GDV is an acute, life-threatening medical emergency and even mild cases will die without treatment. GDV is mostly seen in large and giant dogs, occasionally in smaller dogs, and rarely in cats. To be able to recognize GDV and get a pet that is suffering from GDV the care it needs in a timely manner, one will need some basic information about what GDV is, and what the symptoms are. Because GDV is mostly seen in dogs, in this article we will refer to GDV in relation to dogs though most information also applies to cats. If you want to know more about GDV, keep reading.
What is GDV?
Gastric dilatation and volvulus, or in short GDV, is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate intervention. When a dog suffers from gastric dilatation (the GD in GDV), often also referred to as bloat, their stomach fills with gas resulting in it expanding like a balloon. The extended stomach stops blood from flowing back to the heart from the lower abdomen and hind legs resulting in the dog going into shock. The enlarged stomach will also put pressure on the diaphragm making the space for heart and lungs smaller, which will lead to breathing difficulties.
When a dog suffers from bloat they are at risk of the stomach flipping, which is known as a volvules (the V in GVD). A gastric dilatation/bloat will not always progress into the stomach flipping. When the stomach does flip it will prevent any gas, liquid or stomach contents from leaving the stomach. Blood flow to the stomach stops resulting in tissue dying. The spleen and pancreas get dragged along with the stomach when it flips, stopping blood flow to these vital organs, resulting in the pancreas producing toxic hormones due to oxygen starvation. One of these hormones stops the heart, and even dogs that seem to be responding to the treatment of GDV can still suddenly have their heart stop.
Without treatment, dogs suffering from GDV will go into shock after around 1 to 2 hours, and eventually die.
Dogs with GDV typically develop acute gastrointestinal symptoms, while cats tend to develop respiratory distress. Other common symptoms are:
- Unproductive retching/vomiting, white foam may be produced.
- Standing in a bow position
- Difficulty breathing
- Enlarged abdomen (that will sound hollow when softly tapped on)
- Pale gums
- High heart rate
A dog with GDV requires emergency treatment to release the gas from the stomach and reduce the pressure on organs and restore blood circulation. A veterinarian will usually first try and insert a stomach tube to let the gas escape. If the stomach is also twisted this will not be possible and instead a needle will be inserted through the skin into the stomach. Shock treatment will be started and once the dog is stable they will need surgery to put the stomach back into position, remove any dead tissue, and to attach the stomach to the abdominal wall. The latter is done because the chance of recurrence is 90% percent in dogs that have been treated for GDV.
The chances of survival when treatment has started depends on several factors, like progression, degree of shock, amount of tissue that died of the stomach etc. Mortality rate in uncomplicated cases of GDV is 15% to 20%. When arrhythmias are present at the time of diagnoses this rises to 38%. When tissue needs to be removed from the stomach due to it dying, the mortality rate increases 28% to 38%. Spleen removal increases mortality rate to 32% to 38%.
While the exact cause of GDV is still unknown, there are several risk factors known. While any dog can develop GDV, there is a correlation between chest build and the risk of developing GDV. Dogs with deep, narrow chests, that are built tall rather than wide, are known to have an increased risk to develop GDV. Examples of breeds with said build are the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Irish Setter, Weimaraner and Dobermann Pinscher. Dogs that are 45 kg and above have a 20% increased risk of developing GDV.
GDV also seems to happen more in specific family lines, so if your dog has a parent or sibling that has developed GDV they will have an increased risk of developing GDV themselves. Males are more likely to suffer from GDV than female dogs. Exercising after large meals or drinking large amounts of water may increase risk. Disease and illness that reduces intestinal motion also increases the risk of developing GDV.
Dogs that eat fast are more at risk of developing GDV than dogs that eat slowly. An increased risk is also seen in dogs that get fed once a day, compared to more smaller meals spread throughout the day. Dogs that are underweight or thin are more at risk, just as stressed dogs, or dogs that have a fearful, anxious or nervous temperament. Recent studies show that dogs age 7 and above were the highest risk group. It’s believed that food that uses citric acid as a preservative and diets where oils and fat are listed in the top 4 ingredients increase the risk.
When looking online you will find many advises that supposedly prevent GDV, but not all are backed by research. Some proven ways to prevent bloat are:
- Feed dogs alone to prevent fast eating and stress around meal times.
- Offer food in slow feeders to help slow down eating. This will also provide them at the same time with enrichment.
- Instead of feeding 1 big meal a day, spread meals over smaller portions more times a day.
- Don’t let your dog drink large amounts of water in one go. When out and about make sure you have water with you so your dog can drink small amounts several times during the walk, rather than finishing their bowl once they are back home.
- Prevent exercise after large meals
- In high-risk cases preventative surgery can be considered to attach the stomach to the abdominal wall which is also known at Gastropexy. This will not prevent gastric dilatation/bloat, but will prevent the stomach from flipping.
Swift intervention is needed to give a pet a chance to survive GDV. We hope that through this article we have informed pet owners about the symptoms and other information so they know more and recognize this medical emergency in their pet. Would you like to know more about our dog sitting or dog walking services, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help.