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Retching and Gagging in Dogs and Cats


Retching is unproductive vomiting. The animal goes through the motions and noises of vomiting but nothing comes out. Retching can be a serious sign. In larger dogs, this can be a sign of gastric dilatation volvulus (twisted bloated stomach), which is a life threatening condition. Repeated retching is cause to take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.


Gagging is when an animal attempts to clear something from her throat. The motions and sounds are similar to vomiting. Sometimes gagging is caused by a foreign body in the back of the mouth or throat, such as plant matter. Dogs with kennel cough will often gag up a blob of phlegm after a coughing bout. If your pet coughs repeatedly and then gags, bring her to the veterinary facility to determine the cause.

More information on Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus

Gastric Dilation and Volvulus Syndrome (GDV) in Dogs

  • What is gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome?

    Gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome (GDV) is a condition in dogs in which the stomach greatly enlarges and then twists on itself. It commonly is referred to as "bloat." Breeds most commonly affected are German shepherd dogs, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, rottweilers, Labrador retrievers, Alaskan malamutes, and other large, deep-chested breeds. Dachshunds and Pekingese are affected occasionally.

  • What causes gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome?

    Although the actual cause of gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome has yet to be determined fully, many theories have been proposed. A few of the theories include:

  • Some type of obstruction at the outflow end of the stomach

  • Abnormalities in the function of the nerves and muscles of the stomach

  • Swinging movements of the stomach after eating or drinking, such as with heavy exercise following a meal

  • Swallowing large quantities of air (aerophagia)

    Whatever the cause, the stomach first enlarges with gas, liquid, or both. This enlargement is known as "gastric dilatation." The stomach then swings like a pendulum, eventually swinging or twisting all the way over on itself, causing obstructions at both ends of the distended stomach. These obstructions prevent the dog from vomiting or expelling the gas and liquid into the intestine for eventual delivery to the outside. The twisting of the stomach is known as "volvulus." The stomach continues to enlarge, leading to rapid and severe compromise of blood flow and breathing.

    What are signs of gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome?

    The signs of gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome vary, depending on the extent of changes in the stomach. Some animals may be identified with gastric dilatation only. In these cases, the stomach has a large volume of gas, fluid, or both, but the stomach has not twisted on itself. Other animals will be presented soon after the stomach twists. Some animals will be presented in shock and with heart problems due to the effects of the abnormal stomach and the compromised blood flow and breathing.

    Signs of gastric dilatation and volvulus may include:

  • Rapid onset of condition

  • Rapid worsening of condition

  • Unsuccessful attempts to vomit, dog will retch but will not produce any vomited material

  • Excessive salivation or drooling

  • Bloat (abdominal distension), when tapped by fingers or hand, the bloated abdomen sounds like a drum

  • Weakness and lethargy, leading to collapse

  • Increased heart and breathing rates

    Gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome is a medical emergency. Pets require immediate medical treatment with special attention to establishing improved function of the heart and lungs. The gas and fluid must be removed from the stomach (that is, the stomach must be decompressed).

    How is gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome diagnosed?

    Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome is diagnosed by a good medical history and a physical examination. Occasionally, radiographs (X-rays) of the abdomen are required. Other diagnostic tests such as blood work and electrocardiography (ECG or EKG, an electrical analysis of the heart) will help in the medical management of the pet.

    How is gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome treated?

    Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome is a life-threatening emergency, requiring immediate and intensive medical intervention. Fluids will be administered intravenously (through the vein) to improve the compromised blood flow and to treat shock. Steroids and antibiotics may be administered. Relief of dangerous bloat (stomach distension) usually follows the initiation of fluid therapy. Passage of a tube into the stomach generally is effective. Use of a large-bore needle to puncture the stomach through the abdominal wall is necessary in some cases. Surgical exploration of the abdomen, release of excess gas and liquid in the stomach, and return of the stomach to its normal position are the definitive treatments for GDV. Permanently anchoring the stomach to the body wall (gastropexy) is performed to prevent recurrence. Some patients require removal of the spleen or part of the stomach during the surgery.

    Exercise is restricted and a special feeding plan is developed immediately after surgery. Prevention of GDV or its recurrence requires avoidance of over eating (over ingestion) of food or fluids, feeding multiple smaller meals spread throughout the day, and avoidance of exercise around feeding time.

    What is the prognosis for animals with gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome?

    The prognosis (outcome) for animals with gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome varies. The prognosis depends on findings at surgery. Damage to stomach tissue and injury to the spleen complicates GDV. Animals may develop complications, such as stomach ulcers. Patients recovering well through the seventh day after surgery generally recover completely. Without gastropexy, up to 80% of the cases will have recurrences.
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