Gastric dilatation volvulus, known as bloat, is a true veterinary emergency. Without professional treatment, a dog can die from the condition in a few hours. GDV, starting in the dog's stomach, is extremely painful; it rapidly leads to life-threatening problems. It's important to know whether your dog is at risk and to be aware of the symptoms. If he is treated quickly, your dog's chance of surviving is better than 80 percent.
Bloat happens when a dog's stomach, usually full of fermenting gas and food, suddenly becomes enlarged. In such a circumstance, the dog's stomach has a tendency to twist on itself, preventing nutrients, waste and gas from leaving the dog's badly distended stomach. It cuts off the stomach's blood supply, and the pressure on blood vessels prevents normal circulation. The poor dog rapidly develops symptoms of shock.
Dogs Most at Risk
Any dog can get bloat, but most at risk are large breeds with deep, narrow chests such as the Great Dane, the Doberman, setters, the Irish wolfhound, the Weimaraner, the Akita, the Saint Bernard, the boxer, the German shepherd and the standard poodle. Bloat can run in families. Males, senior dogs and thin or overweight dogs are more at risk. Even a dog's personality -- if he is fearful and anxious or has a history of aggression -- can increase his risk of bloat.
The dog's distended stomach may or may not be obvious, depending on his build. The most important sign to watch for is the dog retching without being sick. Other symptoms include drooling, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, restlessness, lethargy, pale gums, agitation and collapsing.
Initial Emergency Treatment
X-rays may confirm diagnosis. Reducing pressure in the dog's stomach is a priority. A vet will try to pass a tube down to the stomach, but if this isn't possible, the vet will insert a needle directly through the abdominal wall. At the same time, fluids, through intravenous catheters, will replace the blood that's unable to get past the dog's stomach to his heart. The dog must have medication for shock, antibiotics and electrolytes. As the extreme pain raises the dog's heart rate, pain control is needed to prevent heart failure. The dog's heart rhythm requires monitoring, as a dangerous rhythm problem can coincide with bloat. Intravenous drugs control this.
Vital Followup Surgery
Once the dog is stable he may appear fine, but surgery is now important to check for damaged stomach tissue, which will need to be removed, or the poor pooch will still die. His spleen will be removed if it's damaged, and an gastropexy will usually be performed to secure the dog's stomach in its normal position. If this isn't done, the dog has a 75 percent risk of GDV occurring again.
You can take some steps to reduce the risk of bloat. It's better for an at-risk dog to eat several small meals a day. Adding canned food or table scraps to his diet can help. Try to stop him from gulping down large quantities of water, and avoid allowing strenuous exercise shortly before or after meals. For a high-risk dog, a gastropexy procedure is a preventive option.