Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV), commonly known as “bloat”, is a situation where the dog’s stomach fills with gas and twists. There are cases in which the twisting/torsion does not occur, but more severe symptoms can happen as the stomach fills with gas, swells, and impacts the surrounding organs. GDV normally comes up without warning, and can progress very quickly. Symptoms include:
• Expanded abdomen
• Painful abdomen
• Overall distress
• Vomiting with no success
• Excessive drooling
• Rapid breathing
All of the above do not need to be observed at one time. Consider suspected GDV an emergency. Reaction time is the key to survival. Contact your veterinarian immediately. In Analysis of Risk Factors for Gastric Dilation and Dilation-Volvulus in Dogs (See Glickman citation below) the study showed a frequency of GDV rates per hospital admission as 2.9-6.8. Note that this is not a sample of the general dog population, nor specific to Griffs, but the total rate of hospital admission was the method used for a controlled study. Thus this number does not include healthy dogs that were not admitted to the hospital, nor ones that died without being admitted. The case fatality rate was 28.6% and 33.3% for gastric dilation alone and for gastric dilation with volvulus, respectively. No specific cause of GDV has been identified in spite of extensive research on this devastating illness. There are some studies that identify and exclude certain risk factors. Body conformation was found to be a risk factor, specifically a large dog (as in Griff) with a narrow, deep thoracic cavity. Some research has suggested that in such cases there would be more room for the stomach to twist.
Other risk factors include increasing age, and weight gained above the breed standard. You can’t keep your dog from aging, but you should see a reason to not have an overweight dog. There are studies that include and exclude certain aspects of feeding, and although in some studies there may be conflicting data, err on the side of caution, and consider a feeding program that might reduce the possibility of GDV:
• Avoid sudden dietary changes.
• Feeding should not be preceded nor followed by exercise.
• Feed high quality food. That means no garbage or table scraps, and be cautious with training treats.
• In a household with multiple dogs, separate dogs during feeding. This might slow down the rate of eating, reduce stress, and thus decrease gulping of air with food.
• Feed two or more small meals a day, rather than one large one.
• Establish a regular routine for feeding.
There is a wealth of research on GDV, and obviously more to come. Although the cause(s), risk factors, methods of prevention, are still not entirely specific, we encourage perusal of the following references and websites in order to establish the awareness that may help decrease the probability of GDV in your dog, and will lead to the best response if the symptoms occur. The most important thing to remember is that GDV is a life-threatening emergency.
Websites to visit:
German Shepherd Rescue of New England: http://www.gsrne.org/health.htm
AKC Canine Health Foundation: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/your-dogs-health/disease-information/gastric-dilatation-volvulus.html
References: Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Perez CM, Schellenberg DB, Analysis of risk factors for gastric dilatation and dilatation-volvulus in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association [1994, 204(9):1465-1471]. Wilkinson, Shannon, What Promotes Canine Bloat?, Whole Dog Journal, January, 2005. Can be found at whole-dog-journal.com in past issue archives.