As I write this post, sadly, an old-time friend of thirty years is losing is loving companion German Shepherd to what sounds to me to be bloat. He called me this morning and told me that his dog had been lethargic through the night while trying to vomit what looks like beer foam. At the point of our conversation, the dog’s sides were swollen and tight from the air trapped in his gut. It sounded to me that there would be no good outcome, but he needed to get him to a veterinarian immediately to relieve his suffering through euthanasia if nothing else. This is such a devastating realization for an owner if they failed to take immediate action at the first sign of trouble. The problem is that few dog owners recognize the symptoms.
Gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome (GDV) are more commonly referred to as gastric torsion or bloat. It is actually one of the main causes of death in large, deep chested breeds such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Standard Poodles, etc. In layman’s terms, the stomach actually turns on itself, trapping food, liquid, and gasses. As the gas builds up, the stomach become distended and painful and puts pressure on other organs such as the heart and lungs. The blood flow to the gut can become cut off resulting in dead or necrotic tissue. In my experience, you have to pick up on the problem fairly quickly in order to save the dog.
To prevent torsion it is important to feed the dog a few smaller meals per day. As a breeder, I recommended soaking the food for awhile in water, often with some probiotic enzymes sprinkled on it. You want to avoid the dog eating dry kibble and then drinking too much water. Naturally, you avoid strenuous exercise before and mostly after eating. However, having been heavily involved with German Shepherds for decades, I feel there is a strong genetic component. After breeding for approximately fifteen years with no incidences, I unknowingly bred into a line that I later realized produced the problem. Many of these dogs finished their championships only to die an untimely death somewhere around the age span of 3-7. It was heartbreaking!
When researching the possible purchase of a large breed dog, it is important to ask if the bloodline has reported cases. You then take care to feed the dog properly and not allow large amounts of water intake at one time. Also, save the exercise for times not around meals. There is also a preventative surgery that vets often suggest at the time of spaying or neutering a large breed dog. They go in and tack the gut to the ribcage to prevent the twisting in the first place.
If you own a deep chested breed, become knowledgeable about GDV and discuss it with your veterinarian. Chances are, you will never have to experience it firsthand, but once the clock is ticking there isn’t time to study. For me, the hallmarks were the pure white, thick, foamy patches of phlegm from the dog attempting to vomit to release pressure accompanied by a firm, distended stomach.