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Recognizing Bloat (GDV) in Your Dog

Updated on July 10, 2014

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is commonly known as bloat. It is a sudden life-threatening condition that occurs mainly in dogs. This article is intended to help pet owners recognize the warning signs that indicate that your dog may be suffering from bloat. With better awareness and identification, most dogs can be successfully treated and go on to live normal lives.

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What Is Bloat?

Bloat is the term commonly used to refer to gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs. In this condition, the stomach fills with air and twists around itself. This causes several problems for the dog.

The blood flow to the stomach is restricted, which leads to tissue damage in the lining and the wall of the stomach. If the blood flow is not restored in time, sections of the stomach can die.

When the stomach twists, gas is no longer able to exit either to the esophagus or small intestines. This leads to severe distention of the stomach which presses on the major blood vessels that pass between the front and the rear of the body. This impedes circulation and leads to shock.

Age and Breed Factors

GDV has been reported to occur in dogs of all sizes, but it most commonly afflicts large and giant-breed, deep-chested dogs. Great Danes are at the highest risk, with a 40% lifetime chance of developing bloat. Other breeds in which this condition is frequently reported include the Weimaraner, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, Gordon Setter, Standard Poodle, Akita, and Bloodhound.

Great Danes are at high risk of developing GDV.
Great Danes are at high risk of developing GDV. | Source

Despite this trend, even small dogs can develop GDV. The condition has been occasionally reported in cats, wolves, and guinea pigs.

Bloat is more common in older dogs, as well. No one knows why there is a predilection for geriatric dogs to develop this condition.

Other Risk Factors for Bloat

A host of scientific studies have been done to try to identify risk factors for developing GDV. Historically, it was thought that allowing a dog to exercise after a meal or feeding from a bowl on the ground would increase the risk of bloat.

In more recent studies, exercise after eating and a non-elevated food bowl were actually shown to be associated with a decreased risk of bloat. Other researchers have tried to evaluate the type of food, number of meals per day, total amount of food per day, speed of eating, neuter status, or personality of the dog.

One of the most consistent factors beyond breed and age that appears to have an effect on the incidence of GDV is a stressful event. Many dogs have developed bloat after being boarded away from home.

Scientific Studies on the Risk Factors for GDV

An Internet-based survey of risk factors for surgical gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs.
Pipan M, Brown DC, Battaglia CL, Otto CM.
J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Jun 15;240(12):1456-62.
Incidence of and breed-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs.
Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Raghavan M, Lee TL.
J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000 Jan 1;216(1):40-5.
Diet-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs of high-risk breeds.
Raghavan M, Glickman N, McCabe G, Lantz G, Glickman LT.
J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2004 May-Jun;40(3):192-203
Multiple risk factors for the gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome in dogs: a practitioner/owner case-control study.
Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Schellenberg DB, Simpson K, Lantz GC.
J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 1997 May-Jun;33(3):197-204.
Climatic conditions as a risk factor in canine gastric dilatation-volvulus.
Dennler R, Koch D, Hassig M, Howard J, Montavon PM.
Vet J. 2005 Jan;169(1):97-101.

Symptoms of Bloat

The most common symptoms of bloat include:

  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Unproductive retching
  • Trying to vomit
  • Vomiting small amounts of liquid or foam
  • A swollen appearance to the abdomen
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Pale gums
  • Heavy breathing

When to See the Vet

If your dog is a breed that is predisposed to developing GDV, then it is important to be aware of the common symptoms. If there is any concern that your dog may be in the early stages of bloat, you should have him evaluated immediately. This is not the type of problem to put off until morning. A dog that starts to bloat in the evening will usually die from the condition before morning, if not treated.

Fortunately, the diagnosis of bloat is usually straight-forward. Many ER veterinarians can be nearly certain that your dog has developed GDV on solely a physical examination. An x-ray is taken to confirm the diagnosis.

If you end up at the ER with your dog, an x-ray is a quick test that can give you peace of mind if it is negative. It is much better for everyone involved if you take a trip to the veterinarian at 3 am and the veterinarian rules out GDV. Avoid tragedy and don't wait until morning if you observe any of the symptoms listed in a large-breed, deep-chested dog.

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Photo shared under Creative Commons license.
Photo shared under Creative Commons license. | Source

At The Hospital

You're on your way to the veterinary hospital, but what comes next?

At most ER hospitals, any dog that is suspected to have a GDV will be rushed ahead of other pets waiting to be seen. This may mean that the staff will walk or carry your dog to the main treatment area of the hospital. You will not usually be able to follow your dog there, but try to remember that the doctors and technicians are focused on evaluating and stabilizing your pet as quickly as possible. They are acting in your pet's best interest and will be out to talk to you as soon as they can be.

Meanwhile, the staff may ask you to fill out paperwork if you are a new client at the hospital. Try to remain calm and answer any questions truthfully and concisely.

A diagram of the normal stomach anatomy of the dog. The dog's head is at the top of your screen, and it's tail is at the bottom.
A diagram of the normal stomach anatomy of the dog. The dog's head is at the top of your screen, and it's tail is at the bottom.

Diagnosing Bloat

When the stomach twists, the normal anatomical parts move into the wrong positions. You can see the names of the different segments of the stomach in a normal location on the diagram above.

On the x-ray shown below, these parts have moved into an abnormal location. Additionally, the stomach is severely distended with gas, which appears as the black parts of an x-ray.

A lateral x-ray of a dog's abdomen. The dog is laying on her side. Her head is to the left and her tail is to the right. Shared under GNU Free Documentation License.
A lateral x-ray of a dog's abdomen. The dog is laying on her side. Her head is to the left and her tail is to the right. Shared under GNU Free Documentation License. | Source

This x-ray shows the stomach from a different direction than in the diagram. However, one of the most important changes that a veterinarian looks for is whether the pylorus has rotated into an abnormal position.

The pylorus is NOT in the correct location on the x-ray. It is filled with gas (black) and should be much smaller and located further to the right. The largest black part on the x-ray is the body of the stomach. This should be smaller, as well, and should sit higher and to the left.

In some cases of GDV, the stomach can twist so far around itself that some of this "classic" appearance is distorted. A veterinarian may take additional x-rays to help determine the exact anatomy.

Now What?

Hopefully this article will help you to identify symptoms of bloat so that your dog can receive prompt treatment if she is ever affected by it. Look for another article summarizing the treatment of this condition, coming soon!

Photo shared under Creative Commons license.
Photo shared under Creative Commons license. | Source


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