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Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

How to Feed Dogs at Risk for GDV

May 04, 2012 / (10) comments

I know this is supposed to be a blog about canine nutrition, but gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) in dogs is such a catastrophic condition that I thought we’d better talk about it even though it relates more with how, rather than what, you feed.

Research has not shown that one type of food is better than another when it comes to preventing GDV (with a couple of slight caveats that I’ll mention below). So, if your dog is eating a well-balanced food made from high-quality ingredients, there is no need to make a change. However, as you read on you will find out what else you can do to prevent this deadly disease.

Some people refer to GDV as bloat, and while the two conditions are similar, they are not identical. The term bloat can be used to refer to any accumulation of gas, fluid, or food that causes the stomach to distend. When dogs develop GDV their stomachs become distended and then also rotate on their axis. This twisting prevents the dog from being able to burp or vomit and eventually cuts off the blood supply to the stomach and sometimes also the spleen, both of which can quickly lead to shock and death.

Risk factors for GDV include:

  • Large breed dogs with deep and narrow chests (e.g., Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, Akitas, Standard Poodles, Irish Setters, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds, Doberman Pinschers, and Old English Sheepdogs)
  • Males develop GDV more frequently than females
  • Increasing age
  • Stress
  • A fearful or nervous temperament
  • Being underweight
  • Eating or drinking large amounts at one time
  • Exercising after eating
  • Fast eating
  • Once a day feeding
  • Eating from a raised food bowl
  • Eating dry food that has been mixed with water
  • Eating a food with a fat or oil as one of the first four ingredients on the ingredient list
  • Having a previous episode of bloat

If your dog ever develops symptoms of GDV, take him to your veterinarian or to the nearest emergency clinic IMMEDIATELY. Signs to watch for include repeated attempts to vomit but little if anything comes up, an enlarged abdomen, abdominal pain, and excessive drooling. The faster treatment can begin — stabilization followed by surgery to untwist the stomach and/or spleen, repair any damage, and permanently affix the stomach to the abdominal wall — the better your dog’s odds of survival are.

The only way to virtually eliminate the chance that an at-risk dog will develop GDV is to perform a prophylactic gastropexy, a fancy way of saying that a veterinary surgeon attaches the dog’s stomach to its body wall to prevent it from rotating BEFORE GDV develops. If this is not an option, you have to fall back on feeding management recommendations like:

  • Feed two or three smaller meals spaced throughout the day
  • Do not mix dry food and water together
  • Avoid foods with fats or oils as a top four ingredient on the ingredient list
  • Discourage dogs from drinking too much water at any one time
  • Restrict activity for several hours after eating
  • Do not use elevated food bowls
  • Force dogs to eat more slowly by using specially designed bowls or by placing a large rock in a regular food bowl

Making these simple changes reduces, but unfortunately does not eliminate, the possibility that a dog will develop GDV. If your dog does develop GDV, it is essential to seek veterinary advice immediately to prevent a possible serious situation. Vigilance and fast action might still be needed to save your dog’s life.


Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: No don’t drink that by Andrew McDaniel / via Flickr

Comments  10

Leave Comment
  • GDV
    05/04/2012 11:17am

    What a horrible thing to have happen!

    Can critters other than dogs have this happen?

    For those dogs that might be predisposed to GDV, should the feeding management recommendations begin in puppy-hood or when they begin to be fed as an adult?

  • 05/04/2012 07:07pm

    GDV is possible in other pet species but is MUCH less common. Feeding recommedation that are applicable to puppies (e.g., don't use raised feeders) should be intiated ASAP.

  • GDV
    05/04/2012 12:52pm

    I have a 13 year old jack russell who makes urate stones and since he was diagnosed in 2001 I have added water to his kibble, or to his home made meal for more moisture. Even though his breed is not on the list, I will keep a close watch on this. Thank you for bringing this to the blog.

  • 05/04/2012 05:20pm

    Good to know I'm already following the management recommendations. My lab/gsd mix has delayed gastric emptying so all of these are pretty much a must for us. I've even been able to find a bowl that only releases small amounts of water at a time, it's been so nice to not have to constantly give her small sips of water to prevent her from gulping excessive quantities (and then almost immediately regurgitating it).

  • 2 out of 3
    05/04/2012 05:27pm

    Thank you for bringing attention to this important subject.I had not really heard of GDV until one of my dogs developed it several years ago and another of my three dogs had bloat just a ew months ago.

    My dog that had GDV was eight years old at the time and he is a Shepherd mix.We had taken a 4 hour car ride and shortly afterwards he had unproductive vomiting,was looking worriedly at his flanks and was breathing heavily.I immediately brought him to the nearest clinic and they had to refer me to an emergency clinic.He had surgery and I am happy to say he is the healthiest 15 year old large dog around.

    My dog that bloated was a Rottie and he had gotten into the food bin.He had been starved at his first home and does not have a stop when it comes to food and he ingested about 6 pounds of kibble.His x-rays were impressive!They tried to induce vomiting and ended up having to put him under and "pump" his stomach.

    I have tried my best to eduacate other dog owners about Bloat and GDV since many people know nothing about it.Thanks for the article

  • Less dry food
    05/04/2012 06:08pm

    The Glickman study that was the source of most of these recommendations also found that the greater percentage of dry food fed (any brand) the greater the bloat risk. The more canned food or anything other than dry commercial dog food fed, the less the risk of bloat.

    This study was done before the development of so many grain free dry commercial diets. I wonder whether this conclusion would hold for the grain free commercial dry dog foods.

  • 05/04/2012 07:11pm

    There's been some advancement in our understanding of GDV since the 1997 study you mention. You might be interested in this paper.


  • Glickman's findings?
    05/04/2012 11:35pm

    Darn, I cannot get this link to work! Can you give the reference, or summarize the findings that contradict Glickman? I believe he published an update in 2004 or so and do not recall that this finding was contradicted. I would certainly like to know if this is the case. TIA!

  • Dry food
    05/05/2012 09:58am

    Found the article, thanks, actually this was the 2006 Glickman update, I am familiar with this one. It did not address the point I made, that the first study indicated that the less any brand of dry dog food fed, the less the risk of bloat. The 2006 study simply compared ingredients in the dry foods re bloat risk. Here is the abstract if anyone else wants to read it:

    The Effect of Ingredients in Dry Dog Foods on the Risk of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in Dogs
    Malathi Raghavan, DVM, PhD, Nita W. Glickman, MPH, PhD and Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH
    + Author Affiliations

    From the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907-2027.

    Using dry dog food label information, the hypothesis was tested that the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) increases with an increasing number of soy and cereal ingredients and a decreasing number of animal-protein ingredients among the first four ingredients. A nested case-control study was conducted with 85 GDV cases and 194 controls consuming a single brand and variety of dry food. Neither an increasing number of animal-protein ingredients (P=0.79) nor an increasing number of soy and cereal ingredients (P=0.83) among the first four ingredients significantly influenced GDV risk. An unexpected finding was that dry foods containing an oil or fat ingredient (e.g., sunflower oil, animal fat) among the first four ingredients were associated with a significant (P=0.01), 2.4-fold increased risk of GDV. These findings suggest that the feeding of dry dog foods that list oils or fats among the first four label ingredients predispose a high-risk dog to GDV.

  • Dry food
    05/05/2012 11:28am

    I've had numbers of Irish Wolfhounds for over forty years now, and they are certainly a breed prone to bloat and GDV. We have been fortunate to have so few instances over the years. One of the first ones we had did bloat and torse at a young age many years ago when we were still feeding primarily dry commercial food. He was surgically treated at Cornell, and survived. They recommended that he should eat only canned dog food for the rest of his life. As I recall he ate five cans a day! He did fine though. Since that time, although we do feed some commercial dry food, they always eat something else along with that, whether it is canned, raw, cooked, etc. We also follow many of the commonly recommended practices to prevent GDV although not all of them. I would consider doing an elective gastropexy though on any that needed some other surgery. Bloat is a scary thing, and I'm always aware of the possibility. Know where the closest ER is whenever you travel and make sure you have enough gas in your vehicle to get there, and of course know when a dog is showing signs of bloat or GDV.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.