What is “bloat” (also known as Gastric Dilatation Volvulus or Gastric Torsion)?

Would you know if your dog developed a life-threatening condition requiring immediate treatment?

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Zelda was at a boarding facility while her family was out of the country. Her caretakers recognized the signs of “bloat” and rushed her to CCAH. Because of their swift action, CCAH staff, and Dr. Kemner’s experience and surgical skills, Zelda recovered and was able to welcome her family home when they returned.

So what is “bloat” and why did Zelda have this condition?

Bloat” – also known as Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) or gastric torsion – is a life-threatening emergency. Any dog can “bloat” but deep-chested dogs are more commonly affected. GDV occurs when the stomach dilates with food and/or gas and rotates or twists along its axis. The pressure in the stomach begins to increase, gas and food cannot be expelled from the stomach, and the stomach continues to dilate. This increasing stomach pressure has many severe consequences, including inadequate systemic blood flow, shock, cardiac arrhythmias, rupture of the stomach wall, sepsis, and death.

Immediate treatment is crucial to a dog’s survival. The patient is usually stabilized, the stomach is decompressed, and surgery is performed to return the stomach to its normal position permanently (gastropexy). Abdominal organs are evaluated for damage and treated during surgery.

Many studies have been conducted to determine risk factors and causes for GDV. This condition is not completely understood but we now know that there is an association between GDV and the following factors:

  1. Dogs who have a deep chest (increased thoracic height to width ratio)

  2. Dogs who are fed a single large meal once daily

  3. Dogs who perform strenuous physical activity immediately before or after a meal

  4. Dogs who are older

  5. Dogs who are related to other dogs that have had the condition

Signs and symptoms are often associated with abdominal pain. These can include but are not limited to:

  • an anxious look or looking at the abdomen

  • pacing

  • standing and stretching

  • vomiting or retching without producing anything

  • drooling

  • distending abdomen

As the condition progresses, dogs will pant, have abdominal distension (bloated belly), a fast heart rate, or be weak and collapse.

“Bloat” or GDV is an emergency and requires immediate intervention. Treatment includes stabilizing the dog and performing surgery to decompress the stomach and “tack” it in its normal position. Time is critical as mortality rates increase with the severity of disease.


If you have any concerns or question if your dog is experiencing “bloat”, it is best to be cautious and have a veterinarian examine your dog immediately.

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