black lab lying in grass on his back with tennis ball

GDV: What’s the Big FLIPPING Deal?

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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. Paige Wallace

Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.