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Why So Serious?
Canine bloat (a.k.a Gastric Dilatation Volvulus or GDV) is an emergency condition that is
initiated within the stomach. Under suboptimal circumstances the stomach can become overly
distended and twist upon itself. This agonizingly painful and rapid event becomes life
threatening within a few hours of onset if intensive emergency treatment is not initiated.
Frequently, cases are fatal even with treatment. No single cause is identifiable but certain dog
breeds do indeed have the deck stacked against them, so to speak. The rapid sequence of
events that occur from GDV are toxic and potentially deadly.
The Gastric Dilatation Phase
This is the “bloat” phase. The stomach becomes overly distended with either gas, food, liquid, or
a combination thereof. A distended stomach is painful and uncomfortable and can put pressure
against the diaphragm which makes breathing more labored. (Note: A pet will also breath hard
due to pain.) It is not uncommon for dogs to pace and drool during this stage. The dog’s
abdomen will appear more distended as the stomach grows in size and can occur rapidly. If
caught early, sometimes a veterinarian can remove gastric contents to help prevent stage two
The Volvulus Phase
In this phase, the distended stomach will twist around its axis about 180-degrees. The twisting
traps contents within the stomach and prevents vomiting or burping while simultaneously
preventing passage of contents toward the intestines. This effectively traps stomach contents
while gas continues to accumulate.
Once the stomach twists, it becomes locked in that position. The twisting action compromises
blood supply to the stomach and spleen (sometimes tearing blood vessels) and interferes with
return of blood back to the heart. At this crucial point a downward spiral quickly ensues. Tissue
begins to die without a consistent blood supply. Blood becomes stagnant or sluggish, blood
clots start to form, and toxins accumulate. The circulating blood volume plummets and the heart
rate rises dramatically due to extreme pain and stress, low blood pressure, and difficulty
breathing. Irregular heart rhythms are not uncommon.
Certain builds or breeds of dogs are anatomically prone to the development of GDV. This
includes any large or giant breed dogs that are deep chested (deeper chest-to-back than
side-to-side width). Most commonly, the condition is seen in Great Danes and St.Bernards.
Many hunting and working breed dogs are also top candidates. Genetics also play a factor;
Blood lines where a first degree relative gets GDV have a higher overall incidence of GDV in
current and future generations.
Male dogs are more likely than females to get GDV. The neuter/spay status does not appear to
alter that statistic. Mature adults (7 years of age and older) are more apt to GDV than younger
dogs. It is suspected the ligaments which suspend the internal organs become stretched over
time and are more easily displaced or twisted.
● Distended painful abdomen
● Gagging or retching repeatedly without vomiting
● Pale gums and rapid pulse
● Panting or difficulty breathing
● Weakness or collapse
● Sudden death
Suddenly ill pets should be examined by an emergency vet immediately. Dogs can die within a
few hours without treatment if bloated.
An elective preventative surgery called gastropexy is available; it is recommended for dogs with
multiple risk factors. The surgery involves suturing the stomach in a fixed position to prevent it
from twisting on itself. This surgery can be performed at the same time as the neuter/spay. It is
considered unethical to perform gastropexy in a dog that is intended for breeding because it will
obscure the true inheritance risk for that genetic line.
Meal size and frequency of feedings also appear to contribute to the propensity for stomach
torsion. An easily adaptable practice is to feed small meals several times per day instead of
one large meal once a day. Smaller meal size decreases risk for stomach distension and
twisting. Restriction of heavy exercise immediately before or after eating is also recommended.
Dogs with unmanaged aggression or fear are more likely to experience gastrointestinal
dysfunction. This includes increased risk of GDV. Please discuss appropriate fear and
aggression management options with your veterinarian. In homes where more than one pet is
present, consider feeding pets separately to help prevent competitive eating.
Unfortunately, when one specific cause for a condition is difficult to pin down, recommendations
for prevention are also variable. Educated and astute owners along with early medical
intervention during emergencies has improved the overall survival rates for dogs that get GDV.
Please continue to give your pets the upper hand when it comes to health and disease.
Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.