Robert D. Hott, D.V.M.

Canine bloat 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.