Bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus)

Bloat, GDV, and Gastric Torsion all refer to a life threatening condition that afflicts mainly deep-chested dogs like Great Danes, Dobermans, and Weimaraners.  It can very rarely occur in smaller breeds.  One-quarter to one third of dogs will not survive GDV despite treatment.  As well as breed predilection, genetics and feeding habits play a role in which dogs will develop GDV. The emergency occurs when gas can not escape the stomach, and it becomes overly distended.  The normal contractions in the stomach wall cease, and the entire organ rotates in the abdomen.  Since each end of the stomach is stationary, the blood supply is cut off by the twisting or torsing effect.  The tissue quickly loses viability as it is starved for oxygen.  As the stomach enlarges, it puts pressure on the diaphragm causing respiratory distress.  Cardiac output may also be reduced by restriction of the abdominal arteries.  Shock quickly ensues, followed by death if not immediately managed.

Factors that may contribute to the onset of GDV include over-eating or ravenous eating, once a day feeding, and exuberant activity after a meal. Older males are more likely to develop GDV than other dogs.

Dogs with GDV will have a distended painful abdomen and may be retching, hyper-salivating, gasping for breath, or comatose.  An x-ray can help to visualize the gas that is trapped in the stomach, but symptoms and predilection are usually diagnostic.  Shock should be treated with rapid IV fluid replacement and oxygen supplementation.  Comatose dogs will be intubated to provide artificial respirations if necessary.  A stomach tube will be passed in an attempt to deflate the stomach and restore blood circulation.  Medical treatment of heart rhythm abnormalities, electrolyte imbalance, and sepsis is performed as required.  Surgical repair of damaged stomach tissue and gastropexy, tacking the stomach to the abdominal wall, is performed as soon as the patient is stable enough for anesthesia.

Complications after surgery include relapse of all symptoms, cardiac arrhythmias, necrosis (death of tissue) and perforation of damaged organs, and peritonitis (sepsis of the abdominal cavity).  The prognosis of any GDV patient depends on how soon the animal receives treatment and the extent of damage to the tissues involved.  Follow up therapy will include antibiotics to prevent infection, IV fluids until the dog can eat normally, and pain control.

GDV is a serious emergency that requires immediate medical attention.  If you suspect your dog is experiencing gastric bloat, it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary advice.

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