First off, GDV stands for gastric dilation and volvulus. This is a serious, life-threatening condition that can occur in any dog breed, but most commonly in deep-chested dog breeds like Great Danes, Labradors, Weimaraners, Standard Poodles and Saint Bernards. The direct cause of GDV is not known but there are many factors that contribute to the development of the condition. These factors include rapidly consuming food, exercise immediately before or after eating, stressful conditions, increased age or inherent motility disorders of the stomach. There is a gas accumulation in the stomach that then leads to distention and a rotation or twist of the entire stomach.
So, how do you recognize this condition? The most common signs are abdominal distension, vomiting or retching (unproductive vomiting), restlessness or signs of pain. Occasionally, the dog may even collapse. These signs usually progress as the condition worsens. This condition can become very serious very quickly. As the stomach twists, the blood supply is cut off. This is a life-threatening situation that can lead to necrosis of the stomach. If your pet is showing any of these signs, they should already be in the car and on the way to a vet!
Diagnosing GDV is usually fairly straightforward. Abdominal radiographs show a dilated stomach that is full of gas and some food materials. Often times, a stomach tube cannot be passed due to the rotated stomach. Treatment of a GDV is multi-faceted. IV fluids must be administered for cardiovascular support. The patient is typically placed under anesthesia and decompression of the stomach is attempted. Usually, surgery is required to reposition the stomach. The stomach is then sutured to the abdominal wall in a procedure called a gastropexy. This prevents the stomach from twisting again in the future, as this condition often repeats itself. If the condition is severe enough, sometimes the stomach or the spleen may need to be resected due to necrosis. These conditions unfortunately increase the mortality rate of this condition. Recovery from the condition takes several days, as food is slowly re-introduced post-operatively.
There are many things you can do to try to prevent this condition from occurring in your pet. Changes to feeding habits can decrease the incidence rate. Feed multiple, smaller meals throughout the day and have a significant time gap in between feeding and exercise. Some dogs, like my mother’s dog Milly, often inhale their food within seconds. Placing a rock or large ball in the bowl to slow down eating is often helpful. None of these methods, however, are 100% effective. A prophylactic gastropexy may prevent this condition from occurring in your pet. This procedure tacks the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent twisting from occurring. This procedure does involve an abdominal laparotomy; it is often done when spaying female dogs that are pre-disposed to this condition.
Hopefully, this gives you a bit of insight on a serious and life-threatening condition many dogs face. Most famously, Marley from the film “Marley and Me” suffered from a GDV at some point in the film.