Living with a dog is always interesting – you can look forward to a day full of surprises, fun, and mischief. But, at times, it can also bring you heartbreak. As the days roll by, pets tend to grow on you, so watching them suffer due to some ailment can be a heart-rending experience for any owner.
Bidding adieu to their canine companion is a dreaded nightmare for dog lovers. To avoid such a situation, you must take good care of your pet and ensure that it leads a healthy life. And that includes being able to recognize when they may be ill.
Have you ever come across the term gastric dilation volvulus, commonly referred to as GDV, in dogs? If you are a dog owner and have not come across such a term, consider yourself lucky, given that it is a life-threatening canine ailment that requires urgent veterinary care if not detected on time.
What Is Twisted Stomach In Dogs?
Twisted stomach, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a disease that afflicts canines. More commonly known as gastric torsion or bloat, it is a disorder that can cause a dog’s stomach to dilate, rotate, or get twisted around the short axis. A flipped stomach in dogs is a common canine ailment but can endanger your pet’s life if not diagnosed in its initial stages and then appropriately treated.
This disorder happens when a dog’s stomach fills with fluid, gas, or food and becomes distended or bloated. This swollen stomach creates pressure on the diaphragm and other internal organs. In some cases, the dog’s stomach and abdominal wall can then rotate or twist, trapping the blood supply in the stomach and preventing a healthy blood supply from returning to the heart or other parts of the body. This is known as gastric dilatation-volvulus – or GSV.
GSV is dangerous for your canine as it could send the animal into a shock. Due to uneven blood flow, this gastric dilatation-volvulus situation is likely to worsen with every passing minute without immediate treatment and can quickly lead to the death of your pet.
Check out our article on Signs that Your Dog is Dying.
What Happens If Your Pet’s Stomach Appears Bloated?
Various emergencies can arise due to gastric rotation or bloating, such as damage to the cardiovascular system, increased pressure in the abdomen as the stomach twists, and progressive distension of the stomach.
Other complications of gastric dilatation-volvulus include decreased perfusion and low blood pressure, where the process of delivering nutrients to other parts of the body via blood flow is hindered. Insufficient perfusion which decreases blood flow can lead to organ failure and subsequent cellular damage. Bloating also makes it hard for the dog to breathe properly and can also cause a tear in the wall of the dog’s stomach.
What Causes GDV?
Although the exact cause of gastric dilatation-volvulus is still unknown, the most likely causes of bloat in dogs are genetics, a dog’s physiology, and the surrounding environment. For instance, dogs with a hereditary GDV history are more susceptible to contracting this disorder. Likewise, giant breed dogs are at a higher risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus, especially deep-chested dogs like the Great Dane and German Shepherd breeds. St Bernards, Irish Setters, and Weimaraners are also known to be at a higher risk of gastric dilatation.
However, puppies have also been reported to have been affected by gastric dilatation, though the risk increases with age. Studies show that excessive ingestion of food and water, delayed bowel movement or emptying of the gastrointestinal system, and excessive activity after eating are some causes that could lead to bloating of the stomach.
It is, however, important to note that your dog could also have a bloated stomach for other medical reasons, such as cancer, infection, and pregnancy, which is why it is essential to seek immediate treatment and diagnosis.
Diagnosis of Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV)
Your veterinarian will start the diagnosis of GDV based on your dog’s history and a thorough examination, checking for indications of shock, as well as the tell-tale signs of bloat, including an enlarged stomach.
Imaging techniques, such as an X-ray of the abdomen, are the primary method to confirm a diagnosis of gastric dilatation. Analysis of urine and testing the concentration of lactate substance in the plasma are other methods that can help to diagnose this disorder.
Symptoms of Gastric Torsion
Pet parents need to be vigilant as gastric dilatation-volvulus can come on very quickly and progress rapidly. Knowing the early signs of GSV and getting your dog prompt treatment can significantly improve their chances of a full recovery.
As well as pain, discomfort, and distress, the following are the most common signs of bloat in dogs include:
A dog suffering from stomach torsion will have a hard, distended, and bloated abdomen. However, this symptom often goes unnoticed in a giant breed dog or a dog with a heavy, deep chest since the stomach lies behind the ribcage. And, for overweight and furry dogs, this stomach distension might not be visible at all and can be easily missed altogether.
Unproductive retching means vomiting without anything coming out. Dogs that are suffering from GDV can often show signs of unproductive retching. Although, sometimes, your retching dog may produce small amounts of water or even large volumes of thick, stringy saliva.
Pacing and Restlessness
These are two of the earliest signs of gastric torsion. The dog becomes visibly uncomfortable and cannot keep calm due to the pain in its bloated belly. If left untreated or overlooked, this restlessness or pacing can result in staggering, decreased responsiveness, and subsequent death.
When a dog suffers from GDV, it drools excessively. You may also notice that your dog is smacking its lips together too. Both symptoms are associated with nausea that the dog suffers because of this stomach disorder.
Standing With Neck Extended and Elbows Pointed Outward
This behavior is a dog’s attempt to ease out its difficulty with breathing that occurs due to its bloated stomach. The rapidly distended belly of the dog does not allow the lungs to expand sufficiently, making it difficult for the dog to breathe. So he will try every possible trick to be able to breathe easier. With elbows pointing out and neck extended, this is a dog’s attempt to help enlarge the space available for the lungs to expand within its chest cavity.
Dyspnea means labored breathing. This is indicated by fast, heavy, and difficult breathing in dogs suffering from GDV. An imbalance in acid/base and metabolic abnormalities that occurs in the dog’s body creates this distressing breathing disorder.
Tachycardia means an extremely rapid heartbeat and can result from the pain and distress that a dog experiences due to GDV. The abnormal blood flow within the dog’s body is a reason for it to suffer from tachycardia and the resulting heavy and fast breathing.
Prolonged CRT (Capillary Refill Time) and Pale Mucous Membrane
When checking your dog’s mouth, the color of the tissues above its teeth is usually an indication of the health and function of its circulatory system. If these tissues have lost the natural pink color or have turned pale, your dog needs to be taken to the vet. Another common practice is to check the tissues by pressing for a while. If the color takes more than two seconds to return, it might indicate a problem with gastric dilatation and volvulus.
Perhaps the last and most unfortunate symptom of gastric torsion is the total collapse of your dog. There could be numerous other reasons for a dog to collapse, but if you suspect it is due to a bloated stomach, it could be too late to treat the canine. Every passing minute aggravates the situation when it comes to gastric dilatation, and so you must seek immediate veterinary intervention.
Suspected GDV in your dog should always be treated with the utmost seriousness and urgency. It is not something that you can treat yourself or experiment with home remedies in the hope that you can relieve your dog of the ailment.
You mustn’t try to treat GDV at home. If a dog is suffering from stomach bloat, any oral medication will only serve to aggravate the problem. There is also the increased risk that an oral medicine could find its way into their lungs. You could also get bitten by your pet as they will be experiencing extreme distress and discomfort.
GDV can kill a dog within a short period of time so do not delay treatment but take your dog immediately to the nearest vet available. The distressed canine needs to be stabilized first, so administering intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy will be the preliminary steps to follow.
When treating bloat, your vet will first aim to release the build-up of gases in the dog’s stomach. And this will involve inserting a stomach tube down the esophagus and into the stomach to help with the procedure. Water may also be flushed in and out of the stomach tube to clean out any remaining food particles. In many cases, the vet will insert a needle directly into the stomach to release the gases. In both cases, general anesthesia will be used.
Your dog will also require emergency surgery to treat bloat which will involve untwisting the stomach as well as having the health of the surrounding organs assessed. Once the gases have been released, and the stomach has been rotated back to its original position, it will be permanently attached to the abdominal wall. This procedure is to prevent the stomach from twisting in the future if your dog once again suffers from bloating.
Following surgery, your dog will be placed under observation until the vet is satisfied with their overall health and eating habits.
According to veterinarians, large meals, followed by heavy exercise, is likely the most common cause of gastric torsion. So, to prevent bloat, you should feed your dog smaller portions throughout the day rather than two large meals. And always avoid exercise directly after a meal as you need to give your dog time to digest its food. Ensuring they eat a canine-appropriate healthy diet will also help to promote good digestion in your dog.
Dogs also tend to eat fast, which can lead to a distended stomach, so try to train your dog to eat slowly as this will help avoid any bloating. If you have more than one dog, try and feed them in separate bowls as the fear of competition can make your dog eat faster. And do not allow your dog to drink too much water while feeding, as this can also increase the risk of gastric torsion.
A raised food bowl is not recommended as there is some evidence that it can contribute to bloat in dogs who are already susceptible. Changing to a new food too quickly can also raise the risk of bloat as it doesn’t give the bacteria in the gut time to adjust and can lead to excess gas build-up.
Finally, for giant or large breed dogs that have higher risk factors for gastric dilatation and volvulus, a procedure called gastropexy could be advised as it can reduce the risk of bloating by around 90% if the stomach gets twisted. This procedure is often carried out on young dogs at the same time that they are neutered or spayed.
While all the above measures are no guarantee that your pooch won’t experience bloat, it can reduce their risk of getting the disorder as well as the severity of symptoms should they fall ill.
Related Post: Dog Bowls
Gastric dilation volvulus is a life-threatening ailment for canines. That being said, if your dog shows symptoms of a bloated stomach, do not panic. Consult your vet immediately and under no circumstances should you try to treat your dog with home remedies. You cannot and should not treat gastric torsion by yourself.
- Bloat in Dogs: Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), Best Friends Animal Society
- Gastric Dilatation with Volvulus: “Bloat”, The MSPCA-Angell
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