The scientific name for gastric torsion in dogs is gastric dilation volvulus or GDV. This ailment is also referred to as gastric dilation, twisted stomach, and gastric torsion. This medical condition is caused by excessive gas build-up within the dog and causes the stomach to become overstretched, or rotated which can be extremely painful to the furry friend.
With this condition, it is not just the passage of gas and liquid from the stomach that is altered, but gastric torsion can also decrease or cut off the blood flow to and from the stomach, as well as to other vital internal organs throughout the dog’s body. This medical ailment becomes life-threatening if it cuts off blood flow to the heart or liver, as these organs are vital to the health of the dog.
Gastric torsion or stomach torsion in dogs is a serious ailment that occurs more frequently in certain dogs but can happen to all breeds. It is a reason for veterinary urgency since it usually happens suddenly, and the clinical picture can worsen in minutes. It can even cause the death of the dog in some cases. However, there are ways to prevent gastric torsion in dogs, and all dog owners should be aware of them, even if they do not guarantee 100% that the animal will not suffer from it one day.
What is gastric torsion?
Gastric torsion is also known under the acronym “DVG” for “gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome.” All dogs can suffer from it, but it is mainly shown in large breeds such as the Mastiff, the Doberman, the German and Belgian Shepherd, the Boxer, Saint Bernard, the Labrador, the Golden Retriever, the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Rottweiler, and the Great Dane for its deep thorax. Age is also an aggravating factor, as older dogs are more likely to go through it.
It is a rotation of the stomach in the abdominal cavity that occurs due to a strong dilation of the stomach, caused by an excess of air or gases. It usually occurs after the ingestion of water or food. Aggravating factors can be:
- Copious meals and eating in a single dose
- Dogs that eat eagerly or too fast
- Dogs that eat under stress, for example, in fear that their food will be taken away, that other dogs will steal it, or that they will be disturbed by children
- Dogs that drink heavily (making air enter their digestive system with each drink)
- Dogs that drink a lot of water after having eaten dry feed, which will swell inside the stomach and can cause dilation
- The practice of physical exercise before or after eating
When the stomach turns in the abdominal cavity, the ligaments that support it break because they cannot withstand the pressure caused by dilation. Both the entrance and the exit of the stomach are obstructed. Food, gas, and water can neither be eliminated following their passage through the digestive system nor can they rise again as vomiting. When the stomach is twisted, the spleen can be affected.
Even strangulation necrosis can be formed in it. An important network of blood vessels brings the blood to the stomach, and when they are pressured or distorted, they can no longer fulfill their function, and necrosis begins to form. It is, for this reason, that time is a key factor: the longer the elements ferment in the stomach, the more it will swell.
And the more it swells, and the longer this situation lasts, the more serious the consequences of this necrosis will be. A gastric torsion never goes away on its own. It will always get worse as time goes by. Dogs suffering from one need emergency veterinary assistance, and if it is not provided, they will die.
What are the symptoms of gastric torsion in dogs?
When a dog suffers gastric torsion, it presents a series of signs that should alarm us:
- Swollen and painful abdomen due to the dilation of the stomach (bloated stomach wall)
- Apathy, refusal of food, or restlessness
- Nausea and retching that does not produce regurgitation of food (because the stomach is closed) but can expel large amounts of saliva and even blood
- Respiratory problems or difficulty breathing (having a larger volume than normal, the stomach presses on the diaphragm and does not let the air pass well, added to the fact that when faced with pain, the dog gasps)
- Due to the lack of oxygen and the incorrect blood supply, as time passes, the dog will become weaker and weaker and may lose consciousness.
- Drop in blood pressure due to shallow breathing and low oxygen
What to do if my dog suffers a stomach twist?
If you observe any of these signs in your dog or at the slightest suspicion, it is essential to go immediately to the vet as gastric torsion is an emergency condition. It is preferable to find a situation of false alarm than with a tragic outcome. The health professional will proceed to a complete examination of the dog and will be able to alleviate his pain for the first time with stomach drainage by orogastric tube or directly through the skin of the abdomen.
The next and inevitable step is emergency surgery. The operation consists of opening the dog’s abdomen to empty the stomach and reposition it correctly. It must also be ensured that no nearby organ has been damaged by torsion and, if necrosis has occurred, see to what extent this could prevent the animal from recovering.
So that another torsion does not occur again in the following hours, the stomach is usually sewn to the abdominal wall. Although the veterinarian manages to follow all these steps, the post-operative is very important because the dog’s condition can worsen at any time.
How to prevent gastric torsion in dogs
Daily we can adopt simple gestures that will help prevent gastric torsion:
- Distribute the amount of daily food in several intakes (two or three) small amounts
- Respect the dog’s peace of mind when it comes to eating (without other dogs around who could steal his food or people who could bother him)
- Prevent the dog from eating with too much anxiety. The food intake would be made with too large quantities and would be mixed with air
- Do not feed your dog before or after doing an intense physical exercise (the movement of the dog makes it easier to turn the stomach on its axis)
- Prevent your dog from drinking large amounts of water before or after eating since the dry food could swell (some types of food are presented in a larger format that forces the dog to chew well before swallowing, which helps to avoid sudden ingestion of large amounts of food)
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight
- Prevent the dog from getting upset after eating
Even the act of playing, if there are many movements, could facilitate a latent gastric torsion. In some cases, veterinarians recommend preventive surgery, especially in breeds of a certain size, such as the Great Dane. This surgery, called prophylactic gastropexy, consists of sewing the stomach of a healthy dog to its abdominal wall to reinforce the attachment of the ligaments. It can be done using so-called “minimally invasive” techniques (laparoscopy).
In young females, surgical intervention and sterilization anesthesia can be used to perform gastropexy. A preventive surgery will have a much milder postoperative than an emergency intervention and help avoid gastric torsion.
It is also important to inform the whole family of the existence of this ailment and the guidelines to follow, both at the level of prevention and in case of complications.