The Seriousness of Stomach Aches

It may seem like Sparky has a cast-iron stomach, but even he could be susceptible to “bloat.”

A sad looking dog laying on a couch

The technical term is gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), an extremely serious condition in dogs that can result in death.

“Gastric dilatation-volvulus, also known as ‘bloat’, primarily occurs in deep-chested, large breed dogs,” said Dr. Michael Willard, professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Willard explained that bloating of the stomach is sometimes also associated with twisting (volvulus) of the stomach. Signs may include unproductive gagging and retching, abdominal discomfort and/or distention, shock, difficulty breathing, and in some cases even death.

Diet, exercise, and the size and depth of a dog’s chest may be predisposing factors.  While GDV is less common in pets than many other emergency conditions, owners of large breed dogs should be aware of the rapid and often fatal effects of GDV.

GDV is a significant cause of death in large breed dogs.  Animals with GDV that are diagnosed and treated early have a survival rate of about 70 percent, whereas survival for those that are diagnosed and treated late is less than 30 percent.

Willard advises any dog owners who believe that their dog has developed GDV to take it to a veterinarian immediately. He or she will decompress the stomach and treat the animal for shock by administering fluids.

When the patient has been stabilized, the veterinarian may need to perform surgery to untwist the gut, if twisting has occurred.

“GDV cannot reliably be prevented. In some cases, the twisting of the gut can be avoided by a surgical procedure (called gastropexy), in which the stomach is sutured (stitched) to the abdominal wall,” said Willard. “Prophylactic gastroplexy may greatly lessen the risk of recurrence, but it is does not completely eliminate it.”

Unfortunately, there are no medications that will cure GDV in dogs. It can become fatal in as little as four to six hours, and it is costly to treat. Willard estimates the average cost of treating a GDV case with surgery to be between $2,000 and $5,000, but if there are complications, the cost could be much higher.

Dogs that have had GDV in the past are at a higher risk of developing it again. Given the rapid and fatal effects of GDV, owners should not wait to see if the ailing dog improves on its own. If the dog is gagging unproductively, Willard advises taking the dog to a veterinarian immediately. Early detection and treatment just might save Sparky from this often-fatal tummy ache.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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