We all know how uncomfortable it is to have any type of intestinal woe. Imagine the agony, then, of a gastric torsion, in which the stomach and spleen can literally twist and kink. The condition is excruciatingly painful, and, if ignored, is invariably fatal.
Gastric torsion cases occur most often in large-breed, deep-chested dogs, such as the Bloodhound, Labrador Retriever, Doberman Pinscher, Akita or Great Dane. This is a condition that is not connected to a dog's age or gender. In fact, cases can spontaneously occur in healthy dogs of all breeds, usually shortly after a meal.
The initial cause of most gastric torsion cases is distension or dilation of the stomach, due to excess gas and air, much of which is usually swallowed inadvertently while the dog is eating. When the stomach becomes distended with gas, it rotates in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. That in turn cuts off the entrance and exits to the stomach, which becomes even more distended with gas. In the most severe cases, the blood supply to the stomach is cut off, and the adjacent spleen also becomes twisted and enlarged. The condition causes the dog to become severely ill very quickly, and death can result in as little as one to two hours.
Most cases of gastric torsion arise as spontaneous emergencies. If you notice your dog having difficulty breathing within one to two hours of eating a large meal, check his stomach. If it's distended and the dog is moving as little as possible, a torsion may have occurred. Dogs with this problem usually will pass feces and gas, and may attempt to vomit, without success. The abdominal swelling typically continues over a half-hour to a three-hour period after the meal, with the stomach becoming hugely distended.
In addition, the enlarged stomach presses on the vena cava, which is the large vein that carries blood from the dog's heart to the abdomen and hind legs. This causes an inadequate amount of blood to be returned to the heart; the heart no longer functions properly; and the dog's blood pressure bottoms out, producing shock and rapid death. If not treated immediately, most dogs with this problem die within one or two hours, and none will survive beyond bout 36 hours. Even when treatment is received immediately, the condition still kills 20 to 25 percent of all dogs affected.
If you suspect your dog may have a gastric torsion, the animal should be taken to a veterinarian right away. Most will perform emergency surgery in order to get rid of the excess gas, shrink the stomach and correct the twisted bowel, esophagus or spleen. Others perform a two-step treatment, first using a stomach tube or other surgical procedure to relieve the pent-up gas and deflate the stomach. Then, after the dog is no longer in shock and has recovered a bit, surgery is performed to correct the twist. Once a dog has been successfully treated by surgery, its food and water intake must be strictly monitored for a couple of weeks post-surgery, to avoid a recurrence.
There is currently no reliable method to prevent gastric torsion. It's recommended, though, that dogs be given access to a bowl of food at all times, so they can eat a little throughout the day. Dogs that are restricted to one meal a day are more likely to gulp down a huge meal, putting them at greater risk for a gastric torsion. It's also wise to make sure the dog does not exercise strenuously right after eating.