Skip to Content

What Common Canine Condition Killed Marley of Marley & Me?

This article originally appeared on my ongoing series of articles for Flexcin International, Inc. as What Common Canine Condition Killed Marley of Marley & Me?

Have you seen the heart-wrenching movie (or read the book) Marley & Me?  Many of my clients have shared the connection they felt to the pet health circumstances faced by Luke Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as Marley’s owners, so I decided to feel the Hollywood-style Labrador Retriever love and gave the movie a screening.


In watching pet themed television and movies, it’s hard to turn off my veterinary brain.  Therefore, I was enthused to see the messages sent by Marley & Me can actually help educate pet owners about the life threatening health condition that led to poor Marley’s ultimate demise.

The Plot

In an agonizing phone call, Wilson informs Aniston that Marley had been diagnosed with a “stomach twist.”  This disorder is called a Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV, or bloat).  GDV occurs when the stomach takes a 180 (more common) or 360 degree (less common) torsion inside the abdominal cavity. In Marley’s case, the condition was so severe that they elected to humane euthanasia over surgical treatment.

GDV typically causes the following clinical signs:

Abdominal Distention

Once the stomach twists, foodliquid, and air cannot move into the small intestine.  Therefore, the stomach fills with gas and begins to distend beyond its maximum limits (termed dilatation instead of dilation) and can be felt or seen protruding beyond the dog’s the last rib.  The distention creates a firm sensation when the dog’s abdomen is palpated (touched) and a tympanic (drum like) effect when tapped.

Pacing or Restless Behavior

Extreme distention of the stomach causes great discomfort.  The affected pooch will show restless behavior and frequently pace, as lying down or sitting are uncomfortable.

Retching to Vomit

The twisted stomach prevents movement of fluid and food in the appropriate direction from the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.  As a result, no gastric contents can move back from the stomach into the esophagus.  Therefore, the affected dog will repeatedly retch thick, white, foamy liquid.

Pale Gums and Elevated Heart Rate

GDV stops blood’s return from the hind (rear) body back to the heart, which can then causes the dog’s mucous membranes (gums) to appear pale.  Additionally, the heart rate increases as a compensatory mechanism to drive more blood flow to the front body.  Extreme heart rate elevation (tachycardia) can lead to a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal rhythm) called Ventricular Premature Contraction (VPC).

There are some physical and behavioral characteristics associated with GDV, including:

Large Body Size
GDV is most often seen in large and giant sized dogs having a deep chest as compared to a narrow waist, but it’s not exclusive to large bodies.

Advanced Age
Pooches that are adults or seniors (like poor Marley) are afflicted with GDV more  commonly than juveniles.

Eating and Drinking Habits
Quickly eating (with minimal chewing), consuming a dry food (kibble) diet or a large volume of any substance (plant material, garbage, etc.), drinking large quantities of water (especially after eating), and partaking in exercise shortly before or right after eating or drinking may also contribute to GDV.


As there is no singular cause of GDV, please prevent your dog from partaking in the above behaviors around eating and drinking.

Surgical Remedy for GDV

Any dog undergoing surgery for a neuter or spay procedure can have the stomach surgically attached to the inner abdominal wall to prevent torsion.  This prophylactic procedure does not have to occur at the time of reproductive alteration; it can be performed at any life stage and is a smart preventative means that large and giant-sized dog owners can help reduce their pet’s likelihood of developing GDV.

GDV is always a life threatening condition.  If you suspect your dog has GDV, immediately seek medical care with your regular veterinarian or emergency veterinary facility.

Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).

Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.

Copyright of this article (2013) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.

Back to top