A case of bloat in a dog can be fatal
Most young vets when I started were indoctrinated into the trade by doing a few years in mixed practice.
These practices were mainly vet clubs, owned by farmers and run by a committee, and the work was mainly with species with udders.
Mud, gumboots, lots of faeces, – yes, long rubber gloves – and the occasional farm dog.
There was also the social education: The local pub where everyone congregated on Friday and Saturday night.
You got thrown in to it. I had a great time and the two guys I worked for were awesome characters.
One of my more memorable days there was when I was by myself for two days. A call came in to go to Mr Lewis's farm to stitch up some cows. It sounded a bit ominous when there was more than one. Sure enough, there was 12.
Mr Lewis had a bad case of bloat in the herd. As you can imagine, this is where the cow's stomach blows up with large amounts of gas.
The problem is that it keeps blowing up and the cow will quickly die if the pressure isn't relieved. Farmers put chemicals in the drinking water or drench the cows to prevent this at certain times of the year, but not in this case.
I had to call a friend of mine from the other side of the mountain to help me stitch up the rather large holes Mr Lewis had made in each cow (like popping a balloon) to save them.
It took us all afternoon to do the job and then we had to catch up with all the other calls and head back to the clinic to treat all the cats and dogs for the evening consults. A real James Herriot day.
Bloat in dogs is particularly nasty and probably the call that most vets dread. "My dog has a huge belly and is trying to vomit, but can't."
A lot of these cases are dead on arrival at the hospital. They are a real emergency.
Earlier this week, Hoot, a large 5-year-old male German shepherd, managed to get to the hospital late one night and was carried in. Within minutes, he was in the surgery and we had a tube in his stomach, relieving all the gas and fluid.
The cause in dogs is not really understood and it can also be of varying severity, depending on whether the stomach has actually fully twisted or if it is just partially twisted and filled with gas.
The flash name for these cases is GDV or gastric dilation – volvulus (volvulus means twist). It is important to relieve the pressure because it impairs breathing but it also blocks off the blood supply to the stomach wall, pancreas and blood returning to the heart. If it is blocked for some time, then parts of the stomach wall quickly start to die off. This is disastrous.
Once Hoot was stable, we were able to operate on him and reposition his stomach in the right place and secure it there. But that isn't always the end of the story. A small proportion of these cases also develop fatal abnormal heart rhythms soon after the original incident.
So what can be done to prevent it? Well, because the cause isn't really known, then prevention isn't possible. However, it is strongly recommended that you don't give a large breed of dog a large meal prior to going for a walk or run.
Predisposing factors then: Breed.
It has definitely been shown that the larger the size of the breed and the deeper the chest, then the greater the risk of GDV. In one study, the top at risk breeds were:
- Great dane
- Saint bernard
- Standard poodle
- German shepherd
So if you think your dog suddenly has a very tight stomach and is trying to vomit unsuccessfully, then give us a call while someone gets the car started.
Lucky cats, they don't seem to get this one.