Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is a potentially life threatening condition in dogs.
Also called bloat or gastric torsion, it occurs when the dog’s stomach fills with gas and twists back on itself.
Very quickly, more gas builds up and the stomach swells, causing its blood supply to get cut off. The distended stomach puts pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making breathing difficult. It affects the dog’s ability to get blood, oxygen and nutrients to its organs and tissues, meaning they can rapidly go into shock.
Signs of GDV:
Owners should be aware of the signs to look out for since urgent veterinary treatment is key to the dog’s survival. These include:
Nausea – drooling, licking lips
Retching – but bringing up nothing or only a small amount of frothy liquid
Swollen abdomen (tummy)
Signs of abdominal pain e.g. looking at the belly or adopting a prayer position with their chest on the floor and their bottom in the air (pictured)
Other signs of discomfort e.g. restlessness, pacing, difficulty getting comfortable, vocalising, aggression
Panting, rapid shallow breaths
Fast, weak, irregular pulses
A GDV is a life-threatening emergency. If you think your dog might be affected, you must seek immediate veterinary treatment.
Never wait to see what happens - things can progress very quickly, and early treatment maximises the chances of a successful recovery.
GDV risk factors:
Any dog can get a GDV but large breed, deep chested dogs are most at risk. This includes, for example: German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Setters, Newfoundlands, Standard Poodles, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Akitas, Saint Bernards, Doberman Pinchers and Chows.
Large (>40kg) mixed breed dogs are also at risk. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs might also be at higher risk since they are prone to swallowing a lot of air when they eat.
As well as breed and body size, studies have shown the following to be associated with an increased risk of GDV:
Having a first-degree relative e.g. littermate who has suffered a GDV
Exercising after a meal
Eating from raised food bowls
Feeding one large meal, once a day
A fearful or nervous temperament
Stress e.g. kennelling, car journeys or change in the dog’s environment
Feeding a dry kibble diet which is high in fats/oils
It is not clear exactly how GDV can be prevented. Although based on the above risk factors, it is a good idea for owners of large breed, deep chested breeds to do the following:
Slow down the dog’s eating - use a slow feeding bowl or puzzle feeder, feed several small meals throughout the day
Feed from the floor, not from a height
Avoid vigorous exercise, stressful situations and car travel after a meal
Avoid kibble with oil/fats as one of the top 4 ingredients
Do not add water to dry kibble diets
Try not to let your dog drink large volumes of water at once
Some owners may want their dog to have a preventative gastropexy - a surgical procedure in which the stomach is stitched to the inside of the abdomen to stop it twisting.
GDV diagnosis and treatment:
If your vet suspects a GDV, they will want to take an x-ray to confirm.
Affected dogs must first be stabilised and then undergo an operation under general anaesthetic, to untwist their stomach. During the operation, the vet might stitch their stomach to the inside of the body wall to stop it twisting again (a procedure called a gastropexy). In some instances, if the spleen got caught up in the twist, this will need to be removed too.
Your dog will be hospitalised and will need to be intensively managed to nurse them back to health. Other tests/treatments your vet might carry out, include:
Decompression of the stomach (releasing some of the gas) prior to surgery
Blood tests to check their organ function and electrolytes
A drip (intravenous fluids)
Monitoring and/or treatment of any abnormal heart rhythms (these are very common in dogs with a GDV)
How likely is it my dog will recover from a GDV?
GDV is a life-threatening emergency and without treatment, affected dogs will die.
However, a study carried out as part of the VetCompass project looking at nearly 500 dogs, found that >80% of those which underwent surgery for GDV, survived.
This article is for general information only. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog's health, always consult your vet.
Want more? Check out these papers:
Elwood CM. Risk factors for gastric dilatation in Irish setter dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 1998;39:185–190.
Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Simpson K, Lantz GC. Multiple Risk Factors for the Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus Syndrome in Dogs: A Practitioner/Owner Case-Control Study. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 1997;33:197–204.
Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Raghavan M, Lee T. Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;217:1492–1499.
Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Raghavan M, Lee TL. Incidence of and breed-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;216:40–45.
Mohamed A-R. Effects of Active Learning Variants on Student Performance and Learning Perceptions. Int J Scholarsh Teach Learn. 2008;2.
O’Neill DG, Case J, Boag AK, et al. Gastric dilation-volvulus in dogs attending UK emergency-care veterinary practices: prevalence, risk factors and survival. J Small Anim Pract. 2017;58:629–638.
Pipan M, Brown DC, Battaglia CL, Otto CM. An internet-based survey of risk factors for surgical gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012;240:1456–1462.
Raghavan M, Glickman NW, Glickman LT. The effect of ingredients in dry dog foods on the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2006;42:28–36.