Bloat – A life threatening emergency

Bloat is a life-threatening emergency that affects dogs. The term “bloat” refers to two conditions: The first is gastric dilatation in which the stomach becomes distended with gas, food, and fluid stretching the stomach many times beyond its normal size. The second is volvulus, in which the markedly distended stomach rotates, leading to kinking/obstruction of the esophagus and the intestine as they leave the stomach trapping gas and food inside. Additionally, the spleen is located near the wall of the stomach and thus can rotate as well. As the stomach continues to distend with gas, the blood supply to the stomach becomes obstructed, which can lead to death of the stomach wall. The development of Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) can lead to a number of other secondary conditions including dehydration, shock, sepsis, and irregular heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias).

GDV often occurs in middle aged to older dogs, but can occur in a dog at any age. Large and giant breed dogs with a deep chest confirmation are often predisposed. These breeds include the Great Dane, German Shepherds, Labrador Retriever, St. Bernard, and Weimaraner. Small breed dogs are rarely affected, however, bloat can occur in small breeds with a deep confirmation such as the Dachshund. Dogs may have a history of recently eating a large meal, or vigorous exercise either before or after eating. Common signs of GDV include lethargy, salivation, retching/unproductive vomiting, distention of the abdomen, and pain or restlessness. If you own an at-risk breed and they are exhibiting any of the above clinical signs it is important to seek immediate veterinary care.

Diagnosis of GDV is confirmed by taking x-rays of the abdomen. Once the diagnosis of a GDV has been made, emergency surgery is required to reposition the stomach and the spleen. Before anesthesia and surgery are performed patients are stabilized with intravenous fluids, decompression of the stomach by passing a stomach tube, and pain medications. During surgery, a gastropexy can be performed to prevent recurrence of GDV. This is where the stomach is permanently attached to the abdominal wall to prevent twisting. If you own an at-risk breed please consult with you primary veterinarian about having this procedure performed at the time of their spay/neuter.

– Ashley Williams, DVM – Emergency DVM


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