Is my dog's stomach in knots?
If your dog is suffering from nausea and feeling generally unwell, he may literally have a knot in his stomach. Gastric torsion, or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) to give it its full name, is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention.
What is Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (gastric torsion)?
As the name indicates, the condition begins when the dog's stomach dilates. If this dilatation is sufficiently severe, the stomach may rotate in the abdomen, usually in a clockwise direction. Once the stomach has rotated, it traps the gas produced by the fermentation of its food contents. As this gas builds up, it causes pain. Worse, it compresses certain major blood vessels, such as the caudal vena cava and the hepatic portal vein, and can lead to tissue necrosis. This is a medical emergency, and your dog must be stabilized and referred for surgery as soon as possible.
If left untreated, gastric torsion is fatal.
During surgery, the veterinarian checks the integrity of the dog's internal organs and reverses the stomach's rotation. If the dog is sufficiently stable under anesthesia, the surgeon will perform a gastropexy, a procedure in which the stomach is sutured to the abdominal wall so as to reduce the risk of future rotation. A gastropexy does not protect the dog from future gastric dilatation, but this will generally not require surgery.
Is my pet at risk?
All dogs, regardless of breed, size or age, can suffer gastric torsions. However, the condition is more common in deep-chested, middle-aged, medium-sized or large breed dogs. Among the breeds at greater risk are Great Danes, German Shepherds, Standard Poodles, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Bernese Mountain Dogs. However, breed is not the only risk factor, and the good news is that you have a certain amount of control over the other factors. Stress, eating a single large meal a day, ingesting food or water too quickly and elevated feeding are all contributory factors for the condition.
Cats owners can relax: gastric torsion is much rarer in felines.
What are the signs of gastric torsion?
Dog owners should be able to recognize the signs of gastric torsion, because prompt intervention is needed to save the dog's life. The most characteristic and frequent sign of the condition is dry heaving: the dog repeatedly goes through the motions of vomiting without producing any vomit. Other signs to look out for are weakness, swelling of the abdomen, abdominal pain, restlessness, discomfort and drooling. If you notice any of these signs, take the dog to your veterinarian as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to save your dog's life.
What can I do to reduce my dog's risk of suffering a gastric torsion?
To avoid putting your dog (and yourself) through this very stressful situation, it is important to learn about the condition and take steps to prevent it from affecting your pet. If you choose a puppy from one of the more predisposed breeds, be sure to talk with your veterinary team about preventive gastropexy. This surgical procedure can be performed at any age, but many veterinarians recommend doing it at the same time as your puppy is being sterilized, thus taking advantage of a single anesthesia.
Also, if your dog is prone to stress and anxiety, discuss this issue with your veterinarian. Gastric torsions are not uncommon in dogs that have suffered stress after being boarded, or following a car ride. It is a good idea to work on the source of the dog's stress, to prevent your pet from swallowing large amounts of air through stress panting.
Another recommendation is to avoid feeding your dog a single large meal per day. Instead, divide his ration into two or three smaller meals. This will prevent his stomach from being overloaded with food all at once. It is also important for your dog not to gulp down his food too hastily, as this is also likely to make him swallow air at the same time. To make him eat more slowly, give him his meals in a quiet room and use an interactive slow feeder. Unless your dog is being treated for a specific condition that requires elevated feeding, avoid using raised water or food dishes.
Ingesting too much water at once can also be harmful. Just as in humans, it is best for your dog to drink smaller amounts more often, rather than quenching his thirst in one fell swoop. To make sure that your dog can drink reasonable amounts of water several times a day, always provide him with enough clean, fresh water.
In summary, gastric torsion is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary care. With the help of your veterinarian, you can work out strategies to reduce your dog's chances of suffering such an occurrence. If you have any concerns that your dog may be showing signs of gastric torsion, lose no time in seeking veterinary help. Your veterinary clinic is always here to help you and your beloved pet.