There are three things to note about gastric torsion in dogs
What is gastric torsion?
The dog's stomach rotates in situ, so that the oesophagus (entrance) and pylorus (exit) are closed off (see diagram in link). Food trapped in the stomach continues to ferment and the pressure can build up very quickly. The twisting of the stomach also involves the spleen and its blood supply, affecting the volume of blood circulating in the body. This results in shock, and death from heart failure.
What are the symptoms?
The dog will appear uneasy and restless, it may have an arched back and worried expression. It may try to eat material such as vegetation or earth, or drink water. Any material swallowed will be immediately vomited covered in white foam. This is the diagnostic sign of gastric torsion. Any dog who attempts to vomit and only brings up white foam, looking like whipped egg-white or meringue, SHOULD BE RUSHED TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY. Dogs have died because their owners have waited to see if it got better, or taken it for a walk first. The dog will become increasingly distended until it looks as if it is in whelp and will be in considerable pain and distress. The dog will then become weak, lying down, salivating and with shallow breathing. The gums and tongue will go pale and the pulse will become weaker as the dog goes into deep shock and death occurs from heart failure, sometimes within 20 minutes of onset.
The veterinary surgeon will treat the dog for shock and reduce the pressure in the abdomen by passing a tube down the oesophagus (if it can pass the twist) or by inserting a large needle in the dog's side, and then operating to return the stomach to its correct position. Often the spleen has to be removed during surgery, and sometimes portions of the stomach wall. The stomach may then be anchored to the abdominal wall in an attempt to prevent a recurrence. The dog will need careful nursing and treatment with antibiotics and for shock, and its diet will need to monitored and controlled. Dogs who have had torsion have an increased likelihood of it happening again.
Torsion is most common large, deep-chested breeds including the Afghan, Borzoi, Bloodhound, Deerhound, Irish Red Setter, Irish Wolfhound, German Shepherd, Great Dane and Weimaraner. However this list is far from exhaustive - German shorthaired pointers, Hungarian Vizslas, collies, Dalmatians, Samoyeds, even Pekinese and Dachshunds have been known to succumb.
Very young puppies have rarely been reported as victims, maybe because of their feeding regimes, however a dog I owned was eight months old when he developed torsion and I have heard of incidents in youngsters of around six months. Hard working dogs such as gundogs and police dogs are at risk, and tragically, so are bitches who have recently whelped. Older dogs are particularly vulnerable.
How can torsion be avoided?
a) Hereditary factors
Certain families of dogs have higher incidences than others. Unfortunately, as dogs tend to suffer when they are older, they have already been bred from when they develop the condition. Possibly torsion is associated with certain body-shapes, deep chests or long bodies, however in German shepherd dogs it has been noted in both the longer and shorter bodied individuals. A pedigree of a dog who had torsion at eight months, showed that his mother, his mother's full sister, his mother's father, his mother's uncle and his father's mother all had torsion. It is worth enquiring of owners if you intend to get a puppy of a large breed, to see if certain kennels are known to produce dogs who are prone to torsion.
Gastric torsion usually occurs within a short time of feeding. It is advisable to feed early rather than late, so that the dog can be monitored after eating. Needless to say; feeding a dog its one main meal late at night and going to bed, can result in a dead dog being found the next day by its horrified owner.
Two smaller meals a day are better than one large one. The dog will be less hungry and less inclined to bolt its food, and the volume eaten at each meal will be reduced.
A greedy feeder can be slowed down by for example, scattering the food so that it has to forage, or feeding in large chunks that have to be chewed, or by putting large clean stones in with the food in a big bowl, so the dog has to pick the food out instead of engulfing it.
Gastric torsion has been seen in dogs on every type of diet. It was known as a killer of bloodhounds long before the invention of complete diets, or indeed before the availability of canned food. Although complete foods or mixers have not been implicated, bear in mind that the higher the carbohydrate content, the faster the food will ferment in the dog's stomach. Dry food also increases thirst and encourages excessive drinking, in which the food will swell inside the dog. Always ensure that dry food is adequately soaked before feeding. Also be alert to a dog gaining access to stores of food and consuming a large amount very quickly.
Do not feed before or after exercising the dog, especially in hot weather. A tired hard-working dog should be given a light snack and allowed to rest before being fed its usual meal. Always allow the dog to rest quietly after it has eaten.
Do not feed an excited dog. Excitement is a precipitating factor; in a kennel of Borzois the incidence of torsion was dramatically reduced when the dogs were confined to their kennels before and after feeding, instead of being allowed to jump up at the fences of their runs.
It used to be believed that raising the height of the food bowl would reduce the incidence of torsion. Research has shown that feeding from raised bowls actually increased the likelihood; so always feed from floor level.
Do not exercise immediately before or after feeding (see above). The dog's level of fitness does not seem to affect the likelihood of it suffering torsion; working police dogs and gundogs have suffered as much as couch potatoes. However, a fit dog is likely to make a better recovery.
Old dogs and bitches who have recently whelped are exceptionally prone to suffer, suggesting that poorer muscle tone may increase the occurrence of torsion.
I obtained my first Weimaraner 25 years ago, and have owned Weimaraners, German shorthaired pointers and Hungarian Vizslas. I have trained most of my dogs to work as gundogs, the current three Vizslas all work through the season, beating and picking up. I also try to train them all to at least Kennel Club Good Citizen gold award standard and have gone over completely to clicker training.
After losing a lovely dog who was put to sleep because of temperament problems, I decided to find out more about aggression and how to prevent it. I attended a seminar given by Sheila Harper and associates, where I learned so much that I promptly joined International Dog Training School 2002 and have recently completed my portfolio and hope for certification in the near future.
I am a member of the Kennel Club's pilot scheme for accredited training instructors, I have been assessed and approved as a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and an associate member of the Pet Dog Trainers of Europe. I have obtained my CAP1 (competency assessment programme, foundation level) in clicker training and am working towards CAP2. I am particularly interested in clicker training for working gundogs and the causes and prevention of gastric torsion (bloat) in dogs, having owned a Weimaraner who suffered from bloat at 8 months of age. I show my dogs occasionally and I write articles on dogs for breed club magazines and for 'Teaching Dogs' magazine.
This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).
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