Gastric Dilatation/Volvulus syndrome (abbreviated GDV) is a serious, life threatening condition of dogs whereby the stomach bloats (meaning "to fill with gas") and twists upon itself. The normal dog's stomach is a muscular pouch with an entrance to receive food from the esophagus (throat) and an exit leading to the small intestine. In a case of Gastric Dilatation/Volvulus the stomach has become over distended with gas and has twisted upon itself (called volvulus) so that both the entrance (from the esophagus) and the exit (leading to the small intestine) have become twisted so that nothing can enter or leave the stomach. When this occurs the stomach begins to swell (called dilatation) due to gas accumulation from bacterial and digestive processes. This condition rapidly leads to serious fluid losses, mineral imbalances in the bloodstream, shock, adverse effects on the heart, and death if not treated on an emergency basis.
Breed is a primary factor with large, deep chested breeds including the German Shepherd, Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Doberman Pincher, Rottweiler, and Irish Setter being most commonly affected. Rapidly eating a large meal only once a day has been shown to contribute to GDV. Age is also a factor with most affected dogs being mature to senior animals.
Dogs with GDV will often have some degree of swelling in the front part of the abdomen and this swelling will worsen as the disease progresses. Retching with an inability to vomit is also commonly seen. If the condition is allowed to progress before diagnosis and treatment, the dog will begin to show signs of shock (weak pulse, poor circulation, rapid heart rate) weakness, coma and death. Without emergency treatment these patients will die within a short time.
Treatment will vary with the severity of the condition. In some cases the stomach has swollen but has not yet twisted upon itself and in these cases relief can sometimes be obtained by simply passing a soft plastic tube down the esophagus (throat) to the stomach and using this tube to remove the gas, fluid and food from the stomach. In many cases, however, the stomach has already twisted upon itself to the point that a tube will not pass into it and, after the patient is stabilized with fluids and medications to lessen shock, an emergency surgery is performed to replace the stomach in its normal position in the abdominal cavity.
Several things can be done to lessen the chances of GDV: Large dogs should have their total daily ration divided into several small meals fed throughout the day . Other things which have been theorized to be of some positive effect are (l) moistening dry foods and (2) decreasing exercise and excitement immediately after eating. Soybean based dog foods have been shown to cause an increased incidence of GDV.