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What is Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (Bloat)?

Gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV) is a serious disorder that can be fatal if it goes untreated. More commonly referred to as "bloat," GDV is a condition in which the dog's stomach fills with gas and subsequently twists. Large, deep chested breeds are most commonly affected by bloat. Some breeds that are at very high risk include Great Danes, German Shepherd Dogs (and Shepherd mixes), Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Weimaraners, and St. Bernards.

Twisting (torsion) of the stomach does not always occur but more severe symptoms are seen when this takes place. When gas builds up in the stomach it causes the stomach to swell and puts pressure on the surrounding organs. If torsion takes place, the twisted stomach can cut off blood supply to major organs as well as the blood flow back to the heart. 

Causes of Bloat

The specific cause of GDV is not known, but risk factors which are thought to contribute to bloat include:

  • eating very fast
  • eating too much or overeating
  • drinking a large quantity of water in a short period of time
  • stress
  • exercising or participating in high energy activities after eating
  • genetic factors - a dog with a first order relative who had bloat in their life is at a higher risk

Signs of Bloat

GDV normally develops without warning and can progress very quickly. Recognizing the early signs of bloat is key to increasing survival of the affected dog. Signs in the early stages of bloat can include:

  • restlessness
  • pacing
  • swollen or distended abdomen
  • painful abdomen
  • overall look of distress
  • retching or attempts to vomit with no success
  • excessive drooling
  • panting or rapid breathing
  • shock

Treatment of Bloat

Treatment for GDV should be sought out as soon as possible to increase the dog's chance of survival. The severity of the case determines the treatment recommendation for the affected dog. Stabilizing the animal is the priority before any other treatments are given. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and steroids can be administered to treat dogs that are in shock.

To release the gas pressure in the stomach a tube will be passed through the esophagus. If the twisting of the stomach blocks the passage of the tube, a large bore needle may be placed into the stomach through the abdominal wall.  Once the dog is stable, x-rays are normally taken to determine if the stomach is twisted. Surgery typically follows so that the stomach can be untwisted and returned to its original position. The surgery also allows the veterinarian to assess the amount of damage caused by the lack of blood flow due to the twisted stomach. If there is any tissue that is damaged it will be removed. Generally, a gastropexy is also performed. This procedure is an attempt to create a permanent scar between the wall of the stomach and the abdomen. This adhesion prevents torsion of the stomach if bloat were to occur again.


The prognosis of GDV is guarded and reoccurrence is very common.  Most dogs with GDV, who do not receive treatment, will not survive. However, up to 80% of dogs that receive prompt treatment of the condition do survive.


Preventing Bloat

Preventative measures can be taken to reduce the incidence of bloat and to diminish the severity of symptoms if bloat does occur.

To help prevent bloat, dogs should be fed smaller meals more frequently, and should have restricted activity after meal time (at least 1 and 2 hours). 

To lessen the severity of bloat, a gastropexy may be recommended. A gastropexy will help stop the stomach from twisting if bloat occurs. Many owners of large breeds of dogs routinely opt to have the surgery done when their dogs are young. None of these measures will guarantee that the dog won't bloat, but they can help reduce the severity of the problem if it arises.

Care for Dogs with Bloat

Bloat is a life threatening condition. Without treatment the condition can be fatal. Pet owners should be familiar with their nearest veterinary emergency facility in the event that their regular veterinarian is not available after hours. Call ahead to the clinic where you are taking your dog and tell them you suspect bloat. This will allow the staff to prepare to treat your dog. Time is of the essence when dealing with cases of bloat. If you suspect that your dog is bloating seek veterinary care immediately.