In this pet Q&A series, the veterinarians and technicians of the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus answer your pet-related questions on health and well-being. However, because of the volume of mail, not all questions can be answered. To ask your pet health question, email email@example.com and be sure to include your name, address and phone number.
My dog sounds like he has a hairball but nothing comes up. Is this an emergency?
Non-productive retching, or dry heaving, in any breed dog is always considered an emergency due to the concern for a process called gastric dilation and volvulus (frequently referred to as GDV, or gas bloat). This is a process that occurs in large-breed dogs (Great Danes, German shepherds, Labradors, Dobermans and Rottweilers, for example) but can occur in any breed and any size dog. (It has also been documented in some exotic animals, like ferrets.)
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What is GDV?
The simplest explanation of GDV is that the stomach has twisted into an abnormal position. In doing so, the stomach becomes distended with gas and causes the dog to exhibit abdominal discomfort and attempt to vomit unproductively. The stomach and the spleen are located very close together in the abdomen and share some blood supply. As the stomach twists, it is possible for some of the blood vessels to the spleen to tear and the spleen itself may also twist and become damaged. As the stomach becomes more distended, or “tympanic,” it may also press against the major blood vessels in the abdomen, causing the heart to also become affected.
How does a dog get GDV?
Unfortunately there isn’t always a predictable cause other than breed of dog (usually large breed with a deep chest). There have not been any scientific studies that relate diet to GDV, however often the dog has eaten normally and then exercised shortly afterwards.
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How to stop dry heaving
GDV’s are considered surgical emergencies. If your dogs exhibits signs of unproductive retching or dry heaving, they should be evaluated immediately. Your veterinarian may consider taking an X-ray to quickly make a diagnosis. Intravenous fluids will be started immediately to maintain blood pressure, and it is recommended to take the dog to surgery as soon as possible. During surgery, the stomach will be untwisted and tacked into place to prevent a recurrence of twisting. Major complications are possible, and owners should be prepared. As the stomach twists and blood flow is altered, parts of the stomach may become so unhealthy that part of the stomach must be removed. (This is known as gastric necrosis.) In rare cases, the stomach can even rupture before surgery and stomach fluid can be free in the abdomen. (This is called a septic abdomen.) In these cases, the prognosis is poor. The surgeon may also have to remove the spleen if it has become too damaged from lack of blood flow. Often the biggest complication during surgery is maintaining blood pressure and monitoring for cardiac arrhythmias. These can be life-threatening and should be closely monitored before, during and after surgery.
Can GDV kill a dog? What’s the prognosis?
It will largely depend on how quickly the dog is diagnosed and treated. The dogs that are rapidly taken to surgery have a fair to good prognosis, while those with complicating factors (such as arrhythmias or gastric necrosis/tissue death) have a very guarded to poor prognosis.
—Dr. Sarah Carr, DVM
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