Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or bloat, is one of the leading causes of death in dogs. Second only to cancer in some breeds, it’s the number one killer of Great Danes. Despite its prevalence, the cause of bloat is unknown.
The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation has given a research grant to Laura Nelson, assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine to change that.
When a dog gets bloat, gas fills the dog’s stomach, the stomach twists completely around, the gas has no way to escape, and blood and air supply to the stomach are cut off. As the stomach swells, it presses against the abdominal wall and pushes against large blood vessels. Shock is usually the cause of death. The whole progression can happen in a matter of minutes or hours, and surgery is required to save the dog’s life.
It’s generally believed that genetics as well as environmental factors play a role in which dog develops bloat. “We want to know why some dogs get bloat while others don’t,” says Nelson.
Nelson’s team is investigating the relationship of contractions responsible for the digestion of food (motility) with increased GDV risk, and hopes to define the biochemical and genetic alterations that may be associated with hypomotility—abnormally weak contractions. A new diagnostic tool, SmartPill®, makes possible noninvasive assessment of motility. The SmartPill® is an ingestible capsule with an instrument inside that measures acidity and pressure. The team will measure the time it takes the capsule to pass through the dog’s system and the pressure spikes along the way.
In the short term, the research findings may provide clinicians with data that would allow them to make informed decisions about when to use preventative medications or conduct targeted prophylactic surgery—gastropexy—in at-risk dogs. This procedure surgically attaches the stomach to the abdominal wall in order to prevent twisting. It is an effective procedure that is well tolerated, but, Nelson notes, it is an invasive procedure that may not be necessary in some dogs. There currently is not a good way to determine who to recommend it for.
“With bloat, it happens and you treat it. But it would be so much more satisfying if we really understood why some dogs get bloat, and then be able to make more informed treatment decisions and possibly prevent the disease altogether,” says Nelson.