As a veterinarian, nothing gets us more concerned and on higher alert than hearing those words “We have a GDV en route!”
So what in the world is a GDV? This stands for Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, more commonly known as “Bloat”. This is one of the most life-threatening and critical cases that we deal with in veterinary medicine. Literally, minutes can make the difference between life and death. It is important as a dog owner to know just what this condition is, how to spot signs in your dog, and getting them to the hospital ASAP if you have a suspicion of bloat.
How GDV happens
For reasons we don’t fully understand, the stomach stretches many times its normal size with a mixture of air, food, and water. The stretched and distended stomach then rotates, cutting off the blood supply and trapping more air and gases within the stomach. The spleen is also sometimes affected by this torsion. As the stomach continues to expand, the dog can quickly go into shock as the large vessels are compressed. This is an incredibly painful condition as well as life-threatening and can result in death in just a matter of hours without proper emergency care.
The typical presentation of bloat is a sudden onset of abdominal or stomach distention, distress, anxiety and pain. One of the most specific signs of a bloat is multiple attempts at vomiting that are frequently unproductive. If you are not sure, it is best to err on the side of caution and get your dog to the veterinarian immediately
Risk Factors for Developing Bloat
Typically, deep chested breeds such as the Great Dane, Greyhound, Standard Poodles, and German Shepherds are at the highest risk for developing bloat.
A study at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine looked at over 1,900 dogs and correlated some common risk factors.
Factors Increasing the Risk of Bloating
1. Feeding only one meal a day and only dry food
2. Exercise shortly after a meal
3. Risk increases with weight and dogs weighing 99lbs and above have a 20% higher likelihood.
4. Genetic predisposition (relatives that have presented with bloat)
5. Stressful situations/anxious breed
6. Eating rapidly
7. Being thin or underweight
8. Moistening dry foods
9. Feeding from an elevated bowl
10. Restricting water before and after meals
11. Feeding a dry diet with animal fat listed in the first four ingredients
12. Male dogs are more likely to bloat than females
13. Older dogs (seven – 12 years)
Interestingly enough, this study also showed that most cases of bloat occur after 6pm, this is why it is so important that owners are knowledgeable about their veterinarians hours as well as the location local emergency veterinary hospital
How Bloat is treated?
Multiple things must happen to stabilize and save the life of a bloated dog, all of them as quickly as possible as mere minutes can drastically change the prognosis
1. IV fluid therapy to treat cardiovascular shock. Intravenous catheters are placed and fluids are rushed in to replace the blood that cannot get past the bloated stomach to return to the heart. Medication to resolve the pain is given as well as antibiotics and electrolytes which all help to stabilize the patient.
2.. Decompression of the stomach. The stomach must be decompressed to relieve pressure causing tissue death of the stomach and to help correct circulatory shock. A stomach tube +/- a trochar (Large needle) is often used to achieve stomach decompression.
3. Surgery. All bloated dogs, once stable, should have surgery to further assess and repair the damage, potentially remove portions of the stomach that have died, as well as possible removal of the spleen Once this is done, a surgery called a gastropexy is done to tack the stomach into its normal position so that it never twists again.
Without surgery, even if your pet survives the initial shock and decompression, there is a 25% chance of death and a 76% chance of the dog re-bloating, sometimes as soon as hours later. Surgically tacking the stomach to the abdominal wall increases the chance of a successful outcome to about 80%.
4. Post-surgical concerns
A very dangerous rhythm problem, called a ventricular premature contraction, or “VPC,” is associated with bloat. If this is the case, intravenous medications are needed to stabilize the rhythm.
A bloat patient is hospitalized after the initial surgery for many days. Complications such as deadly heart arrhythmias, continued tissue death, severe anemia needing blood transfusions, sepsis or overwhelming infection are all possible risk factors after bloat occurs and must me monitored and addressed quickly.
Prevention is key in avoiding this potentially deadly situation from occurring in your pet. An elective gastropexy surgery usually done at the time of spay or neuter can be performed in a breed considered at risk.
If you have an at risk breed, it is important to discuss concerns or questions with your veterinarian about these preventative measures.
Additionally, any dog can bloat, even a dachshund or chihuahua. It is important that you know the signs to watch for, things that you can do at home to decrease the risk of bloat and if you are EVER concerned that your dog may be experiencing this painful, life-threatening emergency, get them to as veterinarian as soon as possible
I am always happy to discuss this further and answer any questions you may have about your pet, GDV or other.
Alisha Spivey, DVM
Risk Factors and Prevention of Bloat in Dogs Deborah Primovic, DVM September 2015
Bloat: The Mother of all Emergencies Wendy Brooks DVM, DAVBP January 1 2001, revised June 8 2017