Any responsible Dane owner must understand the implications of bloat and a Great Danes stomach twisting

great dane stomach twisting

A Great Danes stomach twisting is a terrible event – and it happens in Danes 40 times more often than in mixed breeds. No one knows what causes it but it can happen suddenly, it is agonizing for your Dane and in 40% of all cases it is fatal. If you’re faced with your Dane suffering from this stomach twisting, or torsion, you have very little time to seek emergency medical assistance and in fact, you may have to perform emergency first aid yourself to help your Dane survive.

Stomach twisting (the medical term is volvulus) or torsion, is normally associated with bloat (gastric dilation), although it can occur without bloat – just as bloat does not necessarily mean torsion.

Bloat

Bloat occurs when the Dane’s stomach starts to fill with excess gas and or fluid at such a rate that the Dane cannot relieve the pressure or keep up by belching or passing gas. The cause of this condition is not fully understood and surveys of Dane owners who have been through this terrible nightmare have concluded there really is no common denominator, with the exception of stress.

Conventional wisdom has been that exercise too soon after a meal is a major cause. Feeding a large portion once per day, instead of several smaller meals might have something to do with it. Some breeders are convinced that processed food is the reason some dogs bloat and cite this as one of the reasons to feed a raw dog food diet. Many vets and breeders will also say bloat and stomach twisting is genetic.

Unfortunately, there is no conclusive data to support any of these possible causes as definitive, although there does appear to be a consistency in the presence of stress before a bloat event.

Whatever the cause, for some reason your Dane’s stomach may lose its regular rhythm of contraction and begin to trap air. This is the first stage in a possible sequence of terrible events.

Bloat and stomach twisting

Torsion is probably the most well known of the Great Dane health problems, although it does occur in other giant and large breed animals. The Great Dane stomach is a large organ and sits in the abdomen a lot like a hammock. It is anchored, or attached to the esophagus at one end and the duodenum of the upper intestine at the other. And except for some shared blood vessels with the spleen, it isn’t really attached to anything else.

For some reason, the stomach will sometimes twist over on itself, from 90 to 360 degrees. This is almost always associated with bloat and once this torsion occurs, the stomach is effectively shut off from the rest of the Danes anatomy. The gas and fluid build up within the stomach cannot be relieved because both ends of the stomach are twisted shut. The stomach continues to expand and starts to put pressure on the blood vessels in the abdomen, restricting blood circulation.

This leads to low blood pressure and starts to affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. At the same time, the stomach lining starts to become septic due to the absence of blood circulation and the digestive enzymes within the stomach start to concentrate and become toxic. And while all this is going on, the stomach continues to expand.

This is an excruciatingly painful event for your Dane and it won’t be long before shock sets in. In 40% of all cases, this is a fatal condition. Cause of death is either shock, cardiac arrest or rupture of the stomach.

Treatment

For any bloat or stomach twisting event, professional medical assistance needs to be sought immediately. This is a life threatening condition. Also understand that even if the stomach has not twisted, bloat is still very dangerous. It is true that bloat that does not develop into stomach twisting is not usually fatal by itself. But it can be. So even if your Dane has had a gastropexy (see below) and you suspect a bloat event, seek immediate assistance.

One of the first things that the vet will do is put the dog on an intravenous fluid to combat shock. The next step will be to relieve the pressure in the stomach. If it is a mild case, an immediate and large dose of antacid medication might do the trick.

But often this will not be sufficient and the vet will try inserting a tube down the throat and into the stomach to allow gas to expel. If the stomach has twisted, this might be difficult but in some cases is still possible.

If the twist is too tight, the next option will be a large bore needle in the abdomen and into the stomach. And if that doesn’t relieve the pressure, or the vet suspects the stomach is rupturing, the only option left is emergency surgery which entails an abdominal incision to open the organ up.

Regardless of the method used to relieve the bloat, if torsion has occurred, the only way to fix this is with surgery. The vet will have to go into your dane and manually untwist the stomach.

Your vet will also recommend a gastropexy which essentially means stapling or attaching the stomach to the lower rib. This will prevent further episodes of stomach twisting. This advice should be considered very carefully, because if your Dane has bloated once, statistically she is very likely to bloat again.

Expect your beautiful Dane to stay with the doc for a couple of days. Although the worst has probably past once treatment is rendered, the danger has not been completely removed. For one thing, your Dane will be utterly exhausted and will need real rest – probably with an IV for a day or two.

Secondly, there is a risk of something called reperfusion. This is a poisoning caused by the release from the stomach of the concentrated toxins produced during the bloat. The vet will want to monitor this very carefully – and of course, you will to. The animal hospital will be the very best place for your Dane for a couple of days.

First Aid in bloating emergency

Most vets advise that in the event of bloating, you only have about 45 minutes to get your Dane to medical help – any longer and the risk of death is extremely high. If that isn’t possible –for instance if you live further than 45 minutes from help – you may have to do emergency first aid yourself.

The first thing to do if bloat is suspected is to get a large dose of antacid into your Dane. Sometimes, if caught early enough, this will be sufficient to alleviate the buildup of gases before real trouble begins.

If this doesn’t work, or it appears to late, many Dane owners keep a bloat emergency first aid kit handy. This consists of a stethoscope, stomach tubing, tape, antacids, a large bore needle, and instructions. It may be necessary to attempt to insert the stomach tube yourself to relieve some of the pressure. It is still vital to get your Dane to the vet, but this will buy some precious time. We recommend Dane owners discuss this first aid kit with their vets.

Symptoms

A bloating event does not show the same symptoms every time. There have been many surveys of Dane owners who have gone through this and there are many different descriptions. One common denominator at the onset of the event, is that the dog starts showing “weird behavior”. Something isn’t right, but nothing specific. They get very restless. If they could talk, they would probably tell you something didn’t feel right in the gut, but unfortunately we Dane owners aren’t always attuned to that.

Pacing back and forth often occurs. Your Dane may not be able to lie down –frequent down and ups and pacing have been described. If the dog does lie down, it is characterized by front paws extended fully (sometimes a sign of pain).

Your Dane may start to dry retch, like he is trying to throw up but can’t. Breathing will get rapid and shallow and as the stomach expands, it will start to look distended.

Certainly, if the stomach is bulging and/or feels very taut, the odds are pretty good you’re facing a bloat emergency. Take action immediately! Another quick check will be the color of the gums. When a dog goes into shock, the gum color changes going red, then grey, then finally white. If this is happening, don’t screw around. Save your Dane.

Preventing Bloat?

Can you prevent bloat? Probably not in all cases, particularly if it is hereditary. But there are precautions and every day habits that might be able to reduce the chance of this occurring.

The first and obvious precaution is the gastropexy. Not only will this prevent the truly life threatening stomach twisting from occurring, it also appears to reduce the instance of just bloat. Many vets will –or should – discuss doing this procedure when your Dane is being spayed or neutered. Some breeders argue that this does not occur in the natural world and so shouldn’t be something we do to our animals.

We cannot recommend a gastropexy highly enough. Perhaps it isn’t natural. But for one thing, we need to remember that the Great Dane was bred by man – a giant like this does not occur in the natural order. And secondly, we can’t tell you the relief we have because we don’t have to worry about stomach twisting every time our Bismarck is out leaping around like a kangaroo!

Another good Dane owner practice is to feed two or three times a day with smaller portions, vice one large portion. Some breeders believe torsion may be caused by allowing too much food in the stomach at once.

Still others argue that exercise too soon after a meal might be a reason. There is no proof to support this (in fact over 50% of bloating events occur at night, no where near meal time or exercise) although it doesn’t hurt to avoid exercise for 90 minutes after a meal.

It also doesn’t hurt to watch your Dane’s diet very carefully. Don’t give a Dane a food with a soy bean base – very gassy. And there is more and more anecdotal evidence that raw dog food really does reduce the instance of bloat.

Of course, keep stress out of your Dane’s life. Not always possible – a trip to the vet for checkups stresses ours out. Dogs can get stressed very easily and we all know how sensitive our strong Danes are! But never forget that most breeders do agree, stress is the one characteristic most see before a bloat emergency.

And finally, be prepared. Know what bloat and stomach twisting are and what it can do. If you aren’t near medical support, get a dog first aid kit and know what to do with it.

Bloat and stomach twisting are not the number one killer in Danes but it is probably the most widely known Great Dane health problems . It is certainly the most horrible. It is sudden, agonizing, and leaves you no time to try and figure out what to do. As a responsible Dane owner, you have to be prepared beforehand and react properly. With a fatality rate of 40% for this health emergency, your Dane needs you to be prepared if this ever happens.

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