Does Feeding Regimen Influence GDV (Bloat)
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One of the more serious conditions that can affect any dog is gastric torsion or gastric dilation -volvulus syndrome (GDV). Often referred to as "bloat", GDV actually refers to dilation of the stomach (bloating) combined with twisting or displacement of the stomach from its normal position. This twisting, or volvulus, is what makes GDV a life-threatening condition as the stomach cannot be emptied. Distension of the stomach with food and air is uncomfortable for the dog, but not usually as serious as when the stomach is displaced in cases of GDV.
Although it is most common in large, deep-chested dogs, GDV can occur in any breed. Certain anatomical considerations are thought to increase the incidence of this condition. An elongated abdominal esophagus may provide a "lever arm" around which the stomach rotates. Abnormalities at the gastroesophageal junction, where the esophagus enters the stomach, may also predispose some dogs to GDV. Disruption of the supporting structures of the stomach due to abdominal trauma or previous surgery, may further affect displacement of the stomach.
Perhaps the most important factor influencing the development of GDV is the way an animal is fed, especially with respect to exercise. This is especially important for canine athletes. Dogs that are fed an exclusively dry dog food diet are at a higher risk for GDV than dogs fed canned food or a mixture of canned and dry food. Dry dog food has the tendency to expand within the stomach as it absorbs fluid. This can be demonstrated quite clearly by adding warm water to a bowl of kibble and allowing it to sit on the kitchen counter for ten minutes. The volume of the food increases noticeably as it absorbs the water. Considering that this phenomenon may occur inside a dog's stomach suggests that adding water to dry dog food before feeding may lessen the chance of bloating or GDV. With some dogs, the addition of water can adversely affect the palatability of dry food. This may be overcome by adding a small amount of canned food with the warm water to create a gravy effect.
Another feeding practice that may increase the incidence of GDV is limiting your dog to one large meal per day rather than feeding two smaller meals. Ingestion of a larger amount of food at one meal will increase the weight of the stomach and may lead to displacement. On a related note, ad libitum feeding (leaving a large container of food for several dogs to eat through out the day) may also lead to ingestion of too much dry food. Ad lib feeding is certainly more convenient in many kennel situations and may eliminate the "feeding frenzy" that can occur when meals are presented, but it is not advised if certain dogs in the group tend to eat more than their share.
The timing of meals relative to exercise is extremely important for active dogs. Meals should be withheld for at least one hour after vigorous exercise to allow the dog's body to cool down. As an additional precaution, the use of a cool down period is advised even after moderate activity. Following their meal, another hour is allowed before vigorous activity is resumed. This prevents excessive running or jumping with a full stomach. In most dogs with a normal gastric emptying time, a significant portion of the meal will have exited the stomach within an hour of eating. Depending on your activity schedule, waiting an hour before and after meals may not be convenient. In these situations, meals can be withheld until the end of the day and smaller snacks may be given during breaks.
One final consideration regarding feeding is to attempt to keep your feeding schedule and diet as close to normal as possible when you are travelling with your dog. Changing the type of food or amount of food may have deleterious effects. This can also be a problem if your dogs are kennelled while you are away. Many veterinarians report a higher incidence of GDV among dogs that are in boarding kennels. This is probably due in part to changes in feeding regimen and may be compounded by stress in dogs that do not adapt well to kennel situations.
Proper management cannot completely eliminate the threat of GDV, but it can reduce the incidence. In order to minimize the potentially devastating consequences of an unexpected episode of GDV, consider adopting some of the feeding practices discussed in this article. If your dog shows signs of GDV, such as excessive salivation, non-productive attempts to vomit, and abdominal distension, then contact your veterinarian or a local emergency clinic immediately. Prompt treatment is essential to a successful outcome.
This article originally appeared in the January 1997 issue of Canine Sports Medicine Update.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Canine Sports Medicine Update. Reproduction prohibited without permission from the publisher.
Used with kind permission G. N. Clark, DVM Editor, CSMU firstname.lastname@example.org
Date Published: Saturday, 31 October 1998
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