Odds of survival better than expected for bloat

“There aren’t many true emergency diseases in veterinary medicine, but GDV is one of them,” said researcher and veterinarian Dan O’Neill, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Royal Veterinary College.

GDV (gastric dilation and volvulus), better known as canine bloat, is one of the top killers of dogs. And it can come on fast. That’s why O’Neill says it’s vital that veterinarians work to raise awareness of the condition and its symptoms, so owners can recognize the condition as soon as it strikes and take action to have it treated. “GDV doesn’t offer the luxury of time to wait and see what happens.”

Luckily, GDV isn’t the death sentence it used to be—and that many owners and veterinarians think it still is.

A new study by VetCompass at the Royal Veterinary College showed that 80% of dogs that underwent gastric bloat surgery survived, and shed new light on risk factors, frequency, and survival rates of the disease. The study comprised 77,088 dogs in 50 veterinary clinics across the United Kingdom between 2012 and 2014.

Unfortunately, the study did not shed new light on the actual causes of bloat. Those remain frustratingly elusive.

The progression of the disease, however, is well known. When a dog gets bloat, the stomach fills with gas. The stomach then twists completely around. This traps the gas, which has no means of escape. Blood and air supply to the stomach are cut off, and the stomach swells, pushing against the abdominal wall and compressing the large blood vessels. The cause of death, when untreated, is usually shock. And the whole process can happen frighteningly fast—from as long as several hours to as little as a matter of minutes.

The study also confirmed that while no dog is completely safe from bloat, certain breeds have a predisposition. It’s generally a question of anatomy. Deep-chested large breeds, such as great danes, French mastiffs, and standard poodles, are at particular risk. Age matters. Odds of a dog getting bloat increased as the dog aged, up to 12 years. Sex is a factor, too—neutered male dogs are three times more likely to get bloat than females

And it’s true that a diagnosis of bloat used to be much scarier—in part, because a surgical solution was iffy at best. Two decades ago, the post-surgical mortality rate was 50%. Today, it’s less than half that, according to the new study. Reasons for the drop include improved therapy for shock, safer anesthetic agents, and better surgical techniques.

O’Neill said that thanks to the new study, veterinarians can now present hard facts to owners regarding probabilistic outcomes that can assist them to make better informed decisions, including whether or not to risk surgery. “Four out of five dogs operated on at primary emergency practices survived. This simple statistic alone can change how primary care vets view the prognosis for GDV cases.”

O’Neill added, “This study shows surgery can often be successful, which means more dogs can potentially be given an increased chance of survival by having it.”

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