I remember the night like it was yesterday. I was finally relaxing at home after a long day of clinics when Captain, my four year old German shepherd starting acting, well, strange. Twenty minutes later, radiographs at the emergency room confirmed my suspicion. Captain had gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV.
GDV is commonly known as canine bloat. Many of you may remember this as the heart-wrenching disease from Marley and Me. This is a potentially life-threatening condition where the dog’s stomach rotates completely around itself causing the entrance and exit of the stomach to become obstructed. This obstruction leads to air getting trapped in the stomach (bloat) and decreased blood supply to the affected areas. Emergency surgery is required to correct this situation.
While the exact cause of this condition is still unknown, several risk factors have been identified. These risk factors include large or giant breed dogs (Great Danes, German Shepherds, Irish Wolfhounds, Labradors), older age, rapid food intake, naturally anxious or stressed dogs or dogs with a parent that had GDV.
Signs you may notice at home that may indicate your dog has GDV include but are not limited to the following: pacing, circling, restlessness, whining, increased breathing rate or effort, looking at their side, attempting to vomit a foamy substance or nothing at all produced, distended abdomen, pale gums, drooling, weakness or in severe stages collapse. GDVs have a better outcome the sooner they are addressed. So if you notice these clinical signs a veterinarian should immediately see your dog.
Treatment of GDV is based on the needs of your individual dog when they arrive to the hospital but initially consists of fluids and pain medications. Once GDV is confirmed with radiographs, the stomach is decompressed. Meaning the air trapped in the stomach is released prior to surgery to relieve some discomfort to the dog and lessen the stretch of the stomach. Then surgery is performed to de-rotate the stomach. The stomach and surrounding intestines and organs are examined to make sure they are still healthy. In some cases, the compromised organs die due to the lack of blood supply they experienced. In these cases the dead portions are removed and the remaining healthy gut is reattached. A gastropexy, a fancy word for suturing the stomach to the side of the body, is then performed to prevent the stomach from rotating again in the future. Following surgery, your dog will likely be hospitalized for a couple of days for close monitoring and supportive care.
While we cannot tell for sure which dogs will develop GDV in the future, it can be prevented in at risk dogs. A prophylactic, or preventative, gastropexy can be performed. It is highly recommended at the time of spay or neuter since the dog will already be under general anesthesia.
Luckily in my case, Captain’s surgery went smoothly and he recovered perfectly. I hope that you never have to experience the fear of what I went through with Captain. But if it does occur, now that you know what to look for, hopefully your dog too will be back to doing what they love in no time