Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. (Cantab.) Qualified Canine Behaviourist and Certified TTouch® Practitioner.
Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) is commonly called bloat, but this is not just a case of “feeling bloated” as you would after a heavy meal; this is a very serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate intervention by a veterinary practitioner.
GDV occurs when fermentation of food in the stomach causes a build-up of gas (bloating) and twisting (or torsion) of the stomach. It causes pain, distention of the abdomen, blood circulation collapse (meaning that blood is not able to reach the organs) and, as might be expected, shock.
The most obvious sign is, of course, a swollen and distended abdomen – it may be hard to the touch and painful when touched.
The stomach expansion puts pressure on the diaphragm, which inhibits normal breathing, and laboured breathing may be observed.
There may be vomiting or retching without vomit, excessive drooling, a weak pulse and the nose and mouth may be pale.
The condition appears very rapidly in most cases and immediate veterinarian intervention is vital.
Up until now, clinical trials have not established an exact cause of this condition.
The most likely cause appears to be exercising the dog too soon after he has eaten. This is especially the case if the dog eats a large meal once a day and is then exercised. The recommended time interval is up to four hours before vigorous activity. Reducing meal size to two meals a day is helpful.
Overeating or gobbling of food is also problematic. “Slow” feeders are available at pet stores. Gobbling may also occur if there’s competition for food – i.e. another dog eating at the same time – in which case, separation at feeding time helps.
Some experts suggest that there’s a possibility that dogs fed a kibble-only diet may be more susceptible. They maintain that the processed food doesn’t require the stomach muscles to work at digesting the food (as would be the case with raw food/bones), and they can become slack, making it harder for the digestive system to function efficiently.
Dogs that have deep chests (Great Danes, some Retrievers, etc.) may be more prone to GDV, but there’s little evidence that genetics is a major factor.
Another condition that may be important is the connection between the spine (thoracic/lumber region) and the stomach. The “stomach connection” points are right behind the last rib on both sides of the spine. Inflammation in this area can develop into spondylosis, a form of arthritis. If this is the case, treatment such as acupuncture or physiotherapy can be helpful in maintaining strength in this area.
What to do in an emergency (and any case of bloat is an emergency)
Call your vet or emergency vet centre and advise that you’re on your way so they can prepare.
Shock can be a major factor, so wrap the animal warmly, and work around the ears, particularly at the tip, which helps to ease trauma. If you’re familiar with Tellington Touch® – this refers to ear work that can do much to help the dog.
The vet will prepare for gastric decompression – getting the gas out of the system. The treatment will depend on the severity of the condition, and surgery may be required to correct for the torsion and restore blood supply to the affected organs.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with this life-threatening situation, but knowing how to prevent GDV and what to do if it occurs may save a life.