Great Danes have a predisposition to this disease
I have in my time employed a number of new graduate vets, it has been on the whole a rewarding experience watching them progress as they gain confidence in their surgical skills and tackle more and more complex procedures. After they are confident with the likes of bitch spays and dog castrations there is one operation about which they all voice concerns about tackling on their own, perhaps unaided in an out of hours setting and that is the operation to correct a twisted stomach, unlike the bitch spay this is an emergency operation. This condition affects dogs from large breeds which tend to have deep chests such as Great Danes. The condition is known by a number of names, twisted stomach, volvulus, GDV [ Gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome ], bloat.
Cause : The cause of this disease is in some way related to the shape of the dog's chest, it tends to affect dogs whose chest has a teardrop profile instead of a round profile like that of a Bulldog. Examples of dogs which might be affected would be Great Danes, Wolfhounds, German shepherds, Boxers, Standard Poodles, and more. This condition starts as a bloat where no doubt due to an abnormal fermentation condition in the stomach an excess of gas is produced and the stomach starts to swell, normally in a round chested dog belching and perhaps vomiting will relieve the situation and that is the end of the story. However in a breed of dog with a tear drop shaped profile the stomach will not only expand but will turn round on its axis and as further expansion of the stomach occurs it becomes trapped in the tear drop shape of the dog's chest. As the input pipe and the output pipe are blocked due to the twisting effect the stomach is then sealed and the further expansion will occur as the abnormal fermentation process is still present. Unless something is done quickly death will rapidly follow as the stomach swells to a very large size.
Clinical signs : What you might expect to see is swelling of the dogs stomach area, attempting to vomit perhaps with some froth being produced, drooling of saliva, signs of pain, restlessness, and anxiety. Where the swelling is large the dog may be unable to sit.
Treatment : If the animal is got to the vet quickly and the condition is not too advanced it may be possible to pass a stomach tube orally, if successful this will release the gas in the stomach and it could be that the stomach would then turn on its axis to its proper position and that would be the end of the story. Often however this is not going to work and you then have to carry out emergency surgery, there are a number of ways that surgery can be carried out and your vet will use his own judgement which technique to use. Some vets stabilise these animals on fluids, use a large needle to deflate the stomach and then some hours later open the dog up and correct the situation. Other vets go in a once put the dog on a drip as they go along and correct the situation at once. When the stomach has been put in its rightful position it is possible to fix it to the body wall to try and stop the condition happening again in the future. I must have done a good few twisted stomach operations in my life as for many years I did my own out of hours emergency cover, I would say that the death rate was about one third of cases presented to me, the longer the delay in bringing the animal to the vet the higher the death rate will be.
Prevention : It may be that this condition is impossible to prevent but it would be logical to try and reduce the possibility of abnormal fermentation occurring in the stomach. Feed a number of smaller meals in the day as opposed to one large meal in the evening, avoid foods which are high in cereals which may ferment easily, do not feed the dog after exercise but wait a couple of hours. It would also be a good idea to introduce any new diet gradually say over four of five days.
Twisted stomach in the dog is perhaps the young vet's worst nightmare, however if they keep a cool head it can be fairly easily treated. From the owner's point of view this is one condition where you should seek immediate veterinary help if you have the slightest suspicion that your dog is affected. Get your dog to the vet at once no matter what time of night it might be, do not tolerate any delays, tell your vet you are coming then drive to the clinic at once.
Special Message : There are quite a number of comments related to this article, you can read them below. When you do it is clear that some people have lost their dogs to this distressing disease and the fact they knew little about it beforehand and did not seek immediate help would have been a possible factor to their dog's demise. The more the dog owning public know about this disease the better. Please help with this and share this article with as many people as you can via the Facebook, Twitter and E-mail icons you can find below. This might save a dog's life ...