Gastric Torsion Among Dogs

Large, deep-chested dogs, like the Saint Bernards, are at risk for developing gastric torsion.
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Gastric torsion -- commonly known as bloat -- is a medical emergency for dogs. The condition appears suddenly, and immediate veterinary attention is required to save the dog's life. Dogs who are experiencing gastric torsion will be in great pain, and their abdomens will become extended. Large, deep-chested breeds are particularly prone to bloating. In cases where there is suspicion of bloat, take your dog to a veterinary hospital immediately. Time is of the essence.

Signs of Bloat

Recognizing the classic signs of bloat allows pet owners to seek prompt treatment. Not all cases exhibit typical symptoms, but dog owners should be aware of indications that a dog may be suffering from gastric torsion. A tender abdomen is the most obvious symptom. Dogs who are bloating often try to vomit, but cannot produce. Pacing, salivation and anxiety can occur. The belly may appear distended, and in advanced stages the dog can experience rapid heart rate, extreme weakness and he may collapse -- rush the dog to the closest animal clinic if you observe any of these signs.


Dogs caught in early stages -- known as gastric volvulus -- can respond to treatment that involves passing a long tube through the dog's mouth and into the stomach. This allows air and fluid to exit the dog's stomach, providing relief. The dog will be hospitalized for a few days, supported by IV fluids. X-rays may be taken to confirm diagnosis. If the condition has advanced, the stomach will twist in the abdominal cavity, cutting off entry and exit paths. Immediate surgery is required to reposition the stomach and spleen. The surgeon also will anchor the stomach to prevent the condition from reoccurring.


Bloat can develop in any dog at any age, but some dogs are predispositioned to the condition. Large breed dogs with broad chests, such as Labrador retrievers, bloodhounds, Old English sheepdogs, German shepherds, collies, Saint Bernards and similar sized dogs, have a higher risk of bloat than other dogs. Environment also triggers the condition. The typical scenario preceding bloat includes a dog who has vigorously exercised, consumed a large dry meal and drank a lot of water after eating. The food absorbs the water and expands in the stomach, giving off gases and stretching the stomach until it turns.


Owners of dogs in the high risk category can have preventive surgery performed to secure the stomach. This procedure prevents the stomach from twisting, in situations where the dog most likely would bloat. Other ways to lessen risks include feeding the dog small meals throughout the day. Avoid dog foods high in fat or citric acid. Restrict water intake before and after meals, and restrict strenuous exercise near meal times. Give time for food to digest. Ask your dog's breeder if the condition is common in his breed or line. The condition is thought to have genetic factors. Don't dwell on the possibility of your dog developing gastric torsion, but be cautious and be prepared.