Gastric Torsion – otherwise known as Bloat or GDV

Firstly, if you have come to this page for emergency advice click on this link for a quick guidance chart

It cannot be said too strongly or too often IF YOU SUSPECT BLOAT CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY, whatever time of day or night.

Bloat is otherwise known as Gastric Torsion or GDV-Gastric Distortion -Volvulous

What is Bloat or GDV?

This is a condition which can be, and usually is, fatal within (literally) a few hours or can even be shorter timescale than this. If you suspect bloat at any time of the day OR night get in touch with your vet before it is too late. You have a real and serious emergency life threatening situation where every second counts. All dogs particularly larger and deep bodied breeds as well as other animals can develop it, most typically, but not exclusively, in the hours after feeding. Many Bernese owners feed adults 2 smaller meals a day rather than one large one and do not exercise within 1 hour before and 2 hours after feeding to reduce the risk of this occurring. There is research to show that the majority of bloat incidences occur late in the evening or early hours but it can occur anytime.

The process of bloat is that the digestive tract, usually the stomach begins to swell due to gaseous pressure and this puts pressure on the other vital organs, especially the heart and lungs. The affected part of the gut can twist during the swelling cutting off the blood supply and causing necrosis of the affected area which then, even if the dogs is saved will have to be removed quickly. As the swelling increases apart from the severe pain of the gut stretching and maybe twisting the blood supply to the heart becomes affected as pressure builds on the important blood vessels and there is less and less room for the lungs to operate in. Eventually the heart is trying to work harder and harder with less room and less blood supply and it will fail. This can take several hours or sometimes less and is a distressing death for the dog, the dog does not pass peacefully whilst sleep. If the gut has twisted and a section has to be removed and the dog survives this can lead to dietary complications for the dog’s future.


What symptoms should I look for?

A dog experiencing bloat will start off appearing uncomfortable and unsettled but will progress to an increasing amount of pain which will become severe. He/she may be panting, belching, (or trying to belch) salivating or trying to swallow, licking lips, there may be signs of trying to vomit or actual vomiting. You may be able to feel or see hardness and/or swelling in the abdomen and a typical position adopted by the suffering dog is the dropped down front “praying” position, as if attempting to stretch the stomach. Some stay in one spot and stress pant due to the discomfort, others may walk about or alternate between the two. The state of restlessness will be a constant and any combination of these symptoms especially if accompanied by signs of pain such of whimpering or yelping should give cause for urgent and serious concern. As the condition progresses the dog’s heartbeat will increase right through to crisis and failure level.

If you have any suspicion of bloat consult your vet immediately whatever time of day or night it is and tell them you suspect bloat. If it is bloat in the middle of the night then “tomorrow morning” will certainly be too late and lots of dogs experiencing bloat are sadly found deceased in the morning by their owners. So, if your normally settled dog is restless during the night, immediately CONSIDER BLOAT because, if the cause is bloat then every single minute you delay in contacting your vet and getting emergency treatment WILL be crucial and decrease your dog’s chances of survival.


What will the Vet do?

The condition is usually confirmed by a (very) quick X Ray and, only if you are in time, resolved by an emergency operation to release the pressure or very occasionally in milder cases by pushing a tube down into the stomach to release the pressure. The operation will release the trapped gases and also any dead gut which has been starved of its blood supply will have to be removed. If this is only a small area the gut can be rejoined but if a significant area has become necrotic then it will not be possible to save the dog.


What causes it?

There is no definite established cause. Whilst feeding is thought to be implicated the latest research is suggesting stress is also involved so be a little more aware if your dog is having a change of routine it may not be entirely happy with. It can happen to any dog any time so don’t be complacent and do not think your dog is healthy so “whatever it is it can’t be much”.

Feeding late at night and then leaving the dog seem to be a fairly common circumstance but obviously this will not always lead to bloat. Exercising too close to meals can be involved. so always wait a couple of hours after meals before any kind of serious exercise and at least an hour after exercise before feeding.

From attending lectures in America in 2016 I learnt that the latest research was indicating that lack of  ‘rest time’ for the gut was being investigated as potentially significant in bloat occurrence. Dogs that are fed repeatedly multiple times through the day are maybe more prone to develop bloat in the evening time. So, if you have had a long day at a show or event with your dog and been feeding lots of treats all day to keep the dog happy then just be aware of the increased possibility of bloat in the evening. There was some indication in one survey quoted that the common UK practice of feeding twice a day was a bad practice and could lead to more incidence of bloat but this was a very small survey and a tenuous link.


What else can be done?

One preventative measure is not to feed your dog at bedtime and then leave him or her alone. If you have been out late and haven’t fed your dog and need to go to bed then don’t feed, he or she may not be happy but you can sleep better. Always wait a couple of hours after meals before any kind of serious exercise and at least an hour after exercise before feeding.

A preventative procedure can be carried out known as gastroplexy where a section of the gut is spliced and stitched to the body cavity wall to prevent it twisting. This will not completely prevent bloat but it could assist survival by lessening the severity of the effects. In some countries this is undertaken as a specific precautionary measure in its own right, such is the fear of bloat. In most places, like here in the UK, most people would not risk an operation and all the potential risks purely for this purpose but if your dog was having surgery for something else and this procedure was a possibility it may be something to consider for some people.

The following are links to more information on this significant killer condition but a quick search on the web (e.g. “Bloat in Dogs”) will produce lots of information for you to read through. There are several references to bloat being the second biggest killer of dogs so be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge of what to look for and how quickly you need to act.


Further Information

The first link is a guide to a breakdown of the three phases of bloat. Dogs can progress very quickly from one phase to the next so if you think you are only in pre phase one you may only have a matter of minutes to the final phase 3 so do not delay.


Please note this page is deliberately written very clinically to emphasise the seriousness of this condition.