What is canine GDV or bloat in dogs?

Bloat and gastric torsion are the commonly-used terms for a life-threatening condition in dogs called gastric dilatation volvulus, or GDV. The word gastric means ‘of the stomach’, dilatation refers to the abnormal enlargement of a part of the body, while volvulus means a twisting of the intestine causing an obstruction. In cases of GDV, the stomach twists and expands with gas.

GDV is one of the most serious of all pet emergencies. If left untreated, dogs with GDV will almost certainly die. However, the survival rate of dogs who undergo surgery after being diagnosed with GDV is as high as 80%, which is why it’s vital you contact your vet if you suspect your dog has bloat.

Causes & Symptoms

What are the causes of bloat in dogs?

Emergency vets are uncertain about what causes GDV. It’s often seen two to three hours after a meal, particularly when the dog ate a lot of dry food and then followed it up either by drinking considerable amounts of water or by strenuously exercising. There is, however, no scientific evidence to support this theory. There is also a theory that GDV is caused by a sudden change in the rhythm of a dog’s stomach contractions which results in trapped air and the stomach expanding.


Are all breeds and types of dog at risk from canine GDV?

While all dogs, both male and female, can suffer from GDV, it is much more likely to occur in large, deep-chested breeds such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, Saint Bernards, Great Danes and Setters. Weimaraners, Standard Poodles and Bassett Hounds are also in the high-risk category. Studies have shown the risk of GDV increases with age and is five times more likely in pure-bred dogs than it is in crossbreeds. Body weight is also strongly associated with increased odds of GDV. Dogs weighing more than 40kg are significantly more likely to suffer from the condition than those weighing less than 10kg.


What are the symptoms of bloat in dogs?

Some of the early signs of GDV include a change in behaviour or restlessness, increased breathing rate or effort, excessive drooling, vomiting white froth or trying, unsuccessfully, to vomit. A dog with GDV is likely to feel pain if you press on their belly, and as the condition progresses, you may notice your dog’s abdomen become enlarged, their gums become pale and their heart rate increase. It’s also possible they may collapse.

Also on this topic

X-ray image of a dog with bloat for Vets Now article on symptoms of bloat in dogs UK
Lateral view x-ray of a dog with gastric dilatation volvulus, also known as GDV or bloat
Treatment & Prevention

What happens when a dog has bloat?

The distended stomach presses on the diaphragm and other internal organs, causing problems with the circulation and respiratory system.  This makes it difficult for your dog to breathe and for their heart to get blood and oxygen around the body, as it should.  Your dog will very rapidly go into shock.  While the stomach is twisted, the blood supply to the stomach and also sometimes the spleen is affected meaning that the stomach wall and spleen can start to die.

Dog bloat treatment home

GDV cannot be treated at home. It is a serious emergency condition that requires hospitalisation and expert veterinary treatment.  Treatment usually consists of fluids (a drip) to counteract shock and, sometimes, gastric decompression.  Once your dog is stable they will need surgery to return the stomach to its correct position.  A gastropexy (in which the stomach is attached to the body wall) will be performed to hold the stomach in the correct position.  Your dog’s spleen will also be examined and may need to be removed if it’s been damaged.  Various other tests including blood tests are likely to be performed, as complications such as heart irregularities and blood clotting problems following GDV are common.

If you suspect your dog has a GDV it is imperative you seek immediate veterinary treatment.  Success rates decrease the longer the delay in starting treatment.

How to avoid bloat in dogs

Pay careful attention to your dog’s diet, feeding and exercise. You can help prevent your dog from developing GDV by feeding them small meals regularly through the day (rather than one large meal) and avoiding exercising your dog immediately after feeding. Although not always recommended, gastropexy — surgical attachment of the stomach to body wall — is an effective means of prevention.  In some breeds of dog, it can be done at the same time as routine neutering. Speak to your vet for further details.