Gastric Dilatation And Volvulus (GDV): What Causes It?

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening emergency condition that affects predominantly deep-chested large breed dogs.

Gastric dila-what?

You’re probably more familiar with the term bloat. And if you don’t know that one either, and own a large, deep-chested breed, you better do your homework quick.

Gastric Dilatation And Volvulus (GDV): What Causes It?


Gastric dilatation and volvulus is as deadly as cancer, except it kills way faster. So What is it?

gastric [gas-tric]; from Greek gaster – stomach
dilate [dahy-leyt]; from Latin dīlātāre – expand, stretch beyond normal dimensions
volvulus [vol-vyuh-luhs]; from Latin volvere – turn, twist

The problem is two-fold

The dilation bit means that excessive fluid or gas causes the stomach to expand/distend beyond its normal size. This is very painful, but it is not the worst of the problem.

The real trouble comes when the distended stomach flips around, also known as torsion. Now all exits are blocked, and everything becomes trapped while the stomach continues to expand. As if that wasn’t bad enough, blood circulation to the stomach also becomes impaired, which leads to a whole other set of problems.

Gastric Dilatation And Volvulus (GDV): Gastric Torsion Stages
Stages of gastric torsion. Image VIN, illustration by Tamara Rees
Source the pet hospitals

This paints a picture that is as horrifying as it is painful and deadly. 

The only way out of this mess is an immediate surgery, which may or may not save your dog’s life. GDV is a number two killer right after cancer.

That’s why understanding the risk factors and prevention are extremely important.

Preventing GDV

How can we prevent this from happening to our dogs? And there lies another problem. There are only a few risk factors that are well understood.

The School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania conducted an internet-based, cross-sectional study in the attempt to shed some light on the matter. The study included 2,551 privately owned dogs.

Unfortunately, the study didn’t bring much-needed clarity at all.

Study results

Here are the factors significantly associated with an increased risk of GDV from the study results:

  • being fed dry kibble
  • anxiety
  • residence in the United Kingdom
  • being born in the 1990s
  • being a family pet, and spending at least 5 hours a day with the owner

Factors associated with a decreased risk of GDV were:

  • playing with other dogs and running the fence after meals
  • fish and egg dietary supplements
  • and spending equal time indoors and outdoors.

Now, wrap your brain around that. One interesting bit is that sexually intact females have the highest risk for GDV.

Aside from the above study and its confusing results, the commonly accepted risk factors include:

  • genetic factors
  • breed anatomy
  • sex (male dogs are more susceptible)
  • age
  • feeding one or two large meal a day
  • gulping down food
  • moistening of dry foods
  • restricting water intake before and after meals
  • stress
  • exercising shortly after a meal
  • certain foods

Theories or facts?

We ought to accept that we don’t know what causes bloat. It is likely a combination of genetics, environment, care, and bad luck. Anatomy is the most widely accepted risk factor.

In dogs with deeper abdomens, the stretching of the gastric ligaments over time may allow the stomach to descend relative to the esophagus, thus increasing the gastroesophageal angle, and this may promote bloat.

Dr. Lawrence Glickman, VMD, DrPH

However, small breeds can suffer from GDV too. Age and stress are also involved.

What preventive steps I take

So what do we do to prevent GDV in our guys? Apart from feeding multiple smaller meals, pray, mostly … All kidding aside, here are things I do:

  • multiple smaller meals
  • raw species-appropriate diet
  • hand-feeding to control how fast my dog eats
  • feed after, not before exercise
  • keeping stress to minimum

Something I might consider in the future would be preventative gastropexy. It’s a procedure that can be done while a dog is in for a spay or neuter, and it involves surgically securing the stomach to the abdominal wall. Then, even if it does dilate, it’s not going anywhere.

Further information: Dog Bloat: Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

Prophylactic gastropexy

Gastropexy is a surgical procedure that can prevent stomach torsion in susceptible breeds. These days, it is performed on dogs who already developed GDV. If you have a breed that is a high risk for this condition, your veterinarian might recommend it as a preventive procedure. Preventively, gastropexy can be performed during routine spay or neuter.

During gastropexy, the surgeon tack the stomach to the right side of the body wall to secure it in place to prevent it from twisting.

There are several potential surgical techniques, including laparoscopy or endoscopy, which ar least invasive.

Gastric Dilatation And Volvulus (GDV): Gastropexy
Surgically “tacking” the stomach to the right side of the body wall prevents it from twisting and causing GDV. Image LifeLearn Inc.

More information: Gastropexy

Related articles:
Abdominal Distention in Dogs: Why Is My Dog’s Stomach Swollen?
Is Unproductive Retching an Emergency?

Further reading:
Dog Bloat: Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

Categories: BloatConditionsDiagnosesDog health advocacyGastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat):Prevention

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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