Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus in Dogs

What is gastric dilatation in dogs?

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening condition that affects the stomach of dogs. It occurs when a dog’s stomach twists, causing gas to build up in the stomach. Left untreated, the stomach continues to expand and twist, completely blocking the stomachs entrance and exit. The huge and twisted stomach also traps blood, making the blood unable to flow back to the heart and other areas of the dog’s body. Additionally, the blood compresses the lungs of the dog, making it difficult to breath! GDV can absolutely be fatal if not treated early on, so it’s important to know how to recognize the signs and what steps to take if you suspect gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs.

What is a GDV?

In the early stages, the stomach fills with gas and causes gastric dilatation, otherwise known as bloat. The stomach gets much larger than usual – basically like a balloon. In some cases, the condition will not progress any further. However, in some dogs, this bloat may become a volvulus. This occurs when the bloated stomach twists upon itself, cutting off blood flow to and from the organ. It requires immediate attention from your veterinarian, who will diagnose the condition and may recommend immediate surgery. 

What Are the Symptoms?

Your dog may exhibit signs such as the following:

  • A large, swollen, and tight abdomen
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drooling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Apparent anxiety
  • Stretching with the front half down and rear up

It is important to note that symptoms can vary from one dog to the next. If you’re unsure whether your dog is sick, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.

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What Causes a GDV?

While vets aren’t entirely certain what causes bloat in dogs, the resulting gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs can occur for various reasons, including:

  • Another medical issue causing increased abdominal pressure or constricted blood flow to the stomach
  • Illness that causes a decrease in intestinal movement
  • Eating too quickly or too much at one sitting — in other words, wolfing down a meal rather than chewing slowly and thoroughly 
  • Drinking too much water at once
  • Exercising or playing soon after eating a meal
  • Hereditary factors that increase a dog’s risk for bloat

Symptoms may become evident within two to three hours after consuming a large meal. However, the condition can occur at any time, making it extra important to take note of any symptoms your dog is exhibiting, regardless of the timing of a meal.

Note, too, that anxiety may also contribute to gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs. According to some studies, dogs that tend toward a calmer, more relaxed state are at a lower risk of GDV than dogs known to be fearful or hyper.

Are Some Breeds More Susceptible to Gastric Dilatation?

Dog bloat can happen to any dog, but some breeds are much more susceptible. Large, deep-chested breeds are at a higher risk: such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Akitas, Basset Hounds, Boxers, Weimaraners, Standard Poodles, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, and Doberman Pinschers. 

One study found that the top three breeds at risk for gastric torsion in dogs were Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Weimaraners. However, keep in mind that any dog can experience bloat — even the smallest chihuahua.

How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis for gastric dilatation and volvulus is based on physical examination, X-rays, and sometimes ultrasound. Your vet may be able to insert a tube into the stomach to drain gas and fluid from it. However, some dogs may need to have a large needle inserted into their stomachs to release pressure.

In some cases, surgery may be required to fix the issue. This involves removing the trapped gas and fluid, and de-rotating the twisted stomach. The sooner surgery can be performed, the better off your dog will be, so don’t delay in calling your vet. Your vet can recommend the best course of action and make sure your dog receives the best care and treatment.

When to Call the Vet

Immediately! There is no question: a true GDV is a major emergency. If you’re seeing any of the signs in your furry best friend, you’ll want to call your vet and ask that your dog be seen immediately. The condition can progress rapidly if left untreated, causing necrosis (death) of your dog’s stomach wall due to the decreased blood flow to the organ. This can lead to perforation, which is a hole or wound in the stomach, and peritonitis, an often fatal condition where the stomach lining becomes inflamed.

How to Prevent a GDV

Here are some ways to help prevent gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs:

  • Feed smaller meals more frequently. The risk of GDV increases as a dog’s stomach fills with food and expands. So, the best way to minimize your pup’s risk is by feeding him or her several small meals per day instead of one or two large ones. You can also use your dog’s food as part of training if you’re using food as a training tool, or try using a slow-feeding bowl.
  • Don’t let your dog exercise right after eating. Dogs that have eaten recently should not be allowed outside for playtime until at least 60 minutes have passed since their last meal was consumed. Roughhousing with other dogs, running, jumping, and playing with their humans could all lead to issues.
  • Don’t feed from elevated surfaces.
  • Limit water intake. Don’t let your dog drink large amounts of water immediately after eating, or just prior to heavy exercise.


Because a GDV can be fatal, it is crucial to treat it quickly. If you notice any of the symptoms, take your dog to the vet immediately!

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