Also known as gastric torsion, bloat, and GVD (gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome), stomach torsion is one of the most serious of canine medical conditions. A dog that develops torsion must be seen by a veterinarian immediately in order to save his or her life. Without treatment, mortality is effectively 100%.
Stomach torsion is much more common in large dog breeds than it is in medium or small, although theoretically any dog can suffer from this. Male dogs are also the main victims of gastric torsion. Some large breeds are more likely to experience GVD than others, and these breeds include Great Danes, St. Bernards, Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, Boxers, and Irish Setters. These breeds have chests that are relatively narrow compared with their length and breadth.
While gastric torsion is generally considered to be a single ailment, it actually consists of two conditions. The first is boat or gastric dilation which occurs when the dog’s stomach becomes filled with gas and fluid. Rather than emptying as it normally would, the stomach becomes larger and larger, causing acute pain and discomfort. This is not something that will go away on its own and the dog must be taken to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The enlarged stomach will fill the body cavity, putting pressure on the lungs, heart, and other organs. The second ailment is volvulus. In most cases, bloat will be followed by volvulus (torsion). When this occurs, the stomach of the dog twists around, completely cutting off the means for the stomach to empty itself. At this point, surgery will be required to save the life of the dog. Even with prompt treatment, death can occur in approximately 50% of the cases.
Stomach torsion also causes an interruption in perfusion. Perfusion is the process by which nutrients are delivered from the gastrointestinal system, through the blood, to the body’s organs. Once cells and organs are deprived of the energy they need, they will begin to die – cells first, to be followed by organ death.
A dog who is experiencing gastric torsion will exhibit very obvious symptoms – this is not a subtle condition and your companion will attempt to vomit or retch, exhibit a distended abdomen, drool, and wander restlessly. Touching the abdomen will often produce a whimper or yelp of pain. If untreated, the dog may go into shock, have a rapid and weak pulse, and suffer a collapse. Although the signs of GVD are often unmistakable, in some cases the dog may simply walk around with stiff legs and hold the head down; this dog will appear restless and anxious and will be lethargic.
While a blood test is often used to provide an accurate diagnosis of bloat, the veterinarian will often proceed with treatment for the condition before the test is completed to save the life of the dog. If the problem is confined to a buildup of gas in the stomach, the vet may be able to put a tube down the sedated dog’s throat and drain out the gas. After the gas has been removed, the stomach will be ‘washed out’ with warm water to remove any debris or fluid that may be there. Antibiotics are administered intravenously to prevent infection in the stomach and/or intestines. In order to calm the system down, corticosteroids will also be given intravenously. Because surgery may well be needed, a medication that will prevent post-operative ulcers will also be introduced.
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