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Gastric Torsion in DogsGastric Torsion in Dogs

We have in the past few weeks seen a number of dogs suffering from acute bloat caused by torsion (twisting) of the stomach. This is one condition which constitutes a true emergency as these animals need surgery very early in the course of the bloat if they are to be saved.

The normal stomach of the dog sits high in the front of the abdomen and contains a small amount of gas, some mucus and any food recently swallowed. Under normal conditions the stomach contracts regularly with food exiting into the small intestine. In the bloated stomach, gas and/or food stretch the organ to many times its normal size resulting in tremendous abdominal pain. Once dilated, the stomach tends to rotate or undergo torsion, causing loss of blood supply to the tissues and blocking the entrance and exit to the stomach. Once this occurs the affected dog very rapidly goes into circulatory shock and respiratory failure.

Classically this condition affects "deep-chested" dogs. In our practice we see gastric torsion almost exclusively in large Huntaways and Great Danes. Having said this, any breed can be affected, as I discovered many years ago when my mum’s pet miniature Dachshund bloated. Males are more commonly affected than females and occasionally dogs will succumb after a large meal. Unfortunately many cases in working dogs occur at night and are only discovered in the morning – often too late!

Symptoms include distension of the abdomen and non-productive retching.

Treatment includes emergency decompression of the stomach, shock doses of intravenous fluids, and once the animal is stable enough to handle anaesthesia, surgery. The aim of surgery is initially to evaluate the viability of the stomach and spleen, which may twist with the stomach. If the spleen is irreversibly damaged, this is removed. The stomach is then flushed and placed in its normal anatomical position. A "gastropexy" is then performed, a procedure which involves creating a permanent adhesion between the stomach and abdominal wall in order to prevent future torsion. If this is not done, the chances are the dog will suffer a relapse at some point.

I believe that dog owners and especially those with at-risk breeds need to be aware of this condition and prepared for it. Know how to contact your veterinarian at all times, and do not hesitate to call if you suspect your dog has a gastric torsion! It may pay to avoid vigorous exercise immediately after a large meal.

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