Causes and Treatment of Gastric Torsion in Dogs

Gastric torsion in dogs is referred to in veterinary manuals as Bloat, Gastric Dilation or Torsion Complex. (See Delbert G Carlson, DVM and James M Giffin MD “Dog Owners’s Home Veterinary Handbook. 1992,  Simon & Schuster MacMillan. Pp. 199-202.) It is a medical emergency and needs treatment as soon as it is noticed.

During the first phase of the process, the stomach swells or distends due to gas or excess fluid. When the stomach has swollen, it may twist abruptly. If the twist is less than 180 degrees, it is called “torsion.” If it twists more than 180 degrees, it is a “volvulus.” Both are lethal. Gastric torsion, therefore, is the twisting of a distended stomach.

Bloat was at one time referred to as the “overfeeding syndrome” as it tended to be associated with dogs who ate too large a dry meal once a day or tended to eat too fast. In addition, dogs who exercised vigorously after a large meal tended to torsion.

Large, deep-chested breeds appear to be more frequently associated with the possibility of getting bloat. If a dog has a history of gastric upsets, it may be more prone to bloat.

The German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) produces an annual “Blue Book” (named for the color of the cover) that discusses genetic and other health issues. In 1985, they published an article on the signs and symptoms of bloat which offered a very clear description of how a dog acts when it has started to torsion. (“Toxic Gut Syndrome of the GSD” by Charles Kruger, DVM and Helen Sherlock. Genetics: 1984-85 Volume 1 (The Blue Book). German Shepherd Dog Club of America Inc. pp. 11-17.) Unfortunately, a copy of this publication is extremely hard to find.

In a study conducted by the Veterinary College at Purdue University (the live link to this study no longer exists, but the study findings are excerpted here.), the following “risk factors” were identified as being significantly associated with, or contributing to, the onset of bloat:

  • increasing age (the older the dog the greater the risk)
    • having a relative with Toxic Gut Syndrome (parents, siblings, grandparents)
    • eating from a raised food bowl (in spite of all the beliefs to the contrary)
    • feeding a dry commercial dog food containing fat in its first four ingredients
    • feeding a dry food containing citric acid that was also moistened by the owner before being eaten.

Only one factor was identified as significantly reducing the risk of getting bloat by over 50 percent and that was feeding a dry commercial food containing a rendered meat meal, with bone, among its first four ingredients.

A raw diet was not mentioned in the report. The study apparently involved only commercial dry kibble.

Treatment for Gastric Torsion depends upon the stage in the process and the severity of symptoms.

If the syndrome is caught very early and the dog seems to be experiencing only a distended stomach, a small amount of Mylanta may relieve the gas. If this does not work, a stomach tube can be inserted. If the tube cannot reach the stomach, this means that the stomach has already twisted and only emergency surgery can help the dog.

The best advice anyone can give is this: If the dog has started to torsion, call the vet immediately, then get in the car and take the dog to the vet. This is not a problem to fool around with.

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