Many of us who own deep-chested dogs have either encountered a bloat and torsion situation or heard about it. I’m writing this as a reminder, and as an alert to those first time owners of deep-chested dogs – German shorthairs and wirehairs, Weimaraners, Vizslas, shepherds, setters, boxers, etc. Please pass the word: Timing is critical.
One evening in August while we were outside playing fetch with bumpers, “Scratch,” my incredibly deep-chested German shorthair, suddenly walked away trying to throw up. He was clearly uncomfortable, couldn’t produce vomit and hunched up as he circled the yard. I immediately saw the problem. He looked like he’d swallowed a basketball. And he felt like he’d swallowed a basketball. Even though it had been three hours since he ate, his stomach was bloated and drum hard.
Fortunately, we recognized these symptoms as indicative of gastric bloat and torsion (technically, gastric dilation and volvulus, or GDV) because our oldest German wirehair, “Scrub,” had it happen seven years ago. We raced Scratch to the truck and drove directly to the emergency veterinary clinic. There, the vet put a tube down Scratch’s throat to where it almost reached his stomach, relieving the gas. We were lucky in that the “torsion” part of bloat and torsion – the twisting of the stomach – was partial and the stomach righted itself, so surgery that night wasn’t needed.
Dogs can bloat without the stomach twisting, but when that does happen, timing is critical. Blood supply in and out of the stomach is cut off resulting in a severe drop in blood pressure and damage to internal organs. The dog can die within hours.
When Scrub bloated, we got him to the emergency clinic within an hour, but he had already gone into mild shock. They took him into surgery immediately. Collateral damage from the stomach rotating inside the bloat wasn’t too bad. Scrub’s spleen had to be removed, but apparently spleens aren’t necessary. (He’s 14.5 years-old now and doesn’t seem to have missed his spleen the past seven years.) The vet also performed a gastropexy, tacking his stomach to the body wall, preventing the stomach from rotating should he bloat again.
A week after Scratch’s bloat, he had preventative gastropexy surgery, so if he bloats again, at least he won’t be at risk of his stomach twisting.
All the vets I talked with agreed that despite an enormous amount of study, no one knows for sure why bloat and torsion happens. Genetics and body type appear to be factors. “Gassy” (aka “farty”) dogs are also more prone to bloat. Among others, precautions include feeding 2-3 times per day instead of once, withholding water after eating for a while, waiting an hour after exercise before feeding, waiting 1-2 hours after feeding before exercise, and pre-soaking dry food. I also carry a “bloat kit” with a tube and a few other items, so if Scratch has a severe bloat again and I can’t get to a vet, I can try to relieve the gas.
If your dog seems to be in pain and has a very tight, distended stomach, with or without trying to vomit, get him or her to a vet as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid of looking silly. We all have had the “should we call the vet” discussion, but a little embarrassment, even if nothing’s wrong, is a small price to pay for the alternative if your dog has bloated. For more info, check online for websites about bloat and torsion, and for directions and contents for a bloat kit for dogs.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.