Gastric dilatation and volvulus (“bloat”) is a surgical emergency that occurs typically in large and giant breed, deep-chested dogs. The primary clinical signs are non-productive retching (“dry heaving”), restlessness and abdominal pain. The exact cause is unknown. The stomach is dilated with gas and rotates on its axis, usually 180 degrees. This rotation or volvulus prevents inflow and outflow of ingesta from the stomach. More importantly, it interrupts normal blood flow to the stomach and can lead to death of varying portions of the stomach wall if left untreated. The spleen is located next to the stomach and may be involved in the rotation as well, interrupting splenic blood supply with the same consequences.
Unfortunately, damage may not be limited to these two organs. In some instances where the stomach is very dilated/large, blood returning from the lower half of the body to the heart may be impeded. This prevents the heart from pumping adequate amounts of blood around the body and multiple organs/systems can thus be affected (hypovolemic shock). These changes generally come in the later stages of a GDV and so early treatment is always indicated.
Diagnosis of GDV is made on x-rays, which may be recommended as soon as your pet is stable. Treatment of gatric dilatation and volvulus is surgical, once the cardiovascular system has been stabilized. The stomach must be deflated and manually flipped back into its normal position. To help prevent recurrence of volvulus, the stomach is then permanently attached via a procedure called a gastropexy to the body wall. It is important to remember that dilatation without volvulus can still recur and break down of the gastropexy site with resultant rotation, however uncommon, is still possible.
If you ever suspect that your dog is bloated, he or she must be evaluated by a veterinarian on an emergency basis.