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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

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