Robert D. Hott, D.V.M.
is a serious medical condition of dogs. It is more properly termed GASTRIC
DILATATION-VOLVULUS COMPLEX as this describes the course of events.
Almost every breed of dog has been affected by GDV but the condition
is seen more commonly in large breeds. The Great Dane and German Shepherd
Dog seem to be especially susceptible.
The exact cause of GDV has never been determined with any certainty.
Some doctors feel that these dogs are born with their stomachs slightly
out of position allowing it to twist more easily. Dogs that eat rapidly and
then exercise heavily may also be at increased risk. Apparently the heavy,
food-filled stomach acts like a pendulum, swinging back and forth until it
twists on itself. Composition of the diet does NOT seem to be a cause, nor
does it seem to matter whether the dog eats canned or dry food. In older
dogs tumors of the spleen or stomach may cause twisting and subsequent blockage.
Eating indigestible foreign material may also cause bloating. One dog in
our clinic ate its dog blanket and bloated. We removed the blanket remnants
at surgery and the dog survived. Whatever the inciting cause, affected dogs
all show similar signs;
Initially they are anxious, restless, not interested in food or water,
vomit once or twice then follow this with retching and gagging motions which
are usually unproductive. There are no abnormal bowel movements. After 30-60
minutes the dog begins to appear SWOLLEN in its midsection due to accumulation
of gas in the stomach. Dogs begin to pant heavily and breathing becomes rapid
and shallow. In most cases of GDV, the stomach undergoes a "volvulus" or twist.
This closes both the esophagus (inlet) and pylorus (outlet) preventing the
dog from relieving the gas pressure. The condition is rapidly fatal in dogs,
causing shock, coma, and death within 6-12 hours.
Diagnosis is relatively easy based on breed, history, and clinical
signs. Your veterinarian may take x-rays of the abdomen to confirm the diagnosis.
GDV is a true life-threatening emergency. If you suspect your dog
may be showing signs call your veterinarian or emergency clinic AT ONCE
for instructions. Treatment is aimed at reducing the gas pressure and returning
the stomach to its normal position. Your veterinarian will remove pressure
via a stomach tube or trocar tube through the body wall, then prepare
the dog for exploratory surgery to find the exact problem and correct it.
Usually the surgeon will tack down the stomach (gastropexy) to help
prevent recurrence, but these stitches may break down over time. Occasionally
bloat can be treated without surgery by washing out the stomach with
a special stomach tube. Death loss due to GDV is very high for several
reasons. Our clinic records over the last few years show that approximately
half of the cases do not survive. Often the owners delay in presenting the
dog for emergency care because they are unaware of the seriousness of the
condition. Also, once the stomach has undergone volvulus, many metabolic
poisons build up resulting in damage to the stomach wall, liver, spleen,
and heart muscle. Frequently these poisons will cause the heart to stop during
surgery or they may circulate for several days post-operatively and continue
to pose a threat. Post-operative infection can also cause problems.
Newer, safer anesthesia methods have helped us treat this condition more
successfully, but we are still unable to offer much in the way of preventive
medicine. No medication or screen tests are available. The best advice
at the present time is to feed these large breed dogs small amounts more
frequently, and avoid lots of twisting or rolling play. Affected dogs
probably should not be used for breeding, but GDV may not show up
until the dogs breeding career is almost over. The best plan is to a keep
an eye out for GDV and call your veterinarian at the first sign of problems.