Dog bloat or gastric torsion (GDV)


What is Gastric Dilation Torsion (GDV)?

Gastric torsion, or Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) Syndrome, means twisting of the stomach, which usually occurs because the stomach has become filled with gas. It mainly occurs in deep-chested breeds .

What causes gastric torsion?

The cause of the condition is seen as a bit of a mystery. It is thought that if there is enough room in the abdomen for gas-filled organs to move then occasionally they will. This is why the condition is most common in deep chested dogs.  So why do the organs become gas-filled in the first place?

There are two likely triggers.

The first is anxiety. Animals (including humans) usually swallow more air when they are anxious. This is known as aerophagia (literally "eating air") and it is usually seen in stressed, kennelled dogs. The constant intake of air causes the stomach to balloon in size, which changes the abdomen's normal organ layout.

The second suspect is diet. If dogs are moved onto very fermentable foodstuffs that produce gas at abnormal rates, the stomach can struggle and not deal with the gas efficiently by burping or passing it into the intestines.

Either way the dog is now bloated, which is an emergency in itself even if not one requiring surgery. If this inflated stomach twists however, the situation rapidly changes from serious to catastrophic.

How can I tell if my dog has GDV?

As with any emergency with your dog, if you suspect something is wrong, speak to a vet immediately, as time is crucial.

Signs to look out for:

  1. Anxiety - Pacing around or trying to vomit, without success, may be warning signs
  2. Too much air intake - Animals often take in excessive air when anxious - common in kennelled dogs
  3. Saliva - Watch out for dribble or saliva from your dog's mouth
  4. Gut bloating - If you notice a distended stomach, seek advice fast

How are dogs diagnosed with GDV?

The secret to saving a dog affected by GDV is early detection. Good owners will always know when something's wrong but signs vary from an obviously painful enlarged abdomen to pacing around and 'trying to throw-up but can't', to shock and collapse. A GDV victim will commonly dribble a small river of saliva from its mouth, denied its normal flow through the body by the obstructing twist. Another common effect is restricted breathing as the expanded and twisted stomach pushes the diaphragm. This accelerates problems, causing more discomfort, anxiety, and even panic.

How is GDV treated in dogs?

Treatment for GDV affected dogs differ with the severity of the condition. It usually involves an x-ray to see what state the dog's stomach is in and whether surgery is required. Animals critical with GDV are high anaesthetic risks, so your vet may use heavy intravenous sedation first to make sure the dog is pain-free and lying still

If the stomach is an abnormal size and requires some kind of treatment, there are a few methods that vets may try to relieve your dog of pain.

Your vet may:

  • pass a stomach tube through the mouth and down the oesophagus to try to decompress the bloated stomach
  • clip a small patch of skin on the left flank and puncture the abdominal wall with a catheter to release excess gas, which immediately decompresses the bloated stomach and restores normal breathing patterns and blood-flow

One reason that time is so important in the case of a GDV is that the twist can obliterate the gastric blood supply and result in the death of the dog's stomach wall (necrosis). This can lead to perforation and fatal peritonitis. So once the stomach has been partially decompressed and intravenous fluids are flowing and breathing is improved, the next step is invasive surgery. Sometimes the vet may reposition the stomach and fasten it to the inner abdominal wall to help prevent GDV happening again.

Patients are usually hospitalised for at least 48 hours as post-operative effects such as toxins released by traumatised tissues can cause major complications including heart attacks, peritonitis and sudden death.

This article was written by By Marc Abraham and was originally published in the Crufts Magazine -

Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton.  He regularly appears on UK television.  For more information about Marc please visit

Who can I contact for further advice?

The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable to provide general or case specific veterinary advice.  If you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article then please contact your local veterinary practice for further information.

Help raise awareness

Gill Arney & Derek Hamilton set up the Canine Bloat Awareness campaign after their dobermann Beau survived gastric torsion in 2008. They produced a flyer (in conjunction with several vets) detailing the signs to look out for and a very simple message - if you see these signs then get your dog to the vet.  Gill will send packs of flyers (free of charge) to any UK address, or you can email to get a PDF copy. There is also a Facebook group Canine Bloat Awareness.

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