By Elise M. Atkinson, CVT
Gastric dilatation is when a dog’s stomach fills with excess gas, fluid, or foam. A dog with gastric dilatation looks like it has swallowed a large balloon. Although it causes physical discomfort, this type of bloat doesn’t last long and may go away on its own.
A dog with gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) also looks “inflated,” but after the stomach fills with gas, fluid, or foam, it turns or torses. When the stomach twists, it traps gas or food and may cut off the blood supply to the stomach tissues, causing part or all of the stomach to die. Surrounding tissues and organs may be affected as well. This is extremely painful for the dog and fatal if not treated immediately.
Something in this photo could kill this dog. Do you know what it is?
In fact, 30% of dogs that get GDV die before they can be seen by a veterinarian or don’t survive long enough to have life-saving surgery, according to Larry Glickman, VMD, Dr.PH., one of the researchers for a 2004 study conducted at Purdue University.
What increases a dog’s risk for GDV?
Kara Tennant DVM, of AAHA-accredited Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Bristow, Va., explains, “We still do not know the exact cause of bloat, but we are aware of certain risk factors that can increase a dog’s chances. The most common history is a large-breed dog that eats or drinks rapidly, then exercises.” In 2004, researchers at Purdue University reported five additional risk factors.
Chest size. Dogs with deep chests (such as Great Danes, Irish setters, rottweilers, and collies) are much more likely to develop GDV.
Raised food dishes. In the past, veterinarians recommended raising food dishes to shoulder height for large dogs. This was thought to prevent GDV, but the Purdue researchers found that the opposite is true. So throw those raised dishes away!
Genetics. Although there is a genetic link, most dog owners don’t have enough information about their dog’s genetic background to know if it is a factor.
Age. Older dogs are more likely to get GDV.
Gulping. Dogs that gulp their food face a two-fold threat. They quickly gulp large amounts of air with their food, and don’t know when to call it quits.
“Vomiting is the hallmark of bloat,” Tennant says. Other possible signs of GDV include:
- Dry heaves — retching without producing vomit
- Excessive drooling
- Restlessness — pacing, won’t lie down
- Fast heart rate
- Labored or distressed breathing — seems like an effort to breath
- Biting at stomach
- Swollen stomach
- Whining, grunting in pain
What to do if you suspect your dog has GDV
If your dog shows signs of GDV, seek emergency veterinary treatment immediately. When possible, call your veterinarian or the closest emergency clinic to let them you are on your way and that your dog might have GDV.
Once you arrive at the hospital, every minute counts. Let the veterinary team take your dog to the back and begin treatment. If your dog is going into shock he will need to be stabilized. Your pet will put on i.v. fluids and have X-rays taken. The pressure and gas in the stomach need to be relieved – either by passing a tube down his throat into the stomach or by piercing the outside of the stomach with a large needle.
Be prepared for your dog to go to surgery. Surgery is the only way to be absolutely sure the stomach is untwisted and emptied. It also gives the surgeon a chance to check the stomach and surrounding tissues and organs for any damage. Your dog has to stay in the hospital for several days on fluids, antibiotics and pain medication. A gastropexy - a procedure where the stomach is sutured in place to help prevent future incidents - is a good idea to have done while your surgeon is in your dog’s stomach. It won’t prevent bloat, but it can prevent a bloated stomach from a deadly twist.
Never, never, never
Many websites have information about bloat. Most of it is helpful some of it can actually harm your pet. Some sites suggest making a special kit if your canine friend is a breed predisposed to bloat.
These sites also have detailed instructions on tubing your pet to relieve the gas in the stomach. Never do this. This should only be performed by your veterinarian. It’s too easy to pass the tube incorrectly and cause harm or even death to your dog if you are not a trained professional.