By Carrie Gustavson
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
People can pig out on Halloween goodies,
or anything else for that matter, without
it coming back to haunt them. But, for
some dogs who overindulge, even on plain old food and water, their stomach may inflate like a balloon and twist on itself
— a canine horror story.
Food is sometimes the cause of a dilated stomach, but often a dog’s stomach will
mysteriously dilate, or bloat, for no known reason. Either way, bloat is a medical
emergency, and the puffed-up pooch will need veterinary help as soon as possible.
Bloating and twisting of a dog’s stomach is a serious condition veterinarians call GASTRIC DILATION VOLVULUS
Overeating, especially in predisposed breeds, may cause GDV,
but often there is no underlying cause, making this disease one that is baffling to
veterinarians and to owners alike. “A dog with GDV will have a distended abdomen and
may appear restless and depressed and have dry heaves,” says Dr. Cathy Greenfield, small
animal surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. “A
common history is that he may have just eaten or drunk a large amount of food or water.
But most of the time there is no underlying cause for GDV.”
While the exact cause of GDV is unknown, a dog’s anatomy is thought to play a significant
role. Since the stomach of a dog is securely fixed only at one spot near the top, when the
stomach is full or dilated, it can easily rotate on that one fixed axis. If that happens, not only
is the stomach distension painful, but the blood vessels that feed the stomach are kinked
and stretched as the stomach twists. With reduced circulation to the stomach, the lining of
the stomach can die or be damaged enough to allow bacteria and toxins to enter the
In addition, the distended stomach can put pressure on major veins, blocking blood flow
back to the heart. Without the normal blood flow to the heart, blood pressure will plunge
and a dog can easily go into shock.
A dog’s breed and age also play a role in GDV. “Deep-chested, large breeds, such as
Weimaraners, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, standard poodles, Great Danes,
Saint Bernards, Irish setters, and Gordon setters, are affected most commonly. Shar-peis,
basset hounds, and springer spaniels are the medium-size breeds that may be predisposed,”
says Dr. Greenfield. “GDV can occur in any age dog, but more commonly it occurs in
middle-aged to older dogs.”
With all the complications associated with bloat, it’s not surprising that mortality rates are
very high with this disease. “With GDV, owners need to get the dog to a veterinarian
immediately. Successful emergency treatment involves relieving the pressure within the
stomach and treatment for shock. In most cases, treatment will also involve emergency
surgery to untwist the stomach and “tack” it in place to prevent future reoccurrence of the
stomach twisting,” says Dr. Greenfield.
The surgical procedure for GDV is called a gastropexy. In it, the stomach is attached to the
body wall to prevent twisting, or future episodes of volvulus. “Recurrent volvulus can be
pretty effectively managed with gastropexy, but dilatation may still occur. Owners should be
vigilant in observing their dog for any signs of trouble,” says Dr. Greenfield.
Especially if your dog is a breed that is prone to GDV, feed smaller meals more often and
limit the amount of water consumed after exercise. Talk to your local small animal
veterinarian for more information about GDV
For more information on BLOAT: