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Canine Bloat (GDV) is a Pet Emergency

Bloat is a very serious condition that should be considered a life-threatening emergency when it occurs. Dogs can die of bloat within hours even with aggressive treatment.

What is Canine Bloat (GDV)?

Bloat, clinically identified as Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV) is also known as ‘stomach torsion’ or ‘twisted stomach’. There is no specific cause of GDV. It appears to occur from a combination of events and is caused when the stomach twists creating an obstruction to major blood vessels limiting the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body resulting in severe damage to vital organs.

Symptoms of bloat includes a distended or swollen stomach. The earliest signs are a swollen, drum-like abdomen, and trying to vomit without bringing anything up
The condition develops rapidly, most commonly 1-2 hours after eating. 

Large deep-chested dogs (e.g. Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs etc.) are most commonly affected by the disease however small dog breeds and cats sometimes develop this condition. 

Sometimes a pet is found collapsed, and in some early cases you might just notice your pet acting agitated or uncomfortable. Owners of large breed dogs in particular should be aware of the consequences of bloat, and seek veterinary assistance if any of these signs occur. Early treatment is usually successful. 

How do you treat Canine Bloat?

When a pet is admitted to Animal Emergency Service or Perth Vet Emergency with suspected GDV, they are prioritised and rushed to the treatment room for immediate attention. It is vital the emergency team de-compresses the stomach as quickly as possible to restore blood supply. De-compression, pain relief, and resuscitation from shock are attended to immediately. Emergency surgery is needed as soon as the patient is stable. 

In the early hours of Christmas morning, Bernie a Saint Bernard, presented to Animal Emergency Service

His owner woke and noticed him dry retching with a bloated abdomen. The 3-year old was rushed to our emergency team where he was diagnosed with GDV. 
Bernie was stabilised and taken straight into theatre for emergency surgery.

A midline abdominal incision was performed and the abdomen was opened. Bernie’s stomach was untwisted and replaced in the correct position. A gastropexy was then performed attaching the stomach to the abdominal wall in an effort to prevent re-occurrences. After a central line and urinary catheter was placed, Bernie was transferred to the Pet Intensive Care Unit for post-operative care and close monitoring. 

By Boxing Day, Dr Webster noted Bernie’s recovery was routine and his vital signs were stable. He wasn’t willing to eat but he drank water with no issue which was a step in the right direction. Over the coming days, Bernie gradually improved. He started eating and was able to walk short distances.

By December 28, three days after surgery, Bernie was deemed well enough to be discharged from hospital. His owners received strict instructions to keep meals small and visit their veterinarian in ten days for examination and suture removal. Bernie’s story is representative of the most ideal scenario when a pet is diagnosed with GDV. He was lucky that his owners noticed the early signs and he was able to have immediate surgical correction. 

Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out this well... Patients can deteriorate rapidly, some dying within a couple of hours from onset of signs. Even when brought to the vet clinic things can go wrong. There are sometimes complications from the condition despite early surgery, and emergency treatment for GDV can cost a lot due to the procedures, equipment, facilities and expert staff required to treat the condition.

How to prevent Canine Bloat in Dogs?

There’s no clear advice to prevent GDVs especially in breeds susceptible to the condition. What we do recommend is feeding small meals frequently through the day rather than one or two large meals. We also suggest avoiding exercise or playtime after a meal

The best advice we can offer is to be aware of the symptoms of a GDV or bloat. If your pet shows any signs that could be caused by GDV, seek immediate veterinary attention. 
Call the veterinary practice ahead of time so they are on stand-by and prepared for your arrival.

Written by Solange Newton (BComn – Marketing & Digital Comm& Dr Rob Webster (BVSc , FANZCVS, registered veterinary specialist), November 2016 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

About our writers

Solange Newton considers herself the lay person among incredible veterinarians and veterinary nurses. Her career commenced in journalism (though it pains her to admit that!). 

She commenced with AES in 2009 as a receptionist and with the company’s support and encouragement, gained her Bachelor Degree in Marketing and Digital Communication. 

Solange now co-ordinates activities for both AES and PVE with close instruction from the Directors as well as the Veterinary Management Team. 

In 2014, 
Dr Rob Webster became a specialist in veterinary emergency medicine and critical care after working full-time as an emergency vet for 14 years. His mentors were both world regarded specialists, Dr Steven Haskins (emergency medicine and critical care) and Dr Bruce Mackay (internal medicine). 

Dr Rob is the first veterinary specialist in this field in Queensland and one of only five veterinarians in Australia with this qualification. 

As a Director of AES and PVE, Dr Webster works as a consultant for all the veterinary practices providing a second opinion when requested by senior veterinarians or clients.

About Animal Emergency Service / Perth Vet Emergency

Animal Emergency Service and Perth Vet Emergency are after-hours Emergency & Critical Care Veterinarians providing care when General Practitioner veterinarians and diagnostic labs are closed. Our veterinarians are experts in their fields who practice advanced veterinary medicine in dedicated hospitals containing state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. These include surgical suites, ultrasound, radiology, laboratories, Pet Intensive Care, oxygen therapy, endoscopy, blood banks and antivenom, as well as many more services.

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