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Why and How Does a Dog’s Stomach Flip? Is It Preventable?

Chelsea Mortensen Profile Picture

By Chelsea Mortensen

Sad dog close his eyes like a dying dog like a poisoned_pinandika anindya guna_shutterstock

When you hear someone talk about a flip-flopping stomach, they usually don’t mean it literally. But if your dog’s stomach flips, it’s all too real. Stomach flipping is a common name for Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), also called a twisted stomach. GDV is extremely hazardous and is fatal if untreated. Read on to learn more about this issue.Divider 8

What is a Twisted Stomach?

A twisted stomach or volvulus occurs when the stomach turns on its axis cutting off the entrance and exit to the stomach. It is not known exactly why it happens but it starts with stomach bloating resulting in your dog’s stomach rotating, cutting off blood flow to internal organs and causing other disruptions. Depending on the severity of the case, your dog’s stomach might rotate as much as 360 degrees and entrap the spleen also.

GDV starts as stomach distension, or simple bloat. Bloat occurs when gasses and fluids build up in your dog’s digestive system, causing discomfort. Most of the time, bloat passes on its own within hours, although it can sometimes be life-threatening even if it doesn’t involve twisting.

When stomach twisting occurs, it is immediately life-threatening. The twisting will cut off blood flow to your stomach and other organs, making it impossible for your dog’s stomach to function. It might also cut off blood flow to other internal organs or put pressure on the diaphragm that makes it difficult for your dog to breathe.

Dog Bloated
Image Credit: Tursk Aleksandra, Shutterstock

Symptoms of GDV

Stomach flipping can progress very quickly, with your dog going from no visible distress to extreme symptoms in minutes. Here are some symptoms of GDV:

  • Swollen, distended stomach/abdomen
  • Hard stomach that makes a ‘ping’ noise when tapped
  • Attempts to vomit that produce no vomit
  • Retching
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Collapse
  • Pale gums or excessive saliva

Treatment

If you suspect your dog has GDV, seek veterinary treatment immediately. Your vet will take an X-ray to determine if your dog’s stomach has flipped. If it has, your dog will need emergency surgery. Your vet will likely administer fluids and pain relief, then release the pressure from your dog’s stomach via a needle or stomach tube before surgery to repair your dog’s stomach. This is a major surgery that will require several days of close monitoring.

close up of french bulldog dog being held by veterinarian doctor at vet clinic
Image Credit: Hryshchyshen Serhii, Shutterstock

What Causes a Twisted Stomach?

It is not known exactly what causes twisted stomachs but some contributing factors have been found to be: being of a deep chested breed, underweight, stressed and being fed once a day. Some other predispositions of GDV include overeating or eating too quickly, drinking too much water in a short period, eating large objects or swallowing non-food objects, and exercising after a meal. Male dogs are more likely to experience a twisted stomach, and it becomes more common as dogs move into their senior years. In addition, some breeds are genetically predisposed to GDV. These dog breeds are generally large, deep-chested dogs taller than they are wide; however, dogs of any breed can develop GDV.

Breeds with Higher Risks of GDV (Maybe a sidebar?)

  • Akita
  • Basset Hound
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Bloodhound
  • Boxer
  • Bullmastiff
  • Chow Chow
  • Collie
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shepherd
  • Gordon Setter
  • Great Dane
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Greyhound
  • Irish Setter
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Leonberger
  • Mastiff
  • Newfoundland
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Retriever
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Saint Bernard
  • Scottish Deerhound
  • Standard Poodle
  • Weimaraner

Tips for Prevention

Vet specialist examination sick dog_didesign021_shutterstock
Image Credit: Ruth Black, Shutterstock

Although there’s no way to guarantee your dog avoids GDV, there are some ways that you can minimize the risk of bloat and stomach flipping. One of the most important ways is to make sure that your dog doesn’t eat too much too quickly. You can split your dog’s food into smaller meals, limit the amount of water directly after meals, and use feeding bowls to slow down eating. You can also make diet changes gradually to avoid gut flora reactions that can cause excessive gas. Avoid raised food trays as they can increase the risk of GDV. Monitor your dog when eating bones or chewing on toys to prevent swallowing large pieces.

Another option is preventative surgery. Gastropexy is a surgery sometimes done when your dog is spayed or neutered. This drastically reduces the risk of GDV in large dogs with a high risk of developing the disease.

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Last Thoughts

As you can see, stomach flipping is no minor condition. It’s a serious threat to your dog’s health. The good news is that even though treating it is no walk in the park, most dogs who are given prompt vet treatment will recover from a twisted stomach but sadly mortality rates can still be as high as 33%. Because of that, every dog owner should know the symptoms and be ready to seek help if your dog experiences GDV.


Featured Image Credit: pinandika anindya guna, Shutterstock

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