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Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus GDV: What Are Signs of Bloat in Dogs?

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) in dogs is an emergency condition in which the stomach bloats and twists on itself, impairing normal food flow and circulation. 

The exact cause of GDV is unknown, and the problem is considered multifactorial. Large, giant breeds with deep, narrow chests are susceptible to the condition. Other risk factors include age, stress, body constitution, temperament, atmospheric pressure, and dietary factors. 

Non-productive retching, excessive drooling, abdominal pain and distension, restlessness, fast breathing, increased heart rate, and pale gums are signs of gastric dilatation-volvulus. 

Diagnosis is based on the stomach’s unusual shape on an abdominal X-ray. GDV in dogs is treated surgically with stabilization and stomach decompression preceding the surgery. 

Gastropexy, a preventative procedure in which the stomach wall is tied to the abdomen, is performed as part of the treatment or preventatively in breed members prone to dog bloat

What is Bloat in Dogs?

Bloat in dogs is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach swells with food and gas and then twists on its axis clockwise. 

The enlarged stomach's twisting blocks its entrance and exit, trapping the stomach content. The stomach content ferments, producing gasses and further aggravating the bloat. 

Distended stomach pressure affects the spleen and the surrounding abdominal blood vessels, leading to heart stress, shock, and eventually death.  

Bloat is a simple stomach swelling, while swelling combined with twisting is called gastric torsion or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). The terms are used interchangeably despite being different. 

Gastric dilatation volvulus is an emergency seen in large and giant dog breeds with deep chests. GDV is one of the most prevalent digestive problems in dogs of certain breeds. 

“During the lifetime of large and giant dog breeds, over 20% of them develop acute gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), which is fatal in one-third,” reports a study “Diet and Canine Gastric Dilatation,” published in Dier-en-Arts in 2019. 

What are Signs of Bloat in Dogs?

The signs of bloat in dogs are listed below. 

  • Unproductive Retching: The earliest sign of bloat in dogs is unproductive retching or attempting to vomit without success. Dogs produce a small amount of saliva. 
  • Excessive Drooling: The dog’s attempts to vomit secrete more saliva. The saliva drips since the dog is unable to swallow, resulting in drooling. 
  • Abdominal Pain: The abdomen of dogs with gastric dilatation and volvulus is painful and extremely tender to touch. 
  • Distended Abdomen: The abdomen bloats and enlarges, depending on the severity of the bloat. A distended abdomen is not always visible in the early phases.  
  • Restlessness: The dog is unable to settle down and paces around nervously due to pain and discomfort.
  • Fast Breathing: The stomach’s pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, combined with the pain, makes the dog breathe fast (tachypnea) but in a shallow manner. 
  • Increased Heart Rate: Pressure on the major blood vessels impairs circulation, and the heart pumps fast to overcome the difficulties. 
  • Pale Gums: Breathing and circulation problems inhibit normal tissue oxygenation and cause pale gums. 

How does the Daily Diet contribute to GDV in Dogs?

Daily diet contributes to GDV in dogs regarding food type and feeding habits. The main food type factors associated with an increased risk of bloat are food particle size, exclusive use of dry food, and certain ingredients. 

Foods with large particle sizes are less likely to cause gastric dilation and volvulus because they prolong the meal time. 

Using dry dog food alone is a GDV risk factor. During the past 30 years, there has been a 1,500 percent increase in the incidence of bloat, and this has coincided with the increased feeding of dry dog foods, says Jerold S. Bell, DVM, in VIN’s 2003 article “Risk Factors for Canine Bloat.”  

Dogs eating dry foods with oil listed among the first four ingredients on the label and dogs on wet foods featuring citric acid as a natural preservative are susceptible to gastric torsion. 

Feeding habits predisposing dogs to GDV include the number of meals per day, the amount of food per meal, physical activity after meals, elevated food bowls, and fast eating, which causes aerophagia or excess air swallowing. 

Eating once daily or having one substantial meal increases the GDV risk by weighing down the stomach and stretching the hepatogastric ligament, regardless of the total number of daily feedings. The ligament holds the stomach in place and allows more movement if stretched. 

Dogs that engage in strenuous exercise immediately after large meals have a greater chance of developing gastric dilatation and volvulus than dogs allowed to rest.

The use and elevated food bowls and gulping of food promote aerophagia, which is considered a risk factor for GDV. 

What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

The causes of bloat in dogs are listed below. 

  • Genetics: Genetics is one of the leading causes of bloat in dogs. Having a first-degree relative with GDV increases the risk, according to an article, “Diet-Related Risk Factors for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs of High-Risk Breeds: A Nested Case-Control Study,” published by Purdue University. 
  • Breed: Large and giant breeds with deep chests are predisposed to stomach torsion. High-risk breeds include Great Danes, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, Saint Bernards, and Basset Hounds. 
  • Age: Advanced age puts dogs at higher risk of GDV, according to a study, “Non-Dietary Risk Factors for Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Large and Giant Breed Dogs,” published in JAVMA in 2000. 
  • Chest Anatomy: One of the leading risk factors for gastric dilatation and volvulus is deep and narrow. A higher depth-to-width ratio of the chest leads to a greater likelihood of GDV. A deep and narrow chest leaves more space for the stomach to move, expand, and twist. 
  • Lean Body: Dogs with lean bodies are more susceptible to GDV than overweight or obese dogs. A lean body, like a large chest, allows more space for stomach movement, while the excess fat in the abdomen is a cushion and keeps the stomach in position. 
  • Dietary Factors: The food type used and feeding habits are critical in developing gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs. Risk factors include particle size, dry kibble, oil, and citric acid as ingredients, many daily feedings, serving large meals, exercise after eating, and aerophagia (air swallowing) due to elevated food bowls and fast eating. 
  • Stress: Anxiety due to travel or kenneling increases the GDV risk in predisposed breeds, suggests a study, “Risk Factors For Gastric Dilatation in Irish Setter Dogs,” published in JSAP in 1998. 
  • Temperament: Dogs described as "hyper" or "fearful" develop GDV compared to naturally calm and relaxed dogs, according to the article “Bloat: Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus in Dogs” by VCA Animal Hospitals. 
  • Atmospheric Pressure: The atmospheric pressure positively influences the occurrence of GDV, according to a study, “A Time Series Model of the Occurrence of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in a Population of Dogs,” published in BMC Veterinary Research in 2009. 

How is Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs Diagnosed?

Gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs is diagnosed with X-rays. Vets suspect GDV based on history and physical exam, but an abdominal X-ray is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. A bloated and twisted stomach looks like the number eight on an X-ray. 

The veterinarian orders bloodwork, blood pressure, and an EKG to evaluate the dog’s status. The plasma lactate concentration is the most important prognostic factor. 

High plasma lactate levels (hyperlactatemia) indicate gastric necrosis and low survival rates. Dogs with plasma lactate levels lower than 6.0 mmol/L survive in 99% of the cases, while dogs with higher levels die, reports an article “Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus,” published in the Handbook of Small Animal Practice in 2008. 

How is Bloat in Dogs different from Gastroenteritis?

Bloat in dogs is different from gastroenteritis in etiology, clinical manifestation, treatment, and prognosis. 

Excess gas production, stomach distension, and twisting are the foundations of bloat, while gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. 

Dogs with bloat are unable to vomit, and the standard presentation of dogs with gastroenteritis is vomiting and diarrhea. 

Bloat is a surgical condition, and gastroenteritis is managed with medications. Gastric dilatation and volvulus are life-threatening, and stomach or intestinal inflammation is rarely fatal.

Chronic forms of gastroenteritis in dogs, slowing down intestinal motility and delaying gastric emptying, contribute to GDV development in some cases. 

How to Treat GDV in Dogs?

To treat GDV in dogs, there are four steps, including stabilization, stomach decompression, stomach repositioning, and gastropexy. 

First, stabilization involves using intravenous fluids and emergency medications to counter shock effects and stabilize the dog.

Second, stomach decompression helps reduce the stomach size and relieves pressure on local tissues and organs. The veterinarian inserts a tube through the mouth and into the stomach and uses a large-gauge needle or catheter to pierce the stomach through the skin. 

Third, stomach repositioning surgery is performed once the dog is stable and the stomach is successfully decompressed. 

Lastly, gastropexy is recommended to reduce the risk of future GDV episodes and includes suturing the stomach to the abdominal wall to keep it in its correct anatomical position.  

How can you Prevent Bloat in Dogs?

You cannot prevent bloat in dogs. Gastropexy, however, significantly reduces the GDV risk and is recommended for all predisposed breeds. 

Gastropexy for at-risk breeds can be performed via minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, says a study, “Updated Information on Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus and Gastropexy in Dogs,” published in VCNA Small Animals Practice in 2022.

Other practices that minimize the chances of bloat occurrence are feeding dry and wet food mixed with several smaller meals scattered throughout the day. 

Choose dry formulas with larger kibbles, do not exercise the dog after meals, and avoid raised feeding bowls unless otherwise instructed by a veterinarian. 

What Type of Food Can Help Dogs with Bloat?

The types of food that can help dogs with bloat are listed below. 

  • Calcium-Rich Meat Meals: Dry dog formulas with calcium-rich foods like lamb meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal, meat meal, or bone meal listed among the first four ingredients on the label are recommended for dogs at risk of GDV.
  • Wet and Fatty Foods: Adding small amounts of canned dog food, table scraps, and wet food supplements to the meals reduces bloat incidence. The exact reason behind the effect is unknown. 
  • Small and Frequent Meals: Feed the dog small but frequent meals daily to prevent overeating and spare the hepatogastric ligament from overstretching. 
  • Prolonged Feeding Time: Increasing the mealtime duration reduces dogs' GDV risk. Use foods with large kibbles and consider slow-feeding bowls or mats. 

How can Probiotics Help Dogs Bloat?

Probiotics can help dogs bloat by supporting the growth of friendly gut bacteria. Beneficial gut bacteria reduce the risk of unnecessary gas formation during carbohydrate fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract. 

A link between certain genes involved in immune function and the risk of developing GDV was established in a study, “Associations Between Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Great Danes and Specific Alleles of the Canine Immune-System Genes DLA88, DRB1, and TLR5” published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 2017. 

Similar genes are believed to modulate the microbiome. “Immune genes may play a role in predisposition to GDV by altering the gut microbiome,” reports a study, “The Canine gut Microbiome is Associated with Higher Risk of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus and High-Risk Genetic Variants of the Immune System,” published in PlosONE in 2018. 

One of the study authors notes, “If GDV is mediated by an altered gut microbiome, and if we can determine which changes are causal to the condition, then we may be able to design a probiotic or dietary protocol to decrease the risk of GDV.”

Discuss the use of probiotics in dogs predisposed to gastric dilatation and volvulus with a veterinarian to ensure safe supplementation and find the best probiotic product. 

Is Gastric Volvulus Curable for Dogs?

Yes, gastric volvulus is curable for dogs. Prompt treatment improves the outcome in dogs with stomach distension and twisting. 

The survival rate of GDV dogs undergoing surgery is 80%, reports a study, “Gastric Dilation- Volvulus in Dogs Attending UK Emergency-Care Veterinary Practices: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Survival,” published in JSAP in 2017. 

The prognosis is poor for dogs with hyperlactatemia unresponsive to fluids. Complications like gastric perforation or severe spleen damage are negative indicators. 

Can Dog's Bloat Mean Something Serious?

Yes, a dog’s bloat can mean something serious. Gastric dilatation and volvulus are potentially fatal and a veterinary emergency. 

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or bloat, is one of the leading causes of death in dogs, second only to cancer for some breeds, and the number one killer of Great Danes, says a study “Understanding inherited causes of canine bloat,” published in Science Daily in 2013. 

Any case of dog bloat is a severe condition. The difference between life and death is measured in seconds for dogs with gastric dilatation and volvulus. 

When should you Consider Visiting the Vet Regarding your Dog's GDV?

You should consider visiting the vet regarding your dog’s GDV as soon as possible. The wait-and-see approach is deadly for dogs with gastric dilatation-volvulus. 

“A case of GDV is most often fatal without urgent and aggressive therapy,” according to an article “Etiopathogenesis of Canine GDV: A Nutritionist’s Interpretation of the Evidence” issued at the Purina Companion Animal Nutrition Summit in 2013. 

GDV telltale signs like dry retching and abdominal sensitivity are indicators and require prompt vet attention. Look for signs of bloat, especially in high-risk breeds.  

Can CBD Oil Treat Dog's Bloat?

No, CBD oil cannot treat dog’s bloat. CBD is a natural hemp extract with health-boosting effects, but it is not a miracle cure for gastric dilatation-volvulus. 

Regular CBD use calms hyper and anxious dogs down, hence reducing the risk of GDV since hyperactivity and stressful behaviors are linked to an increased stomach torsion incidence. 

Used in dogs that underwent GDV surgery during the postoperative period, CBD helps relieve pain and keeps them relaxed, aiding the cage rest. 

Always discuss the use of CBD oil for dogs diseases with the veterinarian. CBD is natural and safe to combine with mainstream surgical and medical treatments.