Canine Bloat, also known as Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), is a life threatening problem in certain breeds. Deep chested breeds and giant breeds are at most risk of developing this condition, but even smaller breeds can be affected.
Definition: Bloat is when the stomach rapidly fills with gas. Volvulus is when the stomach becomes twisted and trapped in an abnorbal position in relation to the esophagus and the small intestine.
Cause: Most cases of simple bloat are caused by a dog consuming a large meal when the stomach is not emptying normally. Heavy exercise right after a meal will cause blood flow to the intestines to be reduced due to the oxygen demands of the skeletal muscles. This can lead to a serious delay in the empying of the stomach. The longer ingested food sits in the stomach, the greater the chance for fermentation and the development of gases to occur. If the stomach is not emptying, the gas can accumulate to the point of creating severe pressure on other abdominal organs as well as abdominal blood vessels. This not only leads to pain but can also lead to life-threatening changes in blood flow to the major organs.
In some dogs, whether because of weak ligaments that hold the stomach in place or because of excessive forces placed upon those ligaments, the stomach will begin to shift into an abnormal position. When this happens the esophagus and the duodenum become twisted shut. This is known as volvulus and is far more serious than simple bloat. If volvulus occurs and isn’t corrected in a timely manner the tissues of the stomach, esophagus, duodenum, spleen and pancreas can be compromised and even begin to die.
Signs: Distention of the abdomen, pain and vomiting are the initial signs that GDV may be occuring. If you see these signs, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian. Early intervention is the best chance for survival.
Treatment: Treatment involves sedation and passing of a tube into the stomach to relieve the pressure. Gastric lavage is then performed, emptying the contents of the stomach. In many cases, once the animal is stable, surgery is performed in order to tack the stomach in place so that it can no longer twist into an abnormal position.
Prevention: Dogs considered to be at risk, deep chested and giant breeds, should never be fed only one meal a day. They should be fed at least two to three smaller meals to avoid overfilling the stomach. Exercise should also be restricted for at least one hour after feeding.
Gastropexy: Gastropexy is a preventative surgery that fixes the stomach to the abdominal wall so that volvulus can not occur. Many people elect to have this done when the animal is spayed or neutered.