Emergency: gastric torsion in dog

In gastric torsion, the dog’s stomach suddenly twists – without any previous signs. Gastric torsion is an absolute emergency! Here, just a few hours can decide between life and death of the dog. Here you will learn how to quickly recognize and react to a gastric emergency.

A general overview of emergency procedures can be found here: First aid for dogs – an overview

What is gastric torsion in dogs?

The stomach of the dog is fixed in the abdomen by two points and hangs relatively loosely between the esophagus and intestines in the upper abdomen.

If gastric torsion occurs, your dog’s stomach rotates on its own axis, constricting the entrance and exit of the stomach and the blood vessels. Due to the closed stomach openings, digestive gases can no longer escape and accumulate in the dog’s stomach. This causes the stomach to inflate like a balloon.

The blocked blood vessels prevent blood from being pumped to the heart, resulting in a circulatory collapse.

In addition, when the stomach is twisted, other vital organs such as the pancreas or spleen are also strangulated and may die.

Thus, gastric torsion leads to an agonizing death within a few hours and must be operated on as soon as possible!

The mortality rate for gastric torsion ranges from 15 to 45 percent. In general, the earlier the dog is treated, the better its chances of survival!

These dogs are particularly at risk

Medium and large dogs with a deep chest are especially more likely to be affected by gastric torsion. However, owners of smaller dogs should not feel too safe either: Dachshunds, beagles and co can also be affected. Thus, about 30% of gastric torsion is diagnosed in small to medium-sized breeds.

However, dog owners should be especially careful if their dog belongs to the Great Dane, German Shepherd, Boxer, Doberman, Irish Wolfhound, Hovawart, Setter, Royal Poodle, Newfoundland or Saint Bernard breeds. These are particularly often affected by gastric torsion.

Another risk factor is age: gastric torsion is observed more often in older dogs. But again, owners of young dogs should expect gastric distress at any time.

Great Dane profile
Great Danes are unfortunately particularly often affected by gastric torsion.

The symptoms: How to recognize gastric torsion in dogs

To detect gastric torsion as early as possible, you should look for the following symptoms:

  • Panting, moaning and heavy salivation
  • Restlessness, your dog can’t find a comfortable position, he wants to go out
  • your dog tries to vomit, but remains unsuccessful
  • it runs curved, takes the so-called sawhorse posture
  • the abdomen behind the ribs inflates and hardens, shortness of breath is the result
  • the dog is weak, seems apathetic

As the disease progresses, these symptoms are added:

  • faded mucous membranes
  • an increased pulse rate
  • Heart and circulation problems

Your dog trying in vain to vomit is a clear sign of gastric distress!

The esophagus is constricted by gastric torsion, which is why vomiting is no longer possible. If your dog drinks something in this state, he will vomit up the water again within a very short time.

Usually affected dogs also lie down briefly, only to get up again immediately – a comfortable position cannot be found.

You can easily see and feel the bloating of the stomach from the outside. In this process, the anterior as well as posterior part of the abdominal cavity increases considerably in volume. If you tap lightly on the back ribs or bulging belly, you may hear a hollow sound – similar to a drum.

Due to the increasing, worsening circulatory situation, the dog is also first very restless and then very apathetic and canhardly walk or stand. The pulse of your dog increases enormously and can sometimes hardly be felt.

Within half an hour to an hour, your dog’s condition can already be life-threatening!

Here’s what you should do if you have a stomach bug

If your dog shows signs of gastric distress, you need to take him to the nearest vet immediately!

His life can then only be saved by immediate emergency surgery. If gastric torsion is not treated in time, it can be fatal – even within a few hours. Veterinarian Ralph Rückert makes this clear in no uncertain terms on the website of his small animal practice:

You can establish as a rule of thumb that from the moment you notice these symptoms in your dog, the risk of death increases by one percent every minute.”

– Veterinarian Dr. Ralph Rückert

Staying calm is important

Despite the possible tragic course of events, you should remain as calm as possible and act purposefully:

  • As a first step, you should call your nearest veterinarian’s office and make sure your dog is ready for surgery right away.
  • After that, you need to get your dog in the car as soon as possible, because the more time passes, the less the dog can move on its own – this can be a problem, especially with large and heavy dogs.

If your dog belongs to a breed that has a high risk of gastritis, you should always have the phone numbers of at least three veterinarians at hand where your dog can be operated on within the shortest possible time, even at night. It’s best to find out in advance if practices can respond quickly, even late at night, to be prepared for emergencies.

This is how gastric torsion is treated

In the practice, things have to happen quickly, so the veterinarian will not have time to answer your questions in the first moment.

Usually, the first step is to stabilize the dog’s circulation with an IV. An x-ray is then taken to determine that it is indeed gastric torsion.

A fine needle is then inserted into the stomach to allow digestive gases to escape.

Light Labrador gets infusions from vet
An infusion stabilizes the dog’s circulation.

This is followed by surgery as soon as possible. In the process, the dog’s stomach is opened and the stomach is brought back into the correct position. It also empties and flushes the stomach.

What happens next depends on whether other organs have been damaged by the poor blood supply. If these are intact, the dog is sewn up again. This involves attaching part of the stomach wall to the abdominal wall to prevent the stomach from turning again. This procedure is called gastropexy.

If the spleen or parts of the stomach wall are already dead, the veterinarian will have to remove them, lengthening the time in surgery and significantly decreasing the dog’s chances of survival.

Unfortunately, even after surgery, your dog can still die from the effects of gastric torsion. Therefore, intensive observation, care and follow-up are very important in the first days after surgery. Your dog should therefore remain under medical supervision for a few days.

Once the first few days are over, a full recovery is likely.

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Can I prevent gastric torsion?

To date, the causes of gastric torsion have not been conclusively determined.

However, so that your dog’s stomach is not too full, it can help if you do not feed your dog a large meal once a day, but rather smaller portions several times a day.

Further, there is a theory that it should help if you do not feed your dog right before a walk: romping around with a full stomach could promote gastric torsion.

In addition, stress is suspected as a trigger – this should be avoided.

However, whether these causes actually cause or promote gastric torsion is not proven, so these are only theories. These are not scientifically proven.

For owners of a high-risk breed, there is the option of having a gastropexy performed prophylactically: Here, the dog’s stomach is sewn to its abdominal wall, even though it has not previously suffered from gastric torsion. Since family factors can also play a role, this procedure may be worthwhile if your dog’s parents have already suffered from gastric torsion. You should discuss whether prophylactic gastropexy is appropriate for your dog with your veterinarian.

Even if he is actually a guard dog, a German shepherd is happy about cuddling sessions.
Time is of the essence when it comes to gastric distress: if you act quickly, your dog’s chances of recovery are good.

Has your dog ever had a stomach turn?
Are you familiar with the topic and do you have any tips or suggestions?
As always, we appreciate any comments.

Further information and sources:


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