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
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
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:
- Anxiety - Pacing around or trying to vomit, without success,
may be warning signs
- Too much air intake - Animals often take in excessive air when
anxious - common in kennelled dogs
- Saliva - Watch out for dribble or saliva from your dog's
- Gut bloating - If you notice a distended stomach, seek advice
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
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 - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc
please visit www.marcthevet.com.
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
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 email@example.com to get a
PDF copy. There is also a Facebook group Canine