"I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source." -- Doris Day

Recently we have seen several cases of GDV at our practice so I thought I would review the signs as well as treatment and prevention of this serious condition.

Gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV, occurs when a dog's stomach distends with fluid and gas and rotates on its axis anywhere from 180 to 360 degrees.

When this occurs, the markedly distended stomach cuts off the blood supply to itself and spleen as well as preventing blood from the back part of the body from returning to the heart. This results in shock.

It is commonly known as "bloat," although dogs can bloat without having the rotation of their stomach. While any dog can develop GDV, it occurs most frequently in large and giant breed dogs, including Great Danes, mastiffs, Irish wolfhounds, standard poodles, Weimaraners and German shepherds.

The clinical signs include discomfort or pain, retching, gagging, drooling and the appearance of a distended abdomen. However, the distended abdomen can sometimes be difficult to observe in these deep-chested breeds. If left untreated, a dog with GDV can die within several hours.

Emergency treatment is required and consists of stabilization of the patient with intravenous fluids and pain medications, as well as passage of a tube into the stomach to relieve the pressure caused by the accumulated gas and fluid. Once stable, these dogs need surgery.

The surgeon evaluates the condition of the stomach and spleen, and returns the stomach to its normal position. The stomach is then permanently sutured to the abdominal wall (known as a gastropexy) so that it cannot twist again. The surgeon may remove the spleen or even part of the stomach if it doesn't appear healthy.

Post operative complications can include blood clotting abnormalities, heart arrhythmias and peritonitis, requiring a prolonged hospital stay and resulting in a poorer prognosis. Dogs who are diagnosed and treated early have a fairly good prognosis.

While the exact cause of GDV isn't known, predisposing factors include exercise close to mealtime, eating food rapidly and eating one meal a day instead of two or more.

Some owners of predisposed breeds elect to have a gastropexy performed as a preventive measure, when the dog is young and having an elective spay or neuter. While these dogs may bloat, the stomach cannot rotate and the condition is much less serious.

If you own a breed that has a higher risk of GDV, ask your vet about a preventive gastropexy. If you ever suspect that your dog may have GDV, contact your veterinarian or local emergency clinic immediately.

Ask Dr. Jill Veterinary Advice is a column written by Jill Christofferson, DVM, of the Encina Veterinary Hospital in Walnut Creek. Contact her at askthevet@encinavet.com.