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What is it?

Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening condition that can affect all dogs, though deep-chested and large breed dogs are more at risk. 

GDV happens when the stomach fills with gas, fluid, or food, and expands and twists. The bloated stomach puts pressure on the diaphragm and other internal organs, disrupting circulation and breathing. This makes it harder for your dog to breathe and for its heart to properly circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body. Your dog will go into shock very quickly.

The blood flow to the stomach is cut off while the stomach is twisted. When the stomach is twisted, the blood flow to the stomach and, in certain cases, the spleen is compromised, causing the stomach wall and spleen to perish. Without prompt intervention, this condition is fatal.

Who does it affect?

  • Large breed and deep-chested dogs are more susceptible to developing GDV
    • Great Danes, St Bernards, Weimaraners, Standard Poodles, Bassett Hounds, Wolfhounds, Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Old English Sheepdogs, German Shepherds
  • Dogs that eat fast and/or are fed a large single meal once daily
  • Dogs that eat from an elevated food bowl 
    • Previously was thought that this reduced the risk but recent studies indicate an increased risk with elevated feeding
  • Stressful dogs – dogs that pant and swallow air when stressed may be more susceptible to GDV
  • Genetics plays a role – dogs related to another dog that has GDV are more prone to developing it themselves

What does it look like?

Bloat usually occurs several hours after eating. Signs include:

  • Heavy, fast, otherwise difficult breathing
    • The enlarged stomach pushes on the diaphragm, reducing the space that is available for the lungs to expand leading to fast and shallow breathing
    • Pain and distress also contribute to breathing changes
  • Abdominal pain
    • Your dog may be whining or howling
    • Having a difficult time getting comfortable – frequently changing positions
    • Hunched back
    • Pacing and restlessness is often one of the first signs of bloat
  • Unproductive vomiting/excessive saliva
    • May see small amounts of water or large volumes of thick saliva
    • May appear to be gagging/trying to cough something up
  • Distended, hard, or bloated abdomen
    • Swelling between the rib cage and hips – not always noticed in early stages
    • The abdomen may feel hard and painful – if your dog vocalises, tries to get away, or turns your head quickly towards your hand when you touch its abdomen it is painful
    • A painful abdomen needs immediate veterinary attention – may be one of many serious conditions
  • Lethargy
  • Mucous membrane colour
    • Normal mucus membranes are pink
    • Shock/blood loss can appear as white/pale pink gums
    • Sepsis can appear as brick red/purple gums
  • Collapse is a late sign of bloat
    • Many other conditions can result in collapse, and all are emergency conditions that need immediate veterinary attention

Not all dogs will display all symptoms, the number and severity of symptoms often progress as the disease progresses. If you notice any of these symptoms, or if you suspect your dog may be suffering from GDV, your dog needs immediate veterinary attention. 

Can it be treated?

  • Immediate veterinary intervention is required – it is not a condition that can be managed at home
  • Bloat can only be corrected with surgery, but often your dog will need to be stabilised before surgery. 
    • Treatment for shock – intravenous fluid therapy, medications, oxygen supplementation
    • Xrays to confirm GDV
    • Decompression of the stomach either with a stomach tube (not possible if the stomach has twisted) or a needle
  • Once stable, your dog is anaesthetised and operated on – the stomach will be further deflated and untwisted before being attached to the abdominal wall to prevent it from happening again. Sometimes the spleen and parts of the stomach that may have died will need to be removed.
  • Many complications associated with GDV can arise whilst your dog is in hospital, before, during, and after surgery. Often your dog will have to stay in hospital multiple days to reduce the risk of complications at home.

Will my dog recover?

  • With urgent veterinary attention and corrective surgery generally the prognosis of recovery from GDV is good (around 80% of dogs recover), however, some factors that can increase the risk of death:
    • Showing symptoms for more than 6 hours
    • Abnormal heart rhythms
    • Portion of the stomach dies and needs to be removed
    • Spleen needs to be removed
  • The longer you wait the poorer the prognosis

Can it be prevented?

  • There is always a possibility that your dog may develop GDV, especially if it has any of the risk factors mentioned above, but there are ways to reduce the chances of it developing.
    • Gastropexy – pre-emptive surgical tacking of the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting
    • Attention to feeding – multiple small meals per day, not using elevated feeders, slowing down eating with a puzzle bowl and/or toy
    • Reduce stress especially around eating – separate from other dogs especially if eats very quickly, don’t get them too excited around food


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O’Halloran Hill Vet Centre

123 Main South Road
O’Halloran Hill, SA 5158

Hilton Vet Centre

142 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Hilton, SA 5033