GDV stands for ‘Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus’, which is a syndrome that affects large breed dogs. It is caused by an accumulation of gas in the stomach which causes it to swell and bloat. The ‘volvulus’ can occur as there is a risk that the stomach can twist over on itself. This blocks off the entrance and exit where the gas would usually escape from. As such, the problem can progress very rapidly, making it a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate veterinary assistance.

“My guide dog has got this… She has been in intensive care for 5 days and the operation took 5 long hours. Thankfully my angel is on the mend and is now eating but is still in doggy hospital. It happened so fast.” – Michelle, September 2017

Are some dogs more at risk?

GDV occurs more commonly in large breed dogs with deep chests such as Great Danes, Setters, German Shepherd Dogs and St Bernards, although it can affect any dog. It is often seen in dogs that eat quickly (often eating and swallowing a lot of air in the process), then exercise vigorously after a meal. Nervous or stressy dogs can be more predisposed. There is an increased risk if your dog has a close relative,such as a parent or littermate, that has suffered from the condition.

What are the signs of a GDV?

The most prominent sign is if your dog is trying to vomit or retch unproductively, and can’t seem to actually bring anything up. They are often restless, and drool saliva. You may notice their abdomen seems firm and swollen. As the swelling increases and puts pressure on their organs, their breathing may become laboured. Eventually they will collapse and be unable to get up. Time is of the utmost importance, and if you notice your dog showing any of these signs, you should contact your vet immediately.

My 3 year old Retriever died of Gastric Torsion. I got up in the am to find his stomach had swollen to twice it’s size and had no idea what it was… It was such a horrible shock he was a super well loved dog . I didn’t know what it was but the vet told me it was Gastic Torsion. Twisted stomach. It happened so fast during the night.” – Martin, August 2019

How is a GDV diagnosed?

For the most part, the vet will make the diagnosis based on your dog’s history and a thorough clinical examination. The vet will check for a distended gas filled stomach, as well as assessing for signs of shock. Sometimes an abdominal x-ray may be needed. This is to confirm if the stomach is just dilated, or has also twisted which is much more dangerous. A stomach tube can sometimes be passed to relieve some of the trapped gas and stomach contents. Other tests such as a blood sample, and an ECG may be performed as many patients have serious heart rhythm disturbances. In very collapsed patients, life saving treatment may be given before some of these tests are able to be performed.

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What is the treatment for a GDV?

Most dogs with GDV present in cardiovascular shock, so treatment for shock must be started immediately. Emergency medications, and intravenous fluids (drip) and pain relief will be given straight away. If possible, passing a stomach tube will help to allow some of the gas to escape, if this is not possible due to twisting, then a trochar (metal tube) or large bore needle may be inserted through the skin into the stomach to relieve the pressure this way.

Once they are more stable, then surgery is required to correct the GDV and untwist the stomach. Sometimes parts of the stomach, and its next door neighbour the spleen, may be damaged due to the twisting and may have to be surgically removed. There are a few different surgical techniques that are often used to prevent a GDV re-occuring in the future (gastropexy). This involves stitching part of the wall of the stomach to the abdominal wall.

Given the life threatening nature of this condition, the rapid progression, development of cardiovascular shock and risk of complications, this is a very serious condition and prognosis varies depending on a number of factors. Even in relatively uncomplicated cases, mortality rates can be high. Unfortunately, some dogs will not make it through the surgery itself, and the full scale of potential internal damage may not be known until the surgery has started. Patients will need extended recovery times, close monitoring and assessing for post op complications. The prognosis is worse if they present in severe shock, the stomach has been twisted for some time, have cardiac problems or heart dysrhythmias present, if there is necrosis or damage to the spleen requiring removal and if surgery time is lengthy. 

How can I prevent a GDV happening to my dog?

There are a few tips that may help reduce the chance of your dog developing a GDV, although we don’t really know exactly why they do develop. 

  • Try to feed smaller more frequent meals rather than one big meal per day.
  • Use activity feeders or slow feeding bowls to reduce how quickly your dog can eat their food (eating quickly and gulping down lots of air with their food, increases the risk).
  • Avoid exercising, or vigorous excitement eg travelling in a car around meal times
  • Feed from the floor not from a height (research has now been shown this to increase the risk of GDV).
  • Know your dog – stressed, nervous or very excitable dogs are more prone. In particular ensure meal times are as calm as possible and try to avoid competition between dogs when eating.

Quick action and an excellent vet saved our cockers life on Xmas day! If you know your dogs behaviours, you will see this unfolding right in front of you – it was literally within the space of an hour and vet said had we not got him there so quickly we would have lost him that night. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen, the speed it takes over if terrifying. Thankfully he had his surgery and is recovering at home.” – Heidi, December 2018

If you are concerned your dog may be showing any of these symptoms, contact your vet without delay. If you don’t have a vet, search now for a local vet practice.