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Gastric torsion, more commonly known as bloat, is found in many breeds of dogs but is most often seen in larger breeds with deep, heavy chests. Typically breeds that have higher incidents of bloat or gastric torsion include Basset Hounds, Great Danes, Bloodhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, German Shepherds, Akitas, St. Bernards, Labradors, Old English Sheepdogs, Weimaraners, Boxers and Great Pyrenees. Other large breeds that are over 60 pounds may also exhibit this potentially fatal condition. Typically is it rarely of very seen in medium, small or toy breeds of dogs.
Typically bloat or gastric torsion is seen in older rather than younger dogs with most cases recorded with the at risk breed that are four to seven years of age. It is also far more predominant in males than females with vets reporting only 1/3 of all bloat cases being female dogs and 2/3 being male.
What is gastric torsion?
The name gastric torsion is a bit misleading and many vets prefer the term "bloat". Gastric torsion or bloat occurs when large quantities of gas, food or liquid or any combination of these components cause the stomach to dilate beyond a normal distension amount. In some instances the stomach will then partially roll over, leading to the actual gastric torsion, or may even roll over completely blocking any material from leaving the stomach through the digestive tract or esophagus. This full turn is known as gastric volvolus. All three, bloat, gastric torsion or gastric volvolus can be fatal the first time they occur in dogs that are at risk for the condition.
In some cases the gastric torsion or gastric volvolus is caused by sudden or rapid movement when the dog has a full stomach. This cause is not always the case, however many dogs that eat a very large meal then immediately run, jump, roll around or play with other dogs do develop bloat in various degrees at some time in their life. Usually dogs that develop significant bloat or gastric torsion problems have some history of digestive disorders, often going back to when they were first switched to solid foods.
Dogs that are more likely to show signs of gastric torsion or bloat tend to be dogs that gulp their food or eat one or two large meals a day where they simply eat as fast as possible. Dogs that are competitive over their food will often get into the habit of just gulping food down as fast as possible, trapping excessive amounts of air with the food in the stomach. This can be made worse if the dog drinks a lot of water after quickly eating a large amount of kibble. As the kibble becomes wet it will expand and will also produce some release of gasses. Combining this with the heavy food blocking the top and bottom of the stomach as well as the air trapped in with the swallowing of the food leads to swelling and extreme dilation of the abdomen.
What are the symptoms of gastric torsion or bloat?
Most people can relate to the feelings of a mild amount of bloat. Dogs with bloat are experiencing extreme discomfort, pain and an associated anxiety that goes along with the increasing inability to breath that the distending stomach causes. With severe pressure the heart can be affected resulting in the dog losing consciousness and even resulting in death within a very short period of time.
Bloat or gastric dilation
The first symptoms that the owner will typically notice include excessive drooling after eating. The dog will walk around with saliva dripping from his or her mouth, trying to vomit with no results. Typically the dog will lie down and then immediately stand up and try to move around and throw up. The dog may also assume the position of trying to have a bowel movement and may seem to be very actively straining with no results. In addition the stomach will be hard to the touch and very distended.
Typically if the gut is not twisted upon itself the dog will give a very noticeable burp or will be able to vomit, relieving the pressure. Occasionally the dog will have a bowel movement and may have diarrhea or a lot of gas at the same time. If the dog does not seem relieved and is still anxious and exhibiting signs of discomfort there is likely torsion or volvolus present that will need immediate vet attention. If this does not happen within a few minutes of the initial symptoms or if the dog has had a history with gastric torsion get the dog to the vet immediately. Any signs of staggering or irregular breathing should trigger an immediate emergency call to your vet for further information on how to proceed.
Once the dog has relieved some of the pressure provide 8 to 12 ounces of Mylanta by mouth and keep the dog walking until he or she has a normal bowel movement and seems completely relaxed and calm. A trip to the vet to check the dog is important after a bloat incident.
Torsion or gastric volvolus
This is much more serious and death can occur in as little as one hour after eating if the stomach rotates. While the dog may relieve his or herself by having a bowel movement, the stomach may still be twisted on itself, cutting off the blood supply. Immediate surgery is needed to straighten out the stomach and restore the blood flow and also relieve the pressure.
If your dog is of a breed that is prone to bloat, has a history of gastric torsion in the breeding lines or is a large, heavy chested dog consider the following prevention options:
Feed three or four small meals a day rather than one large meal.
Ensure that the dog is quiet and not involved in running, playing or any type of activities at least one hour before and after meals.
Consider soaking the kibble and then restricting water for one hour after eating and provide lots of water throughout the day.
Feed only high quality kibble with low amounts of filler to minimize expansion in the stomach.
Always carefully monitor your dog for at least one hour after eating if bloating has been a problem.
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