BLOAT LEADS TO GASTRIC TORSION
when bloat becomes a deadly emergency
Barbara J. Andrews, Publisher, TheDogPlace
What is Bloat?
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) commonly called bloat, occurs when food ferments, air is trapped, and the stomach becomes distended. Gastric torsion means the stomach twists.
A dog's stomach is suspended like a hammock so unlike humans where a build up of gas can pass up (belch) or down to be expelled, a dog has more difficulty passing gas from the stomach. Some of you are smiling, thinking your dog has no problem passing gas! But that is when his stomach is not actually bloated, and is in the normal position, not twisted as in gastric torsion. Passing gas however, indicates fermentation so you will definitely want to keep reading because your dog has gas frequently, you need to change dog food and/or adjust his diet to prevent excess fermentation which can lead to bloat.
Strenuous exercise after eating or gulping water can set off a chain reaction leading to a fatal episode of gastric torsion. Older dogs, those recovering from illness, a change in dog food or over-eating; many such situations can precipitate an emergency bloat situation. If you are here because you suspect your dog is bloating, skip below to Emergency First-Aid For Bloat.
Why is gastric torsion so deadly?
It is impossible for a dog to pass gas and when the stomach twists. When gassy foods, hot weather exertion, or unknown stress distends the dog's stomach and it twists like a hammock, it becomes impossible to relieve the rapidly increasing pressure. Torsion sets off an inevitable sequence of events that is always fatal without surgical intervention. It can happen so quickly that every owner of a breed over 50 pounds or one with excessive skin or a dog that is “out of condition” or elderly, or one that has gotten in to strange foodstuffs (farm dogs for example) or one that chronically drinks a lot of water - in other words, all dog owners need to know what bloat is and how to recognize simple bloat before it becomes gastric torsion. If the stomach rotates, it can be fatal within an hour!
What causes bloat?
Some foods contain saponins, a plant or marine-derived "sudsy" substance which "may aid digestion and/or nutrient absorption." Saponins should NOT be in any premium brand of dog food.
Humans can pass gas in either direction because the stomach is in upright position. A dog's stomach is suspended like a hammock and the weight of an overly full stomach makes it more difficult to pass gas in either direction. When the dog's stomach becomes distended, it puts pressure on other organs, including the diaphragm. As he becomes more uncomfortable, a dog swallows repeatedly, adding more air and saliva to the stomach. He will often begin to drink more water which adds more weight and hastens the twisting of the ever-enlarging stomach. When the stomach rotates, it effectively shuts off the blood supply. The tissues begin to die and the end is near because unless surgery is done very quickly, organ damage is too great for recovery. Even with fairly prompt treatment, there is an average 35% death rate.
NOTE: dogs are more susceptible to bloat in "dog
days" and high stress heat due to thirst
Is there a size or breed predisposition for bloat?
Male dogs are more likely to be affected and there is speculation that an excessive skin-to-frame relationship can precipitate calcium and other chemical imbalances that can cause bloat. Dogs that are fed only once a day, particularly if given foods containing corn, soy or other gas producing grains, are more likely to bloat. In the wild, wolves, coyotes, and especially the big cats, can gorge until they appear “about to burst” with no ill effects because they eat meat and they sleep for hours during digestion.
According to Purdue University Vet School, breeds such as Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Akitas, and Bloodhounds are more susceptible to gastric torsion. Age, condition, certain behavior patterns, and physical features can also increase the odds of bloat. Active breeds with a deep chest and tucked up stomach such as Weimaraners, Irish and Gordon Setters and Standard Poodles are considered at risk. Basset Hounds have little to no tuck-up but are at equal risk due to the long suspension system for the stomach and the excessive skin.
Can I prevent gastric torsion?
One of the most common mistakes leading to bloat involves exercise with a full stomach, particularly during mating. Never attempt a mating during the heat of the day. Never use a stud dog when he's just been fed. A stud dog with a belly full of food or water is not at his best anyway but more important, the likelihood of gastric torsion brought on by the mating dance is a very real danger for dog or bitch.
Any form of hard exercise before or after large amounts of food or water is likely to cause bloat.
Dogs that have bloated and survived need special diets. Your vet will take care of that. To prevent a first occurrence, practice common sense and feed wisely, bearing in mind that no breed is immune to gastric torsion. Feed smaller meals, twice a day. There is speculation that elevated feeding bowls reduce the incidence of bloat but there is adamant opposition to that theory. Dogs normally eat from ground level, often in a prone position as in ripping meat from bones, so until there is solid proof that elevating the food bowl is of value, I would advise feeding from the floor.
Chew-bones promote air swallowing. Real "knuckle" or shank bones do not. A hungry dogs gulps or "wolfs down" his food. This is normal but if your dog seems to swallow air while ingesting food, put large washable pebbles or decorative rocks in his food bowl. Anything to slow him down. The presence of another dog may also cause him to eat too fast. Re-read the above about excessive water consumption, exercise, etc.
What Are Symptoms Of Bloat?
In the beginning, there develops a combination of symptoms which include signs of discomfort, restlessness, a “worried” expression, wanting to go out but not really doing anything when you take him to relieve himself.
Bloat symptoms may progress to aimless pacing and/or panting which will become rapid and shallow. By the time you notice his stomach has visibly increased in size, he could be in serious trouble. He will swallow, salivate, and try to vomit but it will be futile if the stomach has already torsioned. His gums may become pale, heart rate becomes rapid and he will progress into shock if the stomach has already twisted.
The expression is unforgettable. Some call a glassy-eyed look but other owners describe it as a "helpless, stricken" look, as though the dog somehow knows he is dying. It isn't the pained look a dog gets from a broken leg. I hope you never see that fatalistic expression.
Emergency First Aid For Bloat
You may want to try emergency measures before leaving for the vet because depending on traffic, distance, and his condition when discovered, you may arrive too late.
If you have a dog that could be at risk, make a note go to the drug store TODAY and pick up one of the over-the-counter rapid gas reducers such as Gas X. It's cheap, easily available, and most of all, it works quickly. The simethicone breaks up the bubbles but it must happen quickly. If unsure, ask your vet. Administer according to directions and based on the size of the dog.
Then stand the dog upright and burp just as you would a baby. If you have someone to help hold him, so much the better. If not, place his front feet up on the sofa, a chair, your chest, whatever is reasonably comfortable for him. “Burp” him starting low on both sides of the belly, using both hands. Work your way up the rib cage. If he belches in your face, thank God and keep burping him. You may have to let him down for a minute to relieve pressure on his back legs but continue to burp the dog until he seems comfortable and no more gas is passing.
If he does not pass gas, it is because the tablet isn’t working, you are not burping properly, or the stomach has twisted. In either case, stop what you are doing and rush him to the vet. If possible, have someone call ahead or use your cell phone. This is an emergency situation and any vet should be prepared to take him straight in to surgery.
We hope you never need this information. If you suspect your dog may be at risk, talk to your Vet before there is an emergency. A change in diet, feeding schedule and habits can help prevent bloat.
Related Articles on Gastric Torsion (Bloat):
Gastric Torsion / Bloat in Toy Dogs - documents onset, symptoms, misdiagnosis in tragic case of bloat.
Handler Loses A Dog To Bloat - Even a professional can lose a dog to gastric torsion - at a dog show.