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Signs of bloat in dogs

Signs of bloat in dogs

Have you ever felt full and bloated after eating a little too much at dinner time? It can be very uncomfortable for us humans but for our dogs it can actually be quite deadly. Cases of bloat are estimated to be greater than 50,000 every year. Worry not though as this is a condition that is very preventable and is something that all dog owners should be aware of.

What is Gastric dilatation-volvulus 

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), also known as twisted stomach or bloat, is a life-threatening condition that can occur in dogs. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.

GDV occurs when a dog's stomach fills with gas and twists on its axis, creating a blockage that prevents gas from escaping. This leads to a rapid and dangerous increase in pressure within the stomach, which can cause the blood supply to the stomach and other organs to be compromised. GDV can result in tissue damage, organ dysfunction, and in severe cases, death.

What causes it?

The exact cause of GDV is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of factors, including breed predisposition, anatomy, and diet. 

At risk breeds

Breeds that are deep-chested are at higher risk for GDV, such as:

  • Great Dane
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Boxer
  • German Shepherd
  • Saint Bernard
  • Weimaraner
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Standard Poodle
  • Basset Hound
  • Akita 

It's important to note that while these breeds may be at higher risk for GDV, any dog can potentially develop this condition. Other factors such as diet, eating habits, stress, and exercise patterns can also contribute to the risk of GDV. 

Two greatdane laying on sidewalk Big dogs outdoor portrait great dane stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

If you have a dog that is at higher risk for GDV, it's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bloat, and to take preventive measures such as feeding smaller, more frequent meals, avoiding vigorous exercise before and after meals, and discussing the option of prophylactic gastropexy surgery with your veterinarian to reduce the risk of GDV. 

Signs and symptoms of GVD in dogs

It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of GDV so that you can seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect your dog may be experiencing this condition. Some common symptoms of GDV in dogs include:

  • Abdominal distention

The most obvious sign of GDV is a visibly distended or bloated abdomen. The abdomen may appear swollen, tight, or larger than usual.

  • Unproductive attempts to vomit

Dogs with GDV may try to vomit or retch repeatedly, but little to no vomit may come out. This is often referred to as "retching without result" and is a hallmark sign of GDV.

  • Restlessness 

Dogs with GDV may exhibit signs of restlessness, pacing, or discomfort. They may be unable to find a comfortable position and may show signs of abdominal pain, such as whining, panting, or drooling.

Dogs with GDV may exhibit signs of abdominal pain, which can include sensitivity when the abdomen is touched or palpated, reluctance to move or be touched around the belly, or a hunched posture.

  • Rapid heartbeat and difficulty breathing

Dogs with GDV may have an increased heart rate (tachycardia) and may exhibit difficulty breathing or rapid, shallow breathing (tachypnea).

  • Pale gums

GDV can cause poor blood circulation and lead to pale or grayish gums, indicating reduced oxygenation and blood flow.

  • Weakness

In severe cases, dogs with GDV may become weak, lethargic, or collapse due to shock or compromised organ function.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you suspect that your dog may be experiencing GDV, it is essential to seek veterinary care immediately. GDV is a medical emergency, and early diagnosis and treatment are critical for the best chances of a successful outcome. Contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic as soon as possible if you suspect your dog may be experiencing GDV.

If your vet suspects GVD in your dog, they will run the following tests to diagnose:

  • Physical examination

A veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination of the dog, including palpation of the abdomen to check for signs of abdominal distention, tenderness, and abnormal positioning of the stomach.

  • Radiography (X-rays)

X-rays may be taken to confirm the diagnosis of GDV and assess the extent of stomach torsion, as well as to check for signs of other complications such as damage to surrounding organs.

  • Blood tests

Blood tests may be performed to assess the dog's overall health, including blood cell counts, electrolyte levels, and organ function.

The specific treatment approach may vary depending on the severity of the GDV, the overall health of the dog, and the preferences of the treating veterinarian. In the event of GVT, the following treatments may be administered:

  • Stabilization

Initial treatment for GDV typically involves stabilizing the dog's condition. This may include providing oxygen, intravenous fluids, and medications to address shock, pain, and other symptoms.

  • Decompression of the stomach

If the stomach is distended, the veterinarian may pass a stomach tube or use a needle to relieve gas and decompress the stomach, which can help relieve pressure on the blood vessels and organs.

  • Detorsion of the stomach

If the stomach has twisted (volvulus), the veterinarian will need to perform an emergency surgical procedure to untwist the stomach and reposition it back to its normal position. This may also involve checking for any damage to the stomach or surrounding organs.

  • Gastropexy

In most cases, a surgical procedure called gastropexy will be performed during the emergency surgery. Gastropexy involves attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent future episodes of torsion.

  • Monitoring and supportive care

After surgery, the dog will be closely monitored in the hospital for postoperative complications, and supportive care such as pain management, antibiotics, and fluid therapy may be provided as needed.

Dog lying on soft carpet after training Tired dog on carpet. Sad beagle on floor. Dog lying on soft carpet after training. Beagle with sad opened eyes indoors. Beautiful animal background. dog laying on floor stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

How to prevent GVD

While gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) in dogs cannot always be completely prevented, there are several measures that can reduce the risk of this serious condition:

  • Avoid feeding large meals

Instead of feeding one large meal, divide your dog's daily food intake into smaller, more frequent meals. This can help prevent the stomach from becoming overly distended.

Some dogs are prone to gulp their food quickly, which can increase the risk of GDV. Use slow-feed bowls, puzzle feeders, or food-dispensing toys to slow down your dog's eating pace.

  • Avoid exercise before and after meals

Avoid vigorous exercise, particularly running or playing, for at least an hour before and after meals. This can help reduce the risk of the stomach twisting.

  • Provide adequate water

Make sure your dog has access to clean water at all times. Dehydration can increase the risk of GDV.

Minimize stressors in your dog's environment, as stress can potentially trigger GDV in susceptible dogs. This may include minimizing changes in routine, avoiding stressful situations, and providing a calm and comfortable living environment.

  • Consider gastropexy

Gastropexy is a surgical procedure that can be performed prophylactically to prevent the twisting of the stomach. It involves attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall, which can help prevent torsion. Gastropexy is typically recommended for dogs that are at high risk of developing GDV, such as deep-chested breeds with a history of GDV or a family history of GDV.

Regular veterinary check-ups can help monitor your dog's health and identify any underlying conditions or risk factors for GDV. Discuss your dog's risk of GDV with your veterinarian and follow their recommendations for preventive measures.

It's important to note that GDV is a serious condition with a high mortality rate, and prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for the best chances of a successful outcome. If you suspect that your dog may be experiencing GDV, it is essential to seek immediate veterinary care.

Chocolate lab laying on vet exam table and the vet has one hand on it, examining.
Chocolate lab laying on vet exam table and the vet has one hand on it, examining.

View Sources

Baltzer, Wendy I., Maureen A. McMichael, Craig G. Ruaux, Laura Noaker, Jörg M. Steiner, and David A. Williams. "Measurement of urinary 11-dehydro-thromboxane B2 excretion in dogs with gastric dilatation-volvulus." American journal of veterinary research 67, no. 1 (2006): 78-83.

Ghanbari, Salar, Aboutorab Tabatabaei-Naeini, Alireza Raayat-Jahromi, and Masoud Amini. "Evaluating the Effects of Gastric By-Pass Surgery and Sleeve Gastrectomy, as New GDV Treatment Modalities, on Vitamin B12 Values in Dogs." Iranian Journal of Veterinary Surgery 16, no. 2 (2021): 100-106.

Oliveira, José, Talliana Gouveia, Tales Prado, and Tiago Treichel. "GASTRIC VOLVULUS DILATATION SYNDROME IN DOGS." ENCICLOPEDIA BIOSFERA 17, no. 34 (2020).

Valéria Seullner Brandão, Claudia, Alessandra Gonçalves Borges, José Joaquin Titton Ranzani, Sheila Canevese Rahal, and Carlos Roberto Teixeira. "Retrospective analysis of 34 cases of gastric dilation-volvulus in dogs (1995-2000)." R. Educ. contin. Med. Vet. Zoot. (2001): 84-89.

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February 20, 2024
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