Pets’ lives can be gravely in danger if their owners don’t recognize the signs of gastric dilatation volvulus, also known as GDV or bloat. It can be a life-threatening emergency, so learn how to prevent it and what to do if you suspect it.
What is GDV?
To break down the meaning of GDV, let’s explore its parts. Gastric is the medical term for stomach. The stomach will fill with gas, or dilate, and then flip on itself, which is called volvulus. Once that happens, a one-way valve is created, and as your pet breathes, large volumes of air/gas can enter the stomach, but not exit. The stomach continues to expand and fill like a balloon. This extreme amount of pressure is not good for the stomach; it can cause damage to the stomach walls, loss of blood supply, and decreased blood flow to the heart. Often dogs will be in shock. This is a condition that if not treated immediately can be fatal.
Deep-chested large and giant breed dogs (Great Danes, Weimeraners, setters, German shepherds) are the highest risk for developing this condition, although veteriarians have seen it in a large variety of dog breeds, including small breed dogs like dachshunds.
What are the signs that a dog has GDV?
• Firm, hard, distended belly or abdomen
• Unproductive retching where the dog is trying to vomit but unable to bring up anything; it sometimes can be misinterpreted to be gagging or coughing.
• Excessive drooling or salivating
• Outward signs of discomfort—pacing, panting, stretching repeatedly, whining
• Pale or brick-red gums If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, the dog should be seen immediately by a veterinarian.
How is it diagnosed?
GDV is diagnosed by taking X-rays. In a normal set of abdominal X-rays, an empty stomach sits within the rib cage easily. In a dog with GDV, the stomach is distended and filled with gas; it extends far beyond the rib cage and is way larger than it should be. It has flipped on itself, forming what’s known as a “double bubble.” Seeing this on X-ray allows the veterinarian to make the diagnosis of GDV or bloat. Such patients will need to undergo immediate emergency surgery and likely will need extended hospitalization afterward. Depending on the degree of organ damage, the spleen may need to be removed, a portion of the stomach may need to be removed, and the patient may be in a highly critical condition for the next 24 to 72 hours. There is a risk that such a dog may not make it through surgery or through the immediate post-operative period.
Can this be prevented?
GDV can be prevented. By performing a procedure called a gastropexy, veterinarians can secure part of the stomach to the body wall, thereby preventing it from flipping and turning on itself (preventing the volvulus). Gastropexy can be done via abdominal surgery or it can be done laparoscopically.
What is laparoscopic surgery?
Laparoscopic surgery is also referred to as minimally invasive surgery. We can perform procedures using multiple small (0.5-cenitmeter to 1.5-centimeter) incisions. Benefits of laparoscopic surgery include smaller incisions, less pain, quicker recovery time, and less scarring. A camera and instruments are inserted through small keyhole incisions, which allows veterinarians to perform surgery with clear views of the organs, allowing for greater precision.
At Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center, we have been performing preventative laparoscopic gastropexies for over 10 years. We are also able to offer laparoscopic spays or combined laparoscopic gastropexy and spay procedures. A preventative laparoscopic gastropexy can provide a tremendous benefit to the appropriate patient. It avoids the possibility of a life-threatening crisis, sparing the patient pain and suffering as well as saving the client a significant financial expense. It is best to consult with your veterinarian to see if your dog is a good candidate for this procedure.
How does a laparoscopic spay work?
A laparoscopic spay, also known as a laparoscopic ovariectomy, is a minimally invasive spay that removes the ovaries. It has been shown to be a less painful alternative to traditional spays. Two small keyhole incisions are made. A camera will view the ovarian ligament and pedicle directly. The ovarian ligament does not need to be torn, which is one of the most painful parts of the traditional spay procedure. An instrument is used to cauterize (close) and cut through blood vessels and tissues. No tension is placed on the uterus (which is not removed). As there is enhanced visualization, veterinarians can ensure that they remove all ovarian tissue. Recovery time is much faster and activity restriction time is much shorter.
The scope and number of procedures performed via laparoscope in veterinary medicine is growing. Currently, at Bishop Ranch, we also offer laparoscopic liver biopsy as the procedure of choice for attaining optimal quality samples of the liver. We also perform cryptorchid (intra-abdominal testicle) neuters laparoscopically.
What are the benefits of laparoscopy?
• Laparoscopic spays result in 65 percent less pain compared to traditional open spays. • No tearing of the ovarian ligament is required for laparoscopic spays, which is thought to be the most painful part of the spay procedure
• Smaller incisions yield less pain, quicker recovery time, and a decreased chance for major post-operative complications.
• Magnified view of the organs allowing more for precision
• Gastropexy can be performed through a 1.5-inch incision instead of the 8-inch to 12-inch incision typically required
Stefanie Wong, D.V.M., is a San Ramon native who works at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center. She graduated magna cum laude from UCLA, then pursued her DVM degree at Cornell University. She completed an internship at VCA West Los Angeles. Her special interests in veterinary medicine are minimally invasive surgery, emergency medicine, and dentistry. She spends her free time exploring the great outdoors running, surfing, and hiking.
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Main article photo by: Photo courtesy of Stefanie Wong