Twisted bowel syndrome, also referred to as stomach torsion or bloat, is the second-leading cause of death among dogs. This condition occurs when the dog's stomach fills with air and becomes twisted. Dog owners can reduce their dog's risk by taking precautions in how they feed their canines and by getting immediate medical attention for their pets at the first sign of twisted bowel syndrome symptoms.
Twisted Bowel Syndrome Explained
Twisted bowel syndrome actually involves two issues. First, the dog suffers from gastric dilation, which means the stomach begins filling up with gas and expanding like a balloon. No one knows for sure what triggers this problem. However, research suggests the expansion may be caused when the dog swallows a large amount of air but, for some reason, is unable to release that air.
Regardless of the cause, once the swelling begins the stomach starts putting pressure on the surrounding organs, which can make breathing difficult and can restrict blood flow back to the dog's heart.
The second issue occurs when the swollen stomach begins rotating. As the stomach twists, blood can no longer reach the organ. Consequently, the stomach tissue begins dying. As the tissue dies and the blood flow throughout the dog’s body is restricted, his condition worsens rapidly and can result in death.
Breed and Other Risk Factors
Any dog can suffer from twisted bowel syndrome. However, large-breed dogs with deep chests seem to be more prone to the condition. A Purdue University study found that the three breeds most at risk for twisted bowel syndrome were the Great Dane, St. Bernard, and Weimaraner. In fact, the study determined a Great Dane was over 40 times more likely than a mixed-breed dog to suffer from the condition.
The following are additional factors that can increase your dog’s risk:
- Being male
- Having a family history of bloat
- Having an anxious or high-strung personality
- Being over seven years of age
- Eating only one meal per day
- Having experiencing bloat or twisted bowel syndrome previously
Signs and Symptoms
Initially, a dog with this condition may just seem uncomfortable. He may be restless, he may pace or appear anxious. He may also try to vomit or belch without producing anything. You may also notice his stomach seems swollen.
If you suspect your dog may be experiencing bloat, touch or gently tap his abdomen. A hard or hollow-sounding abdomen indicates your dog may require immediate medical attention.
As the swelling and/or twisting worsen, your dog's heart will start beating faster while his breathing becomes more difficult. He may show signs of weakness and could even collapse. If you look at his gums, they may also be pale indicating poor blood circulation.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The swollen abdomen will be a clear indicator to your veterinarian that your dog’s stomach has expanded. The first treatment step is to remove the gas from the stomach usually either by inserting a tube or needle into the stomach. After the gas has been released, your veterinarian will X-ray your dog to determine if the stomach has twisted or not.
If the stomach has moved, your veterinarian will operate on your dog in order to remove any dead or damaged tissue from the stomach and surrounding organs and to return the stomach to its proper position. Your veterinarian may also suture the stomach in place to prevent reoccurrence, since dogs that have one incident of twisted bowel syndrome are likely to experience the condition again.
Even with treatment, up to 40 percent of dogs who have twisted bowel syndrome die. Thankfully, you can reduce your dog’s risk of developing this life-threatening condition in several ways:
- Feed your dog multiple, smaller meals each day.
- Provide water throughout the day, BUT restrict water intake immediately after a meal.
- Avoid exercising your dog before or after meal time.
- Keep your dog away from stressful situations before, during and after meal time.
- Feed dogs at floor level, especially if they are at higher risk.
If you have a dog at high risk of developing twisted bowel syndrome, such as a Great Dane or St. Bernard, research suggests that having your dog’s stomach surgically sutured in place to prevent twisting can significantly reduce his risk.