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German Shepherd Gastric Torsion | Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

One of the most serious – and often fatal – conditions to affect a German Shepherd dog, gastric torsion is known by many names – including torsion, GDV, gastric dilatation-volvulus, and bloat – but regardless of its moniker, its danger remains constant. Often associated with larger dogs, such as the German Shepherd dog, gastric torsion occurs when a dog’s stomach begins to swell abnormally, ceasing to function as it rotates within the abdomen (imagine a twisted balloon), cutting off air and hence normal “escape routes” for gas to exit the stomach.  Once gas is trapped within the dog’s stomach, the dog will become unable to defecate, eructate (burp), or otherwise emit gas. Furthermore, the twisting of the stomach obstructs abdominal veins, interfering with normal blood flow. As a result, the increased pressure within the abdominal leads to organ damage, shock, and ultimately death within a matter of hours, making immediate treatment vital: gastric torsion is the second-leading cause of death among dogs. Larger dogs are predisposed to the condition, but it can be immediately caused by swallowing an excess of air or a buildup of fluid or foam in the stomach.

Symptoms of gastric torsion should be taken very seriously – death is almost certain without treatment. A dog suffering from gastric torsion will exhibit a distention of the abdomen (it may feel “hard” to the touch) and retching as he attempts to expel air from his abdominal area. He will be in severe pain, attempting (unsuccessfully) to vomit. Additional symptoms include dark red gums that quickly turn white or blue, licking the air, failed attempts to defecate, and an accelerated heartbeat followed by collapse and a weak pulse. Treatment should be sought within moments of the symptoms manifesting themselves.

Even with treatment, up to a full 30% of dogs will die after an incident of gastric torsion; however, swifter treatment may maximize chances of recovery. A dog exhibiting symptom so GDV should be brought into the hospital immediately. Once blood tests have confirmed a diagnosis, intravenous catheters may be inserted into the dog to prevent the onset of shock. Three separate procedures are necessary: the stabilizing of heart rate, the decompression of the stomach, and the administration of IV fluids to reverse the effects of shock, making the treatment complex and often difficult to do given the time-sensitive nature of the disease. A large needle or tube will be used to release any air trapped within the stomach.

If the stomach has already “turned,” surgery will be performed: any irremediably damaged portions of the stomach or spleen will be removed, and the stomach will be repositioned in a process called gastroplexy in order to minimize the chance of reoccurrence – 6% - down from 75% in untreated dogs) Recovery from surgery will require administration of antibiotics and additional medication. Be sure to keep emergency contact information handy at all times in order to maximize speed of treatment should your German Shepherd experience any signs of torsion/bloat. To help prevent gastric torsion, try feeding your German Shepherd dog many small meals a day rather than one or two big ones, and do not give your dog water within thirty minutes (before or after) of giving him or her food.

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