Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) in Dogs


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 23, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), or "bloat," is a life-threatening condition where a dog's stomach abnormally expands and twists, obstructing blood flow and causing organ failure.
  2. It's more common in deep-chested breeds, triggered by fast eating and strenuous activity after meals.
  3. Symptoms include a swollen abdomen, unproductive retching, distress, pale gums, and a rapid heartbeat.
  4. Treatment involves stabilization and surgery (gastropexy) to prevent recurrence.
  5. Preventative measures include smaller, frequent meals, slow-feeder bowls, and gastropexy.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) in Dogs

Understanding Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), commonly referred to as "bloat" or "twisted stomach," is a life-threatening condition that demands immediate attention for our canine companions. At its core, GDV involves an abnormal expansion and rotation of the dog's stomach, which can obstruct blood flow and compromise vital organ function. As the stomach fills with gas and twists upon itself, it can lead to a cascade of serious complications, including tissue death and shock. Recognizing the intricacies of GDV is crucial for every dog owner, ensuring they can swiftly identify and respond to this perilous situation, safeguarding the health and well-being of their loyal friend. Pet insurance can provide financial support in the event of a GDV emergency, helping cover the costs of treatment for this critical condition.

Causes of GDV in Dogs

The precise origin of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) remains a topic of ongoing veterinary research, but several factors have been identified that may predispose our canine companions to this alarming condition. Rapid ingestion of large meals, especially those high in fermentable carbohydrates, can lead to excessive gas production and stomach distension. Furthermore, vigorous activity immediately before or after eating can exacerbate this risk.

Breeds with deep and narrow chests, such as the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, and Weimaraner, are anatomically more susceptible. While GDV's onset can be sudden and unpredictable, understanding these potential triggers is the first line of defense for proactive dog owners.

Affected Breeds

While any dog can fall victim to the perils of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), certain breeds are notably more vulnerable due to their anatomical structure. Breeds with deep-chested physiques, such as the Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Weimaraner, and Irish Setter, face a heightened risk. Additionally, the Standard Poodle, Akita, and Boxer have also been identified as susceptible breeds. While the genetic predisposition is evident, it's imperative for owners of all breeds to remain vigilant, as GDV is not exclusive to these breeds alone. Knowledge of one's breed-specific vulnerabilities and prompt action can make all the difference in the face of this serious condition.

Symptoms and Clinical Presentation

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) in dogs often manifests with a sudden onset of alarming symptoms, making swift recognition vital for any dog owner. One of the earliest and most telltale signs is a visibly distended or swollen abdomen, often accompanied by unproductive retching, where a dog appears to be trying to vomit but produces little to no material.

As the condition progresses, the dog may exhibit signs of increased distress, including restlessness, salivation, shortness of breath, and a hunched back. Pale or blue-tinged gums, indicative of poor circulation, and a rapid heartbeat further underscore the gravity of the situation. As GDV progresses, dogs may show signs of shock, such as weakness, collapse, or even a loss of consciousness. Given the rapid progression and severe nature of GDV, recognizing these symptoms and seeking immediate veterinary attention can be life-saving for our canine companions.


Prompt and accurate diagnosis of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) is paramount to the survival of an affected dog. When a dog presents with symptoms suggestive of GDV, veterinarians typically commence with a thorough physical examination, palpating the abdomen for signs of distension and listening for diminished or absent gut sounds. Radiographs, or X-rays, often serve as the definitive diagnostic tool, revealing the characteristic "double bubble" or "smiley face" pattern indicating a twisted stomach.

Blood tests may be conducted to assess the extent of metabolic changes and to gauge the severity of shock or other complications. Given the urgency of GDV, swift diagnostic measures combined with immediate intervention can make a crucial difference, emphasizing the necessity for dog owners to seek veterinary care at the earliest suspicion of this grave condition.

Treatment Options

Addressing Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) is a race against time, and immediate, comprehensive treatment is vital. When a dog is suspected of GDV, initial stabilization is the first line of action. This may involve administering intravenous fluids to counteract shock, relieving stomach pressure by inserting a stomach tube or, in cases where the tube cannot pass, using a large-bore needle to decompress the stomach. Once stabilized, surgical intervention is typically necessary.

A procedure known as gastropexy is performed, wherein the stomach is surgically tacked to the abdominal wall to prevent future twisting. During this procedure, the health of the stomach and surrounding organs is evaluated, and any necrotic tissue is removed. Post-operative care may encompass pain management, fluid therapy, and close monitoring for complications. Given the severity of GDV, early detection paired with swift, comprehensive treatment is crucial for the best possible outcome for our four-legged friends.

Prognosis and Long-term Management

The aftermath of a Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) episode is as critical as the initial response. The prognosis hinges on the rapidity of diagnosis and treatment, with early intervention often leading to more favorable outcomes. Once a dog has successfully undergone surgery and recovery, the focus shifts to long-term management to prevent recurrence. A gastropexy, performed during the initial treatment, significantly reduces the risk of a subsequent GDV episode.

Owners are also advised to implement dietary and lifestyle modifications, such as feeding smaller, more frequent meals, avoiding vigorous activity immediately before and after eating, and monitoring for any signs of abdominal discomfort. Regular check-ups with the veterinarian are essential to monitor the dog's recovery and overall well-being. With dedicated care and proactive management, many dogs can resume a normal, active life post-GDV, continuing to enrich the lives of their families.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

While Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) stands as a formidable threat to our canine companions, dog owners are far from powerless in its face. Proactive measures can significantly mitigate the risk. One of the most impactful interventions is prophylactic gastropexy, especially recommended for breeds with a known predisposition to GDV. This surgical procedure, which tacks the stomach to the abdominal wall, dramatically decreases the chances of stomach torsion. Beyond surgical measures, dietary practices play a pivotal role.

Offering multiple smaller meals throughout the day, using slow-feeder bowls, and ensuring dogs have a calm period both before and after eating can reduce the risk of rapid food and gas accumulation. Additionally, ensuring access to fresh water, but monitoring excessive drinking, especially post-exertion, can further safeguard against GDV. With these preventative steps, coupled with awareness and vigilance, dog owners can offer their pets a strong line of defense against this grave condition.

Case Studies

From u/Bram_van_de_Raad

“…Last Sunday was a normal day. I woke up early and took our 2 American akitas out for a walk. They went back to bed and I went to the gym. About an hour later my wife called me, saying that our 3 and a half yo male is looking very sick. He was trying to vomit and had diarrhea, was looking severely bloated, couldn't seem to be able to sit or lay down and was pacing. I immediately knew what was up. The day I feared the most had come. I rushed home and 30 minutes later we were at the emergency vet. The vet took a look at him and was certain it was bloat. He got him in the operating room within minutes. Normally, when the stomach twists it restricts blood flow and it takes a few hours for necrosis to take place and eventually death, but because we caught it early no tissue had to be removed. The vet performed a gastropexy where the stomach is sutured to the inside of the rib cage. This procedure is done preemptively in breeds that are prone, however we didn't know that until recently and thought that he's too young for that. Foolish us. Our female is scheduled for it next month. I don't even dare to think what could have happened if this was on a regular work day and he was home alone for 8 hours. I would recommend it to everyone who owns akitas and other prone breeds. Keep your pups safe people”

From u/ Phfaithe

“…Hi guys, my dog (male standard poodle who just turned 7 this July) developed GDV this past week. I very well could have lost him if it wasn't for emergency surgery. I want to share my experience with GDV so other dog owners can quickly recognize the symptoms.

He became suddenly very restless (basically bouncing off the walls, running around constantly, chewing up things he didn't chew up before, disobedience)

As the condition matured, on the day I brought him in to the emergency vet, he was acting very lame. He went out to our backyard very slowly and just laid there in the grass and dirt--something he had never done before. Prior to going out, his stomach was not noticeably bloated/enlarged. However, when coming back in, his stomach was very noticeably bloated/enlarged. At this point, it was clear what was happening.

After surgery, the vet told me that they had to remove about 25% of his stomach due to necrotism, as well as his spleen. The surgery ended up hospitalizing him for 3 days and can cost us anywhere between $6000-$9000 CAD. GDV can be very sudden, and can develop very rapidly. If your dog suddenly inhibits behavioral changes, please don't hesitate to bring him into the vet.”

From u/guineo87 “…My 3 year old male standard poodle was just diagnosed with gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) and I am freaking out. Here’s the backstory:

He was acting totally fine all day and followed his daily routine. He is normally a very slow eater that likes to graze, and today was no different. He ate very slow and then went outside like always. He came back inside and played with a toy for a little bit then laid down on the couch. We then went to bed and he laid on his bed and went to sleep.

Right as I was about to fall asleep, I noticed he kept pacing and acting like he couldn’t get comfortable. He then wanted to go out so I went out with him and noticed he was trying to vomit but nothing was coming out. He also kept standing with his head really low and just acting strange. I felt his stomach and noticed it was super hard. Luckily I had read about bloat and knew the signs so I rushed him to the emergency vet.

Once we got there, they did x-rays and confirmed it was GDV. We opted for emergency surgery, and are currently waiting for the surgery team to arrive and fix the issue...”


Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) serves as a poignant reminder of the unpredictability of canine health challenges. This severe condition, with its rapid onset and potentially devastating consequences, underscores the importance of awareness and education among dog owners. Recognizing the early signs, understanding the risk factors, and being equipped to act swiftly can be the difference between life and death.

Through advances in veterinary medicine and a commitment to proactive care, owners can significantly reduce the risks associated with GDV. The bond between humans and dogs is one of unparalleled depth, and by equipping ourselves with the knowledge and tools to combat GDV, we can ensure our furry companions enjoy long, healthy, and joyful lives by our sides.

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

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