Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), or “bloat” as it is more widely known, is a rapidly progressive life-threatening condition affecting dogs. The condition is commonly associated with large meals and causes the stomach to dilate, because of food and gas, and may get to a point where neither may be expelled.
As the stomach begins to dilate and expand, the pressure there begins to increase. Increased pressure and the size of the stomach may have several severe consequences, including: prevention of adequate blood return to the heart from the abdomen; loss of blood flow to the lining of the stomach; a rupture of the stomach wall; or pressure on the diaphragm preventing the lungs from adequately expanding leading to decreased ability to maintain normal breathing.
The entire body suffers from the poor ventilation, leading to death of cells in many tissues. Additionally, the stomach can become dilated enough to rotate in the abdomen, a condition called “volvulus.” The rotation can lead to blockage of the blood supply to the spleen and the stomach. Most pets go into shock due to these effects on their entire body.
The treatment of this condition involves stabilization of your pet, decompression of the stomach, and surgery to return the stomach to the normal position permanently (gastropexy). Abdominal organs will need to be evaluated for damage and treated appropriately as determined at the time of surgery.
Although several studies have been conducted that have evaluated risk factors and causes for gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs, this syndrome is not completely understood; however, it is known that there is an association in dogs that have a deep chest (increased thoracic height to width ratio); are fed a single large meal once daily; are older; and are related to other dogs that have had the condition.
Other causes for the condition that have been suggested include elevated feeding, (using one of those bowls advertised as relieving strain on the dog’s neck); dogs that have previously had a spleen removed, large or giant breed dogs, and stress. A 2006 study also determined that dogs fed dry dog foods that list oils (e.g. sunflower oil, animal fat) among the first four label ingredients predispose a high risk dog to GDV.
Nearly all breeds of dogs have been reported to have had gastric dilatation with or without volvulus, but many of the commonly seen breeds are Great Danes, Weimaraners, St. Bernards, Irish setters, and Gordon setters.
The gastric dilatation is one part of the condition and the volvulus or torsion (rotating or flipping of the stomach) is the second part. In bloat (dilatation), due to a number of different and sometimes unknown reasons, the stomach fills with air and puts pressure on the other organs and diaphragm.
The pressure on the diaphragm makes it difficult for the dog to breathe. The air-filled stomach also compresses large veins in the abdomen, thus preventing blood from returning to the heart. Filled with air, the stomach can easily rotate on itself, thus pinching off its blood supply. Once this rotation (volvulus) occurs and the blood supply is cut off, the stomach begins to die and the entire blood supply is disrupted and the animal’s condition begins to deteriorate very rapidly.