Canine Bloat (GDV)

Canine bloat is a serious medical condition of dogs. It is more properly termed Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus Complex or GDV, as this describes the course of events. Almost every breed of dog has been affected by GDV, but the condition is seen more commonly in large, deep-chested breeds, such as the Great Dane. The exact cause of GDV has not been determined with any certainty, but dogs that eat rapidly and are then allowed to exercise afterward appear to be at increased risk. One theory is that the heavy, food-filled stomach can act like a pendulum, swinging back and forth until it twists on itself. Another theory advocates that it has been shown experimentally if the stomach of the dog is distended with air by means of a stomach tube, the stomach eventually twists in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, depending on the position of the spleen at the onset of distension. If this theory is correct, there is some factor that causes the initial distension of the stomach. This factor is not known, but it is probably due to a condition which causes atony (paralysis of the wall of the stomach) associated with a large meal and then gas production. Swallowing air could be the cause of much of the gas found in the stomach. Recent studies indicate that Diet can affect the risk. There does not appear to be any association with the sex of the animal. It has been reported in young adults, and a Great Dane’s Age increases the risk of occurrence.

Whatever the inciting cause, affected dogs all show similar signs, usually within 1-2 hours of eating. Initially they are anxious, restless, not interested in food or water; they may try to vomit once or twice and then follow this with retching and gagging motions, which are usually unproductive, followed by mild foaming at the mouth. After a short period (3O-60 minutes), the dog begins to appear swollen in its midsection due to the accumulation of gas in the stomach. The dog will begin to pant heavily and breathing becomes rapid and shallow. In most cases of GDV, the stomach undergoes a volvulus or “twist’. This closes both the esophagus and pylorus, preventing the dog from relieving the gas pressure. The condition is rapidly fatal, causing shock, coma and death within a very short time. Diagnosis is relatively easy based on breed, history and clinical signs. Your veterinarian may take x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. GDV is a true life-threatening emergency. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs, take your dog to your vet or emergency clinic without delay.

Treatment is aimed at reducing the gas pressure and returning the stomach to its normal position. Your vet will remove pressure via a stomach tube or trochar through the stomach wall. They will then prepare the dog for exploratory surgery to find the exact problem and correct it. Usually the surgeon will perform a gastropexy at this time to prevent recurrence.

Death loss due to GDV is very high for several reasons. Often the owner delays in presenting the dog because they are unaware of the seriousness of the condition. Also, once the stomach has undergone volvulus, many metabolic poisons build up in the body resulting in damage to the heart muscle, stomach wall, liver and spleen. Frequently these poisons will cause the heart to stop during surgery or they may circulate for several days post-operatively and continue to pose a threat.

Many veterinarians suggest that a preventative gastropexy be performed. A circumcostal gastropexy – considered to be the most effective – involves taking a section of the stomach wall, guiding it around one of the ribs, and reattaching it to the stomach wall. This prevents the stomach from twisting. This surgery can be done in conjunction with a spaying procedure.

Preventing Canine Bloat:

  • feed small amounts of food 2-3 times a day to allow control over exercise periods
  • feed and water at chest height to prevent ingestion of air
  • (this is contrary to what Purdue University advocates, but is definitely the recommended method to prevent not only GDV but also spinal damage in the neck area)
  • do not let the dog exercise one hour before and two hours after eating
  • allow continuous access to water so that the dog will not drink large amounts of water after eating
  • add an enzyme product to food
  • keep simethicone (e.g. Gas-X, Bloat-Eze) on hand to treat gas symptoms
  • know emergency clinics in your area should the need arise
  • (Murphy’s Law usually applies – It seldom happens during your regular vet’s working hours)
  • have emergency phone numbers readily available to alert the clinic that you are coming
  • try various ‘dry runs’ to determine the quickest route to your clinic
  • consider preventative gastropexy before an incident occurs.

Remember – Time is the most critical factor for corrective surgery, which can cost $4000-$5000 (+), to be successful and there are no guarantees as to whether your pet will survive.


This is a form of heart disease. More common in older Danes, cardiomyopathy can be helped a great deal with medication. However, this is a life-threatening disease, particularly if left untreated or undiagnosed. Symptoms include exercise intolerance.

Cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease in which the heart becomes abnormally enlarged (enlarged heart), thickened and/or stiffened. As a result, the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood is usually weakened. This condition is generally progressive and may lead to heart failure. Cardiomyopathies may be caused by a wide range of conditions, including chronic diseases, viral diseases, heart attacks and many others. An affected heart may grow larger either by dilatation, thickening (hypertrophy) or both. Additionally, the heart may suffer from a reduced ability to relax. Abnormalities found in cardiomyopathy include:

  • Thickened and/or dilated ventricles, especially the left ventricle. The upper chamber (atria) may also be involved and enlarged.
  • Scar tissue, possibly left over after a heart attack.
  • Overall enlargement of the heart.


Epilepsy (seizure disorder) can occur in Danes. This disease is characterized by ‘grand mal’ or ‘petit mal’ seizures.

The grand mal seizures can be quite frightening to observe, although they usually are not life-threatening (they just look that way!). Petit mal seizures may look only like the dog “spaces” or “blanks” out. Seizures can also be caused by toxins, electric shock, as well as damage to the kidney and/or liver.

If your dog has a seizure, take him or her to the vet immediately to determine its cause. If your dog has a seizure make sure that if you have other dogs, get them away from the dog having the seizure. Also make sure you stay well clear of the dog’s head and mouth (or you could be accidentally bitten).

Also be very careful until you know your dog’s reaction as he/she comes out of the seizure. Some dogs can become aggressive when coming out of a seizure. The dog does NOT recognize you or his/her surroundings. They are frightened and confused and may bite in fear. So be careful about approaching your dog until you are certain of her/his reaction to you. Once the dog has “come out of” the seizure, her or his personality will return to normal.

Epilepsy can usually be controlled by ongoing medication from your veterinarian.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a disease common in many large and giant breed dogs. To oversimplify, it occurs when the hip joint doesn’t fit well in the socket. Symptoms include painful hips and limping. Today, with medication and surgery, dogs with hip dysplasia can be helped and dysplastic dogs are no longer routinely put to sleep.

After a period of time, Arthritis set in, causing the pain. Here is a comparison of two hips. The one on the left is a normal hip. You can see how smooth and round the head of the femur is and how nicely the “ball” fits into the “socket”. A hip with this structure is very unlikely to ever develop arthritis….unlike the abnormal hip on the right. Here you can see the result of years of irritation resulting from a poor fit, a shallow “socket”, and a short neck attaching the “ball” to the shaft of the femur. This severe arthritis is a result of HIP DYSPLASIA.


This is a common disorder in middle-aged to older dogs characterised by a reduction of thyroid hormone production. The symptoms include dull coat, weight gain, and dry, flaky skin. This disease is easily treated with medication and the dog can live a long, normal life. Many breeds are commonly affected by this disease, for example: Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Poodles, Dachshunds and Miniature Schnauzers. It is likely that some breeds are genetically predisposed. There is no difference in frequency of occurrence between males and females. Thyroid hormones affect almost every organ in the body and thus many signs of this disease are common. These include lethargy, depression, obesity despite normal feeding amounts, hair loss, skin and ear infections, weak or torn knee ligaments. Should this disease be suspected initial screening bloodwork is performed. Dogs that are hypothyroid have thyroid levels that are almost always below the normal range.

Supplementation of thyroid hormone by pills is the treatment for hypothyroidism. In general twice a day administration for 6-8 weeks is started. Most dogs show marked improvement in activity levels within 1 month of beginning therapy. Improvement in skin and a reduction in body weight may not be observed for several months. Retesting the thyroid levels 6-8 weeks after starting therapy is recommended and d dosage adjustment is made if necessary. Supplementation is for life.

Excessive administration of thyroid supplement rarely occurs. Side effects may include hyperactivity, ravenous appetite and weight loss. Signs resolve within 1-3 days of stopping treatment and re-evaluation and dosage adjustment is usually necessary.

The long term prognosis for dogs with hypothyroidism is good to excellent. Clinical signs and laboratory abnormalities are reversible with appropriate treatment. Some dogs are effectively managed on a once a day dose.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy causes lameness and extreme pain in young, growing dogs, usually of large breeds. Great Danes may be affected by this condition. Occasionally it can appear as a vaccine reaction and usually occurs a few days after vaccination.

HOD usually shows up as an acute lameness, often seeming to affect primarily the front legs simultaneously. Affected dogs may have trouble standing or refuse to stand up at all. They may have a fever but this is not consistently present. They usually have painful swellings around the lower joints on the legs. Some puppies will die from this disease and some suffer permanent disability, but many recover later. The disease is so painful that some owners elect to euthanize the puppy rather than watch it suffer, despite the reasonably good chance for long-term recovery, . Affected dogs may be in so much pain that they refuse to eat.

In most cases, X-rays can confirm this diagnosis . There are very typical X-ray changes, although it can look a little like bone infection from aseptic condition. There is some evidence at this point that viral or bacterial infections may underlie some cases of HOD as canine distemper virus has been found in the affected areas in some dogs. There can be high white blood cell counts and the alkaline phosphates level in the blood stream is often elevated.

Many suspect that this condition can occur with excessive dietary levels of calcium or protein. Also, vitamin C supplementation may actually promote abnormal calcification in puppies. It is not a good idea to supplement with vitamin C.

Treatment usually consists of analgesic medications such as aspirin or carprofen (Rimadyl Rx). Since a viral or bacterial agent may be involved, the use of cortico steroids is questionable. Many people try switching to a diet that is lower in calcium (the puppy foods for large dogs may be a good choice now that they are available. Previously many people switched to adult dog foods which didn’t always result in lower total calcium in the diet). It is good policy with young dogs still in the growing stage to be fed with protein levels in the 20-25% range.

In many cases, potent pain relief medications may be required for an affected puppy. Hydrocodone and aspirin can be a more effective combination than either one alone. Antibiotics are often given for HOD.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy may resolve spontaneously in as little as a week or so, or it can be a recurrent, cyclic infection that goes on for a long time. If there are severe secondary bone changes, surgical correction of these may be necessary for normal future function of the limbs.

Controlling pain as effectively as possible when HOD is diagnosed definitely needs to a primary goal of treatment.


Osteosarcoma is by far the most common bone tumor (cancer) of the dog, usually striking the leg bones of larger breeds. Osteosarcoma usually arises in middle aged or elderly dogs but can arise in a dog of any age with larger breeds tending to develop tumors at younger ages.

Almost all dogs who develop bone cancer will die within a year. Symptoms include limping and a painful lump felt on a bone (usually an extremity). Treatment includes radiation and possibly chemotherapy as well as amputation. In addition, there is exciting new research using the drug Fosamex that shows promising results. Osteosarcoma can develop in any bone but the limbs account for 75-85% of affected bones. Osteosarcoma of the limbs is called “appendicular osteosarcoma.”

Osteosarcoma develops deep within the bone and becomes progressively more painful as it grows outward and the bone is destroyed from the inside out. The lameness goes from intermittent to constant over 1-3 months. Obvious swelling becomes evident as the tumor grows and normal bone is replaced by tumorous bone.

Tumorous bone is not as strong as normal bone and can break with minor injury. This type of broken bone is called a “pathologic fracture” and may be the finding that confirms the diagnosis of bone tumor. Pathologic fractures will not heal and there is no point in putting on casts or attempting surgical stabilization.

von Willebrands Disease

vWD is a rare blood disorder that sometimes affects Danes and is much like Hemophilia in humans. As with Hemophilia, VWD can be controlled but may require big changes in the dog’s normal routines. In addition, blood transfusions may be necessary.

This disease is the most common inherited bleeding disorder in dogs. Hemorrhage in affected pets is caused either by a deficiency or dysfunction of a protein essential for the control of bleeding. The protein acts on the surface of platelets to make the platelet more sticky or adhesive to plug holes in blood vessels. Without the protein or platelets, the leak will not be sealed and the dog will continue to bleed. Although Dobermans are probably the most commonly affected breed, the disease exists in more than 50 different breeds. Most prevalent other than Dobes are the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Scottish Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Golden Retriever, Standard and Miniature Poodles, and Akitas. As of 1993, 71% of Dobes carry the vWD gene in their DNA. Of those, 10-20% have had a history of a bleeding incident.

Detection of vWD consists of a simple blood test. The test measures the amount or function of the vWF protein. The best test is the Von Willebrand’s Factor antigen test (vWF:Ag). The amount of vWF in a test plasma sample is measured and then reported as the vWF:Ag%. The normal range is from 70-180% vWF:Ag; borderline range is from 50-60%; abnormal range is from 0-49%. The percentage is compared to a pooled standard control plasma from healthy, normal dogs. The test alone cannot distinguish a symptomatic carriers of vWD from “bleeders”. Medical history and results of bleeding time tests in addition to the vWF:Ag test are needed. Testing also cannot distinguish between inherited and acquired types of vWD.

vWD can be a primary congenital problem inherited at birth from one or both parents. Carriers of this genetic defect may show no signs until some other stressful event compromises the ability of the body to form blood clots. An acquired form of the disease also exists. In this case, vWF production and function are decreased secondary to another disease process, i.e. hypothyroidism, concurrent bacterial viral infection, estrus (heat), pregnancy, or steroids, etc.

Few vWD affected animals have severe problems. Even fewer die. Bleeding episodes may be worsened by physical, emotional, or physiological stress as well as disease.

Signs of vWD include spontaneous bleeding from the mucous membranes lining the nose, mouth, digestive, urinary, and reproductive tracts. Excessive bleeding may also occur after nail trims, teeth extractions or sites of trauma or surgery. In many instances the bleeding can be internal so that the owner may not even be aware of any problems until a large painful bruise appears or the dogs gums become very pale. Hemorrhage may also occur within the central nervous system and if severe enough, sudden death ensues.

Preventive measures for dogs affected with vWD include local treatments of wounds and hormonal supplementation (thyroxin, a replacement thyroid hormone) since many dogs with the acquired form of vWD are hypothyroid also. Drugs or vaccines known to affect platelet function should be avoided, i.e. aspirin. Platelet and vWD:Ag are essential for clot formation. A vWD comprised dog may be okay as long as platelet function is normal, should platelet function be affected as well, the pet may have a profound bleeding incident.

Treatment of a bleeding episode involves replacing the vWF protein via a transfusion. If there has been extensive blood loss, whole blood, which includes red blood cells and plasma, is required. With minimal blood loss but chronic seepage of small amounts of blood, the episode can be corrected with a plasma transfusion.

Eradication of vWD depends solely on selective breeding practices. Simply stated, all animals to be used for breeding should be tested for vWF:Ag. Only those dogs in the normal range should be used in a breeding program. It is not recommended to breed carriers of vWD.

Dogs diagnosed as bleeders or carriers can look forward to many happy, healthy years provided the owners are aware of the disorder and take proper steps should an unlikely bleeding episode occur.

Wobblers Syndrome

Wobbler’s Syndrome is a pinching of the spinal cord in such a way as to result in an unstable gait to the hind end and the dog seems “wobbly” – hence its name.. Unlike vertebral disc disease this condition occurs when there is an instability of one vertebra to another rather than an instability of the cushion between the vertebra. However, this syndrome is similar to disc disease as both conditions place pressure on the spinal cord and result in weakness to the rear legs.

The typical stance of the Wobbler is the “saw horse” stance of the rear legs. This condition can have a variable degree of severity, can occur at any age and in either sex, and is most likely to occur in the Doberman Pincher breed.

When a diagnosis of Wobblers is suspected radiographs should be taken of the lower neck region to confirm the syndrome. This is done under tranquilization or anesthesia with the neck bent down in a severe arch so as to luxate the vertebra if it is abnormal. If you are still unsure then a myelogram dye study can be done to confirm the condition.

Treatment of this syndrome will vary with the severity of the symptoms. If the symptoms are mild then elevating the food and water bowels, using a harness instead of a collar, avoiding rough house play sessions and possibly wearing a neck brace may stabilize the condition enough to make life comfortable. In the severe cases’ surgery is performed to fixate the vertebra and thus stop the damage that is done from instability, although surgery is expensive and often does not help. Acupuncture can help make the dog more comfortable and prolong his or her life. In addition, some exciting new alternative treatments, such as gold bead implantation are being used and are effective in controlling the effects.

There does not appear to be any reliable means by which to avoid this syndrome. If it is meant to happen in a certain individual due it’s genetic code then it will happen sooner or later.

Exercise + Quality Food = Healthy