What is GDV?
A GDV (gastric dilatation volvulus) is a genuine life-threatening emergency in dogs that can be rapidly fatal without urgent veterinary treatment. It involves the dog’s stomach filling with gas (bloat) and twisting on itself. As it twists, the gas becomes trapped so that it can no longer escape, and the stomach continues to expand further. The twisting action can result in blood vessels being torn away from part of the stomach wall – this can cause the affected portion of stomach to start dying due to a lack of blood supply. The stomach also becomes so distended that it impedes the flow of blood back to the heart, quickly putting the dog into shock. It also puts pressure on the diaphragm, limiting the ability of the lungs to expand. Hence this condition can be rapidly fatal, and some dogs can die within an hour or two of first showing symptoms.
What causes GDV in dogs?
No one really knows for sure. We do know that certain breeds are more at risk – large, deep-chested breeds seem especially prone. These include Setters, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Great Danes, Standard Poodles and Bassett Hounds.
There appears to be an association with eating, with most cases occurring 2-3 hours after a meal, particularly when the dog has strenuously exercised afterwards.
What are the symptoms of GDV in dogs?
Being aware of the symptoms is crucial, as cases need urgent veterinary treatment – any delays can be fatal. Early signs can be non-specific and include restlessness, drooling and increased breathing rate. As the condition progresses the more obvious signs include:
- Bloated abdomen
- Retching and unproductive vomiting (they may just bring up froth)
- Abdominal pain
- Pale gums
If you have any concerns that your dog may be showing signs of a GDV then please contact your vet immediately – do not delay.
How is GDV in dogs diagnosed?
The vet will be highly suspicious of a GDV based on the clinical history and physical examination findings. The diagnosis can be confirmed using a single abdominal x-ray, which shows a hugely dilated and twisted stomach.
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How is GDV in dogs treated?
The dog must first be stabilised prior to surgery using intravenous fluids (a drip) to treat the shock, and a stomach tube is normally placed to try and decompress the stomach. Once stabilised, surgery is needed to de-rotate the stomach, returning it to its normal position. The vet will perform a gastropexy – this is a procedure to attach the stomach wall to the inside of the body wall to prevent it from twisting again. A scar forms anchoring the stomach in position.
The spleen is checked and is sometimes removed if it has been damaged as the stomach twisted. Dogs can manage fine without a spleen so this is not an issue for them.
Close monitoring is needed after surgery as post-operative complications are fairly common. Repeated blood tests will also be performed as blood clotting problems and heart irregularities can occur after a GDV. Your dog will need to be hospitalised until the vet is happy that they are well enough to come home.
What is the prognosis of GDV in dogs?
Prompt veterinary care is essential to give your dog the best chance of recovery. Sadly, given the seriousness of the condition, some dogs do die despite receiving treatment. The surgery is high risk and there can also be complications post-surgery.
Can I prevent my dog from getting a GDV?
There are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of a GDV occurring. They include:
- Not exercising your dog immediately before meals or for 1-2 hours afterwards.
- Feed your dog 2-3 smaller meals a day rather than one large meal.
- Try to slow your dog down if they eat very quicky – a maze bowl can help with this.
- Don’t elevate your dog’s food bowl.
- Consider feeding a mix of wet and dry food, as dry food on its own has been shown to potentially increase the risk of GDV.