GDV in dogs or gastric dilatation-volvulus is a life-threatening condition that can quickly develop into an emergency. GDV is a twist of the stomach, and when it occurs, gas builds up inside the stomach as it twists on itself. This results in a lack of blood flow to the stomach, spleen, and sometimes the pancreas. The most common symptom of GDV in dogs is unproductive retching. As this condition primarily affects deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes, Boxers, standard poodles, and others, dog owners of these breeds must be familiar with GDV.

What is GDV in dogs?

GDV is also termed gastric dilatation-volvulus, gastric torsion, and bloat. GDV in dogs is a medical emergency. The condition is characterized by gastric distension, twisting of the stomach, increased pressure in the stomach, and consequent blood flow compromise. As the stomach dilates, it can rotate and twist on its long axis called volvulus. The spleen can also become displaced since it is attached to the stomach by ligaments and blood vessels. In severe cases, this can lead to circulatory shock.

With GDV in dogs, the large caudal vena cava (large blood vessel bringing blood back to the heart) is compromised. This can lead to blood building up in the spleen, kidneys, and intestines, as well as decreased blood flow back to the heart. Gastric blood flow can be impaired, leading to gastric ulceration, necrosis, and perforation.

What causes GDV in dogs?

GDV in dogs has no single cause, but several factors are likely to be involved. Some risk factors for GDV include genetic predisposition, being deep-chested, having a lean body condition, eating quickly, eating from a raised food bowl, and being fearful or nervous.

Dogs that are large or giant breeds are most at risk for GDV. It is speculated that this may be because these dogs have a genetic component that makes them more likely to get GDV. However, GDV is likely a complex disorder with many different genes involved, rather than being caused by a single gene abnormality.

What are the symptoms of GDV in dogs?

The most common GDV symptom in dogs is unproductive retching. Other GDV symptoms in dogs may include:

  • Distended abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling or salivation
  • Unsuccessful attempts to vomit

If your dog is showing any GDV symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. GDV is a life-threatening condition that can rapidly progress to shock and death if not treated promptly.

How is GDV diagnosed in dogs?

GDV in dogs is typically diagnosed based on clinical signs and physical examination findings. An abdominal radiograph (X-ray) is often taken to confirm GDV. Your veterinarian will be looking for the stomach to be in a particular shape and position called the "Popeyes arm" or "double bubble".

GDV in dogs
An X-ray of a dog with GDV. The large black tubular structure is the twisted stomach.

In some cases, GDV can be diagnosed with an abdominal ultrasound but it can be difficult as there is excessive gas in the stomach which makes ultrasound more difficult to interpret.

How is GDV treated in dogs?

The treatment for GDV in dogs typically requires hospitalization and surgery. The goal of GDV treatment is to decompress the stomach, stabilize the dog's vital signs, and correct the GDV. Before undergoing surgery for GDV, emergency medical therapy is administered. The most essential initial treatments are fluid therapy and gastric decompression.

GDV surgery is typically performed via a midline laparotomy (abdominal incision). The stomach is then examined for twists or other abnormalities. The GDV is then corrected, and the stomach is sutured in place to prevent future GDV episodes called a gastropexy. A gastropexy is a surgical procedure in which the stomach is sutured to the body wall to prevent GDV from happening again in the future.

After GDV surgery, your dog will be monitored closely for several days. IV fluids and pain medication will be given as needed. Most dogs recover well from GDV surgery and can return to their normal activities within a few weeks.

What is the prognosis for dogs with GDV?

Complications after surgery for GDV can occur up to 5 days post-operation. This is why continued hospitalization with fluid therapy, monitoring, and medications are required. The mortality rate for GDV in dogs is up to 30%.

How can GDV in dogs be prevented?

Gastropexy can help to decrease the risk of GDV. Some veterinarians choose to have a prophylactic gastropexy performed at the time of neutering or during any abdominal surgery. This may be considered for breeds that are at high risk for GDV.

Otherwise, having your dog eat slowly and reducing exercise immediately after eating are recommended. To encourage your dog to eat slowly, feeding large kibble sizes or using a "slow-down bowl" can be beneficial.

GDV in dogs is a serious medical emergency in dogs that can rapidly progress to shock and death if not treated promptly. If you think your dog may be showing GDV symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. While GDV can be a life-threatening condition, most dogs recover well from GDV surgery with proper medical treatment. GDV can be prevented by having a prophylactic gastropexy performed at the time of neutering or during any abdominal surgery. You can also encourage your dog to eat slowly and reduce exercise immediately after eating. If you have any questions or are concerned about GDV affecting your dog, please contact your veterinarian.