If you are the owner of a large or giant breed dog, then you may well be aware of a condition known as gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) or bloat. A GDV is potentially very serious. It can develop very quickly and can sadly be fatal in some cases. Certain breeds are at higher risk of developing a GDV and for these it may be sensible to consider a preventative surgical procedure known as a gastropexy. But what exactly is a gastropexy and should your dog have one?

What is a GDV?

Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) is a condition whereby the stomach becomes full of gas or fluid and twists around itself. This generally occurs without warning and dogs can become unwell quite rapidly. Dogs with a GDV may have an obvious enlargement of their abdomen (tummy). They may try to vomit or retch (often without producing anything) and they may be restless or noticeably uncomfortable. If your pet is showing any of these signs, then it is vital that they are checked by a vet as soon as possible. Do not delay. GDV is an emergency and requires surgery. A recent study found a survival rate of 80% for dogs who had surgery for GDV. The sooner that dogs are seen by a vet then the better the chance of recovery.

How likely is it that my dog might get a GDV?

The risk of getting a GDV varies between different breeds. It can happen in any dog but is much more common in large and giant breed dogs. The Great Dane is at greatest risk. Their chance of developing a GDV is thought to be about 36%. Other at-risk breeds include Saint Bernards, German Shepherd Dogs, Irish Setters, Rottweilers, and Boxers. First degree relatives of dogs that have had a GDV have a 63% greater risk of developing the condition themselves.

What is a gastropexy?

A gastropexy is a surgical procedure during which the stomach is sutured (stitched) to the body wall. The aim is to permanently fix the stomach in position and prevent it from twisting abnormally in the future.

There are two reasons that a gastropexy might be performed. 

The first is as an important part of the surgical treatment of a dog suffering from GDV. 

During surgery the veterinary surgeon will first untwist the stomach and return it to its normal position. To prevent it from rotating again, a gastropexy is then performed. Without a gastropexy, 76% of dogs will have another GDV – many within 3 months. A gastropexy reduces the risk of further episodes of GDV down to 6%. Surgical treatment for GDV can be expensive. Animals generally require a period of hospitalisation after surgery and unfortunately some will not recover. 

The second reason that a gastropexy might be performed is as a prophylactic (or preventative) procedure. 

This is done before a dog has had an episode of GDV, to avoid them suffering from this condition in the future. This is generally done at the same time as neutering when dogs are already under anaesthetic. It would only be recommended in dogs considered at risk of developing GDV. Nowadays it is usually performed laparoscopically (keyhole). This avoids the need for a large incision and recovery times are typically shorter than for conventional open surgery. It can often be combined relatively easily with a laparoscopic spay in female dogs. Not all veterinary practices will be able to offer laparoscopic surgery as it does require special surgical equipment.

The benefits of a prophylactic gastropexy are greater in those breeds at highest risk of developing GDV. One study found that for the Great Dane, a prophylactic gastropexy meant that dogs were nearly 30 times less likely to die from a GDV than those who had not had the procedure. The benefits vary for other breeds, but it is definitely worth discussing prophylactic gastropexy with your vet for any giant or large breed dog. 

What happens after a prophylactic gastropexy?

It is common for dogs undergoing a prophylactic gastropexy to be discharged on the same day as the procedure. Serious complications are uncommon. Minor wound complications are reported in some dogs. As with any surgery it is important to follow any post operative instructions from your vet very carefully. A period of restricted activity is usually advised, and it is important to ensure that your pet cannot interfere with the surgical site in any way.

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Whilst a prophylactic gastropexy should significantly reduce the chance of developing a GDV in the future, it remains important to contact your vets as a matter of urgency if your pet shows any of the clinical signs of the condition. 

Overview

Gastropexy may be performed either as part of the treatment for GDV or a preventative procedure in dogs at risk of developing the condition. Whilst the outcomes for dogs developing GDV have improved over the years, it can still be fatal in a significant number of dogs. A preventative gastropexy is therefore worth considering in those breeds deemed most at risk.

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