black lab lying in grass on his back with tennis ball

GDV: What’s the Big FLIPPING Deal?

Share the love!

Most dog owners are familiar with “bloat,” which is a piece of the GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus) scenario. Unfortunately, that is not the whole story.

A GDV involves gaseous distension of the stomach, which then completely twists over on itself in a 180-degree sideways rotation. This cuts off both the esophagus and intestines so nothing can get in or out of the stomach. The stomach continues to do its job digesting what’s inside, producing acid and gases, so it continues to distend larger and larger until it actually pinches off the vena cava (major vein bringing blood back to the heart from the lower half of the body).  The stomach wall stretches so much it loses circulation and the wall begins to bruise, thin, and die. The large amount of blood that becomes trapped in the lower half of the body is not accessible for use and can result in shock. This is not to mention the severe pain caused by the stomach stretching and the risk of rupture.

The diagnosis: GDV. You have no time to decide. It’s life or death surgery or euthanasia, and it may cost upwards of $6000 with or without a favorable outcome.

Dogs at Risk for GDV

Take a look at your dog. If their chest is deeper than it is wide, you have a dog at increased risk for GDV. If you have a hunting dog or guard dog, you have a dog with increased risk for GDV. The exact reason it happens is not understood, but it is over-represented in guardian and hunting breeds. It is not always but often associated with activity immediately after eating. If you’ve invested the time, money, and training into a well-bred guardian or hunting companion — or even the love and patience to open your home to a rescue — there is nothing more disheartening than finding out that your dog could potentially die. 

Signs of GDV

Seconds count when it comes to saving a stomach that isn’t getting adequate circulation. More than a few hours and you run the risk of losing part or all of the stomach; dogs cannot live without a stomach. A GDV must be caught and corrected rapidly or the dog will die. If you don’t know how to recognize it or aren’t within range of an emergency veterinarian, you may lose your dog. To that end, signs you should be aware of that may indicate your dog has a GDV include:

  • abdominal distension (widening of the stomach)
  • retching/gagging and trying to vomit without bringing anything up or just foam
  • angling the elbows out to avoid pressure on the belly
  • abdominal pain
  • panting
  • lethargy
  • lack of appetite
  • collapse

Gastropexy Surgery

An alternative to kenneling your dog for an hour after they eat and worrying every time they retch or gag is a gastropexy, or “pexy,” surgery. During a gastropexy procedure, a veterinarian surgically attaches the dog’s stomach to the body wall so that it cannot flip over. This can be done at your regular veterinarian along with a neuter or spay, or on its own. It’s a relatively straightforward procedure that shouldn’t prolong your dog’s recovery beyond the 2 weeks expected with a routine neuter or spay. 

Does Your Dog Need a Gastropexy?

In my opinion, any shepherd, dane, mastiff, lab, most hunting and guardian breeds, or really any dog over 50lbs, especially the deep-chested ones, should receive a gastropexy. My own dog got a GDV when I was a student in college, and I got to add $3500 to my student loans to save his life. Fortunately, we got him to the hospital in time.

Early in my veterinary career, the military affirmed my feelings about pexies when I learned every shepherd and labrador retriever serving as military working dogs in any branch of the United States Military (tens of thousands of dogs) gets a pexy. The military made this a mandatory policy due to the unacceptably high number of military working dogs lost to GDV. Either the signs were not caught right away (and let’s face it — these can be stoic dogs) or they couldn’t get to a hospital unit with a vet in time. Now they even go as far as to pexy any contractor’s dogs working with US forces downrange to avoid the loss of these life-saving heroes. 

Gastropexy Surgery at Tier 1 VMC

It’s a few hundred dollars on average for a preventative surgery that can save your dog’s life. Additionally, it allows you to avoid the risk of thousands of dollars in emergency surgery, a prolonged hospital recovery, or potentially losing your dog. It can’t hurt to ask your veterinarian if they recommend the surgery for your dog or how much it costs. Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center offers two different techniques to achieve the least invasive approach possible, depending on the situation and your dog’s individual needs. I just performed this procedure on my own 2-year-old lab and would strongly encourage you to consider it for your own dog. It may save their life.

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available for emergencies, walk-ins, and by appointment. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Sean McPeck

A 2010 Graduate of Colorado State College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Sean McPeck developed his leadership as a Sniper Team Leader and Veterinarian with the US Army Special Operations, 75th Ranger Regiment.

Dr. McPeck has multiple combat deployments, totaling almost 2 years in combat theaters of operation.

He is the recipient of the Combat Action Badge, and is Ranger, Sniper, and Airborne qualified. While serving as an officer in Special Operations, Dr. McPeck was repeatedly recognized for his Honor, Integrity, Courage and Selfless Service in the name of the United States. He was recognized with not one, but two, Meritorious Service Medals.

Under his leadership, Dr. McPeck worked with Working Dog handlers, and canine units, to detain and seize enemy combatants. The canines that Dr. McPeck worked with are credited with savings thousands of United States soldiers deployed in combat areas.

Dr. McPeck authored The RCAP, Ranger Canine Athletic Program, which was the 1st comprehensive Military canine conditioning program.

His specific training and certification classes for Dog handlers to be proficient in Canine Tactical- Combat Casualty Care, and knowledge of current medical equipment and procedures, which led to the successful life saving interventions by handlers in real world operations.

Dr. SaraRose McPeck graduated from Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. A Massachusetts native who attended Becker College for her undergrad, Dr. McPeck has lived and worked around the country and even the world. She served four years in the United States Army as a Veterinary Officer, during which she was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, and completed a 12-month tour in Afghanistan.

Her time serving in the Army provided her the experience as the primary veterinarian for over 350 Military Working Dogs, in which she provided all emergency, trauma, surgical, critical, and primary care. In addition to caring for animals, she trained, mentored, and led six Non-Commissioned Officers and twelve junior enlisted Soldiers, giving her not only impressive veterinary experience but also exceptional interpersonal and leadership skills.

As a Veterinary Corp Officer, she received a variety of awards, including a Bronze Star, a NATO Medal, a GWOT Medal, two Army Accommodation Medals, among many others. She gained experiences in which she exemplified impressive leadership skills and the ability to adapt to both clinical and combat support situations. Her years of experience serving our country and in veterinary medicine have equipped her with the knowledge and skills to provide exceptional care to our patients.