Virginia Simpson and Chance


by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center

Commonly called the “mother of all emergencies”, a gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or “bloat” is an absolute surgical emergency.   Bloat refers to the condition where the stomach dilates with gas and fluid and/or food, and then flips.  It is much more common in large breed, deep-chested dogs, because the stomach has more room to move.  Because the dilated stomach has flipped over, the stomach cannot receive proper blood flow.  Blood flow to the spleen may also become compromised.  The most common clinical signs are an enlarged abdomen, abdominal pain, lethargy, attempted “retching”.  Dogs who have a GDV actually cannot vomit, so you may notice a hunched over appearance where the dog retches and tries to vomit, but there is no vomit produced.  If you notice any of these symptoms in a large breed dog, the dog should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.  Time is essential to survival in a GDV.  The longer the stomach and spleen are without blood flow, the worse the prognosis. These dogs are usually septicemic (bacteria in the blood stream) and need to be hospitalized after surgery, monitored and given broad-spectrum antibiotics.  Another complication which may be noted with a GDV is a ventricular arrhythmia.  An arrhythmia is an abnormality of the electrical conduction system of the heart. This is a sequel of sepsis (bacteria in the blood stream) causing inflammation of the heart.  These arrhythmias can be very serious and sometimes fatal after surgery.  All dogs with a GDV should be carefully monitored after surgery for an arrhythmia. 

During surgery, after the stomach is decompressed and placed back in normal anatomic position, then the surgery will “tack” or suture the stomach to the wall of the abdomen. The aim of this is to prevent the stomach from ever flipping again.   This procedure has a good success rate as long as the tack heals properly at preventing an additional GDV episode.  You may also elect to have your pet “tacked” as a preventative measure at a young age if they are a predisposed breed.  This is a good topic to discuss with your veterinarian at the time of your dog’s spay or neuter procedure.

Statistically, the three most common predisposed breeds for a GDV are the Great Dane, Weimeriner, and St. Bernard.   As an owner of a predisposed breed, it is import to take some preventative measures and know the warning signs, the location of a nearby emergency clinic, and have the financial resources to deal with this extreme emergency.  Predisposed breeds should be fed smaller amounts of food and water more frequently rather than large meals.  They should also be kept quiet after eating. 


Elizabeth Gigis, DVM
West Chester Veterinary Center
7330 Liberty Way, West Chester, OH 45069