Gastric Dilitation and Volvulitis X-Ray

Pet Parent Essentials #1: GDV

A few weeks back while I was working in the ER, a 6 year old neutered male German Shepherd dog was rushed into the hospital after collapsing at home. Sadly, this dog arrived DOA (deceased on arrival). Our team immediately performed CPR but were ultimately unable to resuscitate him. On initial evaluation, we were able to quickly diagnose a condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV, aka "bloat").

Upon further questioning of the owners, I learned that this handsome boy had been showing many classic signs of GDV over the previous 8 hours that day. When I discussed my diagnosis, they had never heard of it before and asked, "isn't there some treatment or surgery that can be done?" It was so difficult to tell them that yes, there IS a life-saving treatment for this condition, however at this point it was far too late. Had they brought him to me only a couple hours sooner, he likely could have been saved.

In this new series of blog posts, we'll discuss common veterinary illnesses that are ESSENTIAL for pet owners to be aware of. Since we're all busy people with a lot on our minds, we'll just cover the most important points of each condition so they can be easily remembered. If you are a fellow nerd and want to know more, please feel free to reach out! I'm always happy to push up my glasses and get into the nitty gritty of veterinary medicine.

WHAT is gastric dilatation and volvulus?

When the stomach fills with air and flips over on itself, a GDV is born.

The distended stomach will lead to increased pressure in the abdomen and decreased blood flow back to the heart. Over a short period of time, consequences can include systemic shock, necrosis (death) of stomach tissue, sepsis, and heart damage. This disease is rapidly progressive and can result in death within just a few hours.

WHO gets a GDV?

GDV is most common in middle-aged to older large and giant breed, deep-chested dogs (think: German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Standard Poodles), but any dog has the potential to be affected.

If you have a large breed or deep-chested dog, you MUST be aware of this condition and know the clinical signs.

Mobile Vet Clinic in Austin

WHAT are the clinical signs of GDV?

Non-productive retching (trying to vomit but nothing or just small amounts of foamy saliva comes out), restlessness, abdominal distention, painful abdomen, drooling, weakness, and elevated heart rate are all signs of GDV.

If your dog is showing these signs it is always best to have him evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. If your vet is closed - go to the nearest emergency hospital. This is NOT something that can wait until morning.

The video below from Akita Rescue is a good representation of what a dog with GDV can look like (with the excellent voiceover as a bonus!). The video is hard to watch because the dog is so obviously uncomfortable. I hope that you won't ever have to watch your pet in this kind of distress, but I know that after reading this information you'll have your pet checked out right away if you notice any of these signs.

WHY does GDV happen?

The short answer: we don't know.

Some proposed risk factors include familial history of GDV, fearful temperament, rapid eating, and exercise after eating. Does this mean that if your large breed dog is an easy-going, lazy dog who slowly grazes his food, you don't need to worry about GDV? Nice try, grasshoppers, but there is actually only one thing that will reliably reduce your dog's risk for GDV - keep reading to find out.

HOW is GDV diagnosed?

If we are suspicious for GDV, we will want to take an x-ray of your dog's abdomen. A GDV is confirmed by this classic x-ray appearance. That large dark circle is the bloated stomach - we call it the "double bubble", "Smurf hat", or "Popeye arm". Veterinary folks - have you heard any other fun names for this? Let us know in the comments!

Let's say that we take an x-ray and it is NOT consistent with a GDV - wasted trip, right? Wrong! You lucked out this time, so be relieved! We'll figure out why your dog isn't acting right and come up with a plan to help him feel better.

If the x-ray is diagnostic for GDV, we will want to start treatment immediately.

Gastric Dilitation and Volvulitis X-Ray

HOW is GDV treated?

Emergency surgery is the life-saving treatment for GDV.

Once diagnosed with GDV, dogs are stabilized with IV fluids and pain medication, then prepped for emergency surgery. During the surgery, the stomach is returned to its normal positioning, then tacked to the body wall (gastropexy) to prevent it from flipping again in the future.

The prognosis for survival is generally good with surgery - the sooner the surgery is performed, the better the outcome.

After surgery, dogs will need to stay in the hospital for close monitoring and pain management. These dogs will often develop a temporary heart arrhythmia that sometimes need to be treated with medications, so at least 24-48 hours of monitoring in the hospital is generally recommended.

HOW can GDV be prevented?

The best way to prevent GDV is by a preventative gastropexy.

I recommend a preventative gastropexy at the time of spay for all at-risk breed females. Some veterinarians can perform a laparoscopic surgery, which provides smaller incisions and quicker recovery times. For male dogs, I recommend a preventative gastropexy either laparoscopically or via traditional surgery. If your pet needs abdominal surgery for any other reason, it is often an option to elect for a gastropexy during that surgery (as long as they are otherwise stable).

Trust me, it's worth it to have this procedure done before a GDV occurs. Although I can't comment on costs due to wide variation between clinics and geographical areas, I will say that if your dog requires emergency GDV surgery you'll typically be facing a bill in the multiple thousands of dollars.

Last year my own Labrador mix, Noah, had abdominal surgery to remove his spleen. When the surgeon asked if I wanted a gastropexy while he was in there, what do you think I chose? You betcha!!

So now you know the essentials about GDV!

Comment below or contact me with any questions!

Do you have a big beautiful large/giant breed dog? Show them off by liking us on facebook and posting a photo on our wall! Follow us on instagram and tag us in a pic!

Happy Smiling Doberman