed to developing GDV, there are ways in which you can prevent the risk of the condition occurring, such as:
- Feed your pet two small mornings rather than one large meal
- Limit amount of water after a large meal to prevent significant expansion of the stomach
- Avoid vigorous exercise, excitement and stress directly before and after meals
- Use feeding bowls designed to slow down eating
- Diet changes should be made gradually over a three to five day period to allow the gut bacteria to adjust and reduce the risk of gas forming
- Avoid or at least monitor the feeding of bones closely
- For breeds predisposed to GDV gastropexy can be done at the same time as desexing to reduce the risk of bloat. It has been found that this preventative surgery can reduce the risk by more than 90%
If you are concerned about GDV and the risk to your pet, see your local vet for a health check up and to talk through any concerns.