Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening condition predominantly found in deep-chested and giant dogs requiring rapid treatment. Bloat in dogs is caused by the accumulation of air, gastric gas, and fluid, creating severe pressure on other organs from the swollen stomach. Blood flow may slow down, and the stomach may rotate on a different axis, leading to more severe complications.
Bloat in dogs remains a mystery to scientists and veterinarians. Still, some triggers have been identified, including heavy meals, digestion exercises, and lack of fiber or water content.
This article will provide actionable tips on how to prevent gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs and, if it’s too late, how to diagnose and treat bloat in dogs, in a way that is easy for nonscientific audiences to understand.
What is Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs?
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), or bloat, is a rapidly progressive health condition in dogs that is proven to be life-threatening if not properly treated. The condition is commonly associated with large meals wherein the food and digestive gas cause the stomach to dilate, rotate, or twist around its short axis. The pressure in the stomach begins to increase due to the stomach dilating and expanding.
GDV and bloat are also commonly referred to as gastric torsion, canine gastropexy, stomach torsion, or twisted stomach.
Because of the immense pressure occurring in the dog’s stomach, the affected dog can suffer from several emergency conditions, including but not limited to the following:
- Progressive distension of the stomach
- Increased pressure within the abdomen
- Damage to the cardiovascular system
- Decreased perfusion (this is the process of delivering nutrients via blood in the arteries to the body’s tissues. Insufficiencies may lead to cellular damage and in some cases, organ death)
- Rupture of the stomach wall
- Pressure on the diaphragm prevents the lungs from adequately expanding and thus making it harder for the dog to maintain their breathing
- Loss of blood flow to the lining of the stomach
- Inadequate blood returns to the heart from the abdomen
Because of the severe pain inflicted by such conditions, dogs may experience a shock and even collapse. Treatment for this condition primarily involves the stabilization of the dog, decompression of the stomach, and surgery to return the stomach to its normal position permanently. During surgery, damage to the abdominal organs will be evaluated and appropriately treated.
A quick diagnosis of bloat or stomach dilation in dogs is necessary to prevent the symptoms from worsening. There are quite a few diagnostic tools that a veterinarian can use to assess your dog’s bloat condition.
First off, monitoring the pulse is the first and the most basic way of diagnosing bloat because dogs suffering from stomach dilation usually have a very weak pulse. Then, the physical examination usually shows signs of enlarged abdomen for which your dog might be suffering from mild to severe pain. However, the more inclusive the test, the better is the assessment of the overall physical condition of your furry one because bloat negatively affects a dog’s overall health in more than one way. Finally, there are other tests helping the diagnosis of bloat in dogs, including blood glucose test, complete blood count, blood electrolytes, serum chemistry, and coagulation assays.
These tests are meant to determine if there is blood pooling or how well the blood circulation is. The diagnostic tests also reveal the evidence of bacterial sepsis, metabolic abnormalities, cell damages, secondary organ injury and the presence of accompanying diseases, if any.
A urinalysis and a blood gas analysis may also be performed with all these. The latter enables assessing the nature and severity of the compromised respiratory system. An electrocardiogram (ECG) will most often be used as a diagnostic tool to evaluate the presence of heart arrhythmias (the term used to describe a group of cardiac conditions in which the heartbeat is irregular, too fast, or too slow).
List of Dog Breeds Prone to Bloat
Gastric Dilation-Volvulus or Bloat in dogs is a serious condition that can even lead to death if not treated properly at the right time. While the exact causes of bloat continue to be a matter of medical speculation, certain breeds are found to be more susceptible to this life-threatening condition.
Obviously, the genetic factor is essential, but apart from this clear factor, the shape of certain dog breeds makes them at higher risk of being affected by GDV. Dogs with deep and narrow chests are found to be more prone to bloat. Accordingly, certain breeds can be categorized as having high chances of being affected by stomach dilation. Here goes the list of breeds most prone to bloat:
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- St. Bernard
- Standard Poodles
- Basset Hounds
- Irish Setters
As mentioned here, the owners of these breeds should take extra care to look for symptoms of bloat in their dogs and initiate immediate medical attention before the condition worsens.
Causes of Bloat in Dogs
While the causes of GDV are unfortunately unknown for now, several studies (1, 2, 3) have shown a variety of factors common to dogs diagnosed with the condition. GDV occurs when a dog’s stomach accumulates an unusual amount of air, gas, fluid, or foam, causing it to expand and even twist 90 to 360 degrees, leading to blockage of blood circulation and potentially fatal damage to internal organs.
Some factors that increase a dog’s risk of GDV include being a large or giant-breed dog, especially those with deep chests, such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Weimaraners, St. Bernards, Irish Setters, and Gordon Setters. Dogs with a family history of GDV are also at higher risk, along with older dogs and those fed a single large meal daily. Overeating, excessive water intake, and excessive activity after meals can also contribute to developing GDV.
It is important to note that while some dogs affected by GDV may have had previous gastrointestinal problems, this is not always the case. Consistent stress can also contribute to the development of bloat in dogs.
In summary, GDV is a medical emergency that is more common in deep-chested dogs, and certain factors can increase a dog’s risk of developing this condition. By understanding these risk factors and taking steps to prevent them, dog owners can help reduce the likelihood of their furry friend experiencing GDV.
Treatment of Bloat in Dogs
Bloat is a severe condition in dogs that requires immediate medical attention. When a dog’s stomach twists and restricts blood flow, it can be life-threatening. Treatment aims to relieve shock and release trapped gas in the stomach. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove or reposition the affected stomach.
To start treatment, the veterinarian will prepare for emergency surgery and administer fluids to treat dehydration and shock. They will then release the trapped gas by inserting a tube into the dog’s stomach or using a needle to puncture the abdomen.
If the stomach has rotated, additional procedures like removing the spleen or gastropexy may be necessary to prevent a recurrence. Gastropexy involves attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall with sutures or tacks.
After surgery, your dog must stay in the hospital for a few days to be monitored for heart arrhythmias. When you take your dog home, the veterinarian will provide instructions on how to care for your dog’s feeding and exercise needs.
Afterward, orogastric intubation is executed by putting a tube through your dog’s mouth into his/her stomach to release the accumulated gas. Another procedure called percutaneous trocarization is also considered to be a rightful treatment. In this process, the abdominal entry site on the left side of the dog’s belly is clipped and cleaning to make way for a large needle that is inserted into his stomach. The effect is immediate with the foul-smelling gas coming out with a hissing sound, much like the popping of a balloon.
In situations where the dog’s stomach has already rotated, removing the spleen might even be necessary. Another procedure called gastropexy becomes impending in such cases to prevent the chances of recurrent dilation or torsion. The process involves tacking or suturing the stomach to the abdominal wall. It is highly recommended to prevent bloat in breeds extremely susceptible to this condition.
Following these surgeries, your dog must be kept in the hospital under medical observation for several days, generally 2 to 5. This will enable monitoring chances of heart arrhythmias, usually within the first 36 hours after surgery. Upon release, the veterinary clinic should give you clear instructions and guidelines on the feeding and exercise of your dog for the following days, weeks, and even years to come.
How To Prevent Bloat in Dogs
Bloating is serious enough to cause death, and certain breeds, like German Shepherds and Boxers, are more prone to being affected by bloat. However, there are a few precautionary ways in which you can prevent the occurrence of this deadly condition in your dog, and these are:
- Avoid using an elevated food bowl which compels your dog to raise himself up to access the food and eat in a wrong position
- Don’t let your dog exercise for at least an hour before or after his meals
- Ensure your dog is not eating too fast or gulping down big portions. You can consider using special bowls to facilitate slow eating at a time
- Multiple meals in small portions throughout the day should be preferred over large meals once or twice a day
- Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water
- Keep a simethicone product like Gas-x, Mylanta Gas, etc., handy to induce immediate burping in case of overeating and a feeling of restlessness in your dog.
Apart from these general prevention techniques, you can also adopt a few food tactics to ensure the prevention of bloat in your furry one: