Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs

gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs

Overview of Gastric Dilatation-volvulus (GDV or Bloat) in Dogs

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), often referred to as “bloat”, “twisted stomach” or “gastric torsion,” is a serious condition caused by abnormal dilatation and twisting of the stomach. The condition is initiated by abnormal accumulation of air, fluid or foam in the stomach (gastric dilatation). Bloating of the stomach is often related to swallowed air, although food and fluid also can be present. Bloat can occur with or without volvulus, or twisting. As the stomach enlarges, it may rotate 90 degrees to 360 degrees, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum in the upper intestine.

Volvulus can completely obstruct emptying of the stomach. The twist also prevents burping, so the dog cannot obtain relief of air or stomach contents by belching or vomiting. In fact, a hallmark symptom of torsion is nonproductive attempts at vomiting. The bloated stomach obstructs the return of blood from the veins in the abdomen leading to low blood pressure, obstructive shock and associated complications. The dog also may seem short of breath due to pain and the physical compression of the chest and diaphragm caused by the expanding stomach.

The combination of bloating and torsion seriously reduces the blood supply to the stomach (gastric ischemia) and this can lead to necrosis (death) of the stomach wall. Shock and lack of blood supply to abdominal organs break down the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract lining and permit toxins and bacteria to enter the blood stream. Abnormal blood clotting – disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) – may develop. The spleen can be damaged or begin to bleed because it is attached to the stomach by a membrane, and it becomes twisted and rotated abnormally as the stomach turns. Heart function is compromised due to lack of venous blood return. Irregular heart rhythms often develop such as ventricular tachycardia. Shock and death follow if the condition is left untreated or if treatment is initiated too late in this devastating sequence.

GDV is most common in deep-chested or large to giant breed dogs between two and ten years of age. GDV can also occur in other breeds, but this is comparably rare. Pure breed dogs are at higher risk for bloat. The breeds most commonly affected include the Great Dane, standard poodle, Saint Bernard, Gordon setter, Irish setter, Doberman pinscher, Old English sheepdog, Weimaraner, and the Basset hound.

GDV can sometimes be associated with eating or drinking before or after exercise. Risk factors may include once daily feeding and consumption of large amounts of food or water. For more information on risk factors, go to Is Your Dog at Risk for Bloat?.


What to Watch For

  • Drooling
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal distension
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting leading to nonproductive retching
  • Collapse

    GDV is life-threatening. See your veterinarian immediately if you suspect bloat or GDV.

Diagnosis of Gastric Dilatation-volvulus in Dogs

The diagnosis can usually be made based on the history and physical examination.

  • Physical examination should include abdominal palpation and auscultation of heart and lungs.
  • After your dog has been stabilized and initial treatment begun, radiographs may be taken. A lateral abdominal view in right lateral recumbency with dog lying on the right side, is the view of choice for differentiation of simple dilatation from dilatation-volvulus.
  • After initial stabilization and treatment, a complete blood count and blood biochemical tests may be performed. Blood tests help to define concurrent abnormalities that may influence the choice of anesthesia.

Treatment of Gastric Dilatation-volvulus (GDV) in Dogs

  • Initial treatment of GDV will include emergency treatment for shock with intravenous fluids, drug therapy, and decompression of the stomach.
  • Surgery is the recommended treatment to untwist and stabilize the stomach. To prevent recurrence, the stomach must be attached to the abdominal wall, known as gastropexy. If the spleen is badly damaged, it may need to be removed (splenectomy).

Home Care and Prevention of Bloat in Dogs

If you observe signs of GDV at home, see your veterinarian immediately. There is no recommended home therapy for GDV. Remember that giant-breed and deep-chested dogs are at increased risk.

Feed small frequent meals and limit water intake for one hour after eating, and avoid large volumes of water intake. Limit exercise after eating. Do not feed from elevated feeding bowls. Avoid stress.

For dogs that are at high risk for GDV, a prophylactic gastropexy is often performed.


Information In-depth on Gastric Dilatation-volvulus (GDV)

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is a condition that is centered initially in the stomach, but eventually can affect the entire body. Some problems that can result are:

  • Shock and cardiovascular complications
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Injured spleen
  • Secondary infection
  • Heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). The arrhythmias are caused by poor oxygenation to the heart (myocardial ischemia), release of toxins, electrolyte abnormalities, acid-base abnormalities, and gastric receptor stimulation.
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Gastric necrosis
  • Gastric ulceration
  • Recurrence of dilation and/or volvulus


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