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German Shepherd Bloat or Gastric Torsion

gastric torsion

First, Gastric Torsion, or twisting of the stomach, is the (mostly fatal) end result of Bloat, and Bloat is not the occasional passing gas as you may have associated it with.

Bloat means distension of the stomach with gas. This happens as a result of a paralysis of the wall of the stomach, so that the gas which is produced in the stomach upon processing meals cannot escape.

The distension of the stomach with gas (Bloat) may or may not be followed by twisting of the stomach (Gastric Torsion). But if the stomach indeed is twisted, you have an emergency case: The dog is then likely to die within 1 or 2 hours. When the stomach is severely dilated and congested with gas, it will often rotate about an axis in the plane of the esophagus. This occludes both the entrance to and the exit from the stomach, so that the gas which is produced in the stomach cannot escape, giving further rise to the distension. The stomach may even be deprived of blood, and the spleen is often also enlarged and twisted.

An affected dog may live up to 36 hours but many will die within one to two hours. The rapid development of this ailment is explained by the pressure of the enlarged stomach on the vena cava, the large vein which carries blood to the heart from the abdomen and hind legs. As a result of this pressure there is an inadequate amount of blood returning to the heart, so that it cannot function effectively as a pump, and therefore the blood pressure of the dog falls. This produces shock and rapid death.

Who Gets Bloat or Gastric Torsion

For anatomical reasons, large dogs like German Shepherds are most susceptible to Gastric Torsion, while any dog can contract Bloat. The initial paralysis of the wall of the stomach can have multiple causes, and there is no doubt that the administration of antibiotics and certain other medicaments is one such cause.

German Shepherds have a medium risk to contract Gastric Torsion (high risk are the Great Dane and Bloodhound). There does not appear to be any association with the sex or the age of the dog. Gastric Torsion has been reported in young adults as well as fully mature dogs. Even an otherwise healthy dog can contract Gastric Torsion suddenly after a large meal. There are no known tests of susceptibility either to Bloat or Gastric Torsion.

Warning Signs

Bloat has a sudden onset, usually within one to two hours of eating a large meal. The dog is first breathless and, if examined closely, the abdomen is excessively large.

The dog will stand, lie still, or move only with caution. It will generally pass feces and gas so that eventually the entire gut with the exception of the stomach has been emptied. There are often attempts at Vomiting (see 29), although these attempts are rarely successful if the stomach is already twisted (Gastric Torsion). When the stomach becomes grossly distended, there is severe difficulty in breathing (Dyspnea).

Avoiding and Treating Bloat and Gastric Torsion

This is a good time to stress our regular plea for healthy dog meals, regular meal times, and a consistent feeding routine - which we have explained as an essential part of House Training a Dog. Do not fall victim to the ancient myth of "one dog meal a day". No matter what exercise regime you practice, you cannot possibly keep a large dog like the German Shepherd healthy if you provide all the food it needs in a single large meal. Use your common sense, not myths.

In fact, here probably more than with the other German Shepherd ailments, a planned regime of dog meals, meal times, feeding routine, and regular exercise is the best way to avoid Bloat and Gastric Torsion altogether. Even if it is hereditary too (which is unknown), two or possibly three smaller, healthy meals during the entire day that are balanced in nutrients, plus permanent supply of a bowl of fresh water, will make the occurence of this fatal ailment unlikely, because there will be little gas production in the first place. In addition, regular exercise stimulates stomach and gut activity.

Another important factor in avoiding Bloat and hence also Gastric Torsion is that your German Shepherd does not gulp the food but instead eats slowly. This is extremely difficult to achieve with Dog House Training, and most Eat-Slow remedies are a waste of money. For example, the problem with Portion Pacers and the average Eat-Slow bowl is that your German Shepherd will quickly learn to remove the obstacle, to shift the food to an easier spot, or even to turn the bowl over.

Based on comparisons of all owner feedback, there exist only two types of Eat-Slow bowls that really make your dog eat much slower: The best Eat-Slow bowl is made of sturdy plastic, the second-best Eat-Slow bowl is made of heavier aluminium. Both these Eat-Slow bowls justify their name. The benefits of slower food intake:

  • better digestion
  • better absorption of the nutrients
  • your dog feels full quicker
  • reduces risk of Obesity (see 25)
  • reduces Vomiting (see 29)
  • reduces gas production (and passing gas)
  • reduces the risk of Bloat and Gastric Torsion!

Once Bloat does occur, treatment is difficult, and you don't know if Gastric Torsion is developing too. When you notice the last warning sign, difficulty in breathing, an emergency call to the vet would likely be too late. Therefore it's sensible to call the vet when you notice the initial warning signs mentioned above after a large meal.

If your dog cannot be treated immediately by a vet, you may at some point be forced to render first aid to your dog. However, there is no uniformly successful method to relieve the distension. Although a stomach tube can be passed, and this can be done by the owner, this does not help in cases with major twisting of the stomach since the entrance into the stomach is obstructed by the twist in the esophagus.

Some owners puncture the stomach with a large-bore needle so that the gas can escape. It is probably best to do this on the right side of the dog over the point of greatest distension. However, again, this is not always successful. The needle can become obstructed by stomach contents, and there may be a leakage of fluids and gas into the abdominal cavity with risk of Peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum).

Nonetheless, if your dog is severely affected and no vet in sight, you may have no choice but to attempt one of these methods to relieve the Bloat before the onset of Gastric Torsion.

  17 Responses to “German Shepherd Bloat or Gastric Torsion”


    i am a new German shepard owner i need all the information i can get. this was very helpful.


    My vet wants to attach the stomach to the dods abdominal wall as a precaution to gastric torsion. This article does not mention this. Do you recommend doing that?


      I also forgot to mention the possibility to stop feeding the dog. This too is a great “precaution to gastric torsion”.

      Hey! Do you get the humor? ;-)
      G, there are tons of possibilities, what you can do, and what you can leave out. That surgical procedure is sth to leave out (obviously).
      INSTEAD, do what we recommend, and your dog most likely will not ever even experience bloat, and certainly no gastric torsion:

      1) Perform the Feeding Routine exactly as we recommend
      a) ie incl. a completely calm dog before the meal (Gesture Eating, Sitting before eating, etc)
      b) and incl. using an eat-slow bowl that fulfils what its name claims

      2) Adhere to consistent Feeding Times, such that your dog learns from experience that (s)he’ll get another meal (otherwise dogs don’t actually know!), and thus (s)he is unlikely to scavenge (most common reason for gastric torsion!)

      3) Feed a balanced diet of natural foods (ideally homemade) – not commercial kibble and such (full of questionable additives)

      1, 2, 3 – easy as a,b,c. And your dog won’t have a problem (and you neither). Okay? :-)


    I am learning to explore your site better and I am finally seeing periodicals that were posted long before I joined. I lost a German Shepherd at age nine to gastric torsion, and it is a horrible way to lose a pet. I knew what it was immediately, but as it happened overnight, when I found her in the morning it was well advanced. We rushed her to the vet, and into surgery, but it was too late for her. But I learned.
    I now feed twice a day, at the same time. She never gulps her food down, so thanks for that.
    We take a walk (WALK, no heavy exercise) after she eats.
    I keep her weight on the lean side.
    Pray for the best!


      I have just lost my 9 year old best friend because I was not aware of any of these symptoms. I wish that my vet educated me on this twice a day feeding since they asked all the time and I advised just once a day. It was a horrible way to go in my view. I just did not know and now kicking myself. Get educated on everything.


    I just lost my 11 yr old GSD to stomach bloat. He was fed twice a day, no exercise before or after eating. I thought I was doing everything right. It came on so quickly & he was crying with pain.


      Oh how terrible! So sorry for you! Gastric Torsion always comes as a shock. Sadly it affects quite a lot of GSDs. But of course nothing can ease your pain now. At least doggy heaven is wonderful. He’ll stay with you.


    My buddy Apollo was a victim of bloat at the age of 18 months. His stomach and spleen rolled over on him. unaware of the danger of bloat my wife, Leslie was playing in the back yard with him with a garden hose shortly after he had his dinner. We were amazed that such a large dog could actually do a flip in mid air. Well, he got very sick, vomiting mostly froth and with such a stench. Remember, we were ignorant to what had happened to him so, concerned, we didn’t panic. The next morning Leslie called me at work and told me Apollo had dug a large hole in the back yard and was laying in it and that she thought he was dying. He received emergency surgery at Noah’s Arc Animal Clinic where they tacked his stomach to his rib cage during surgery (a normal procedure for large breed dogs during spaying). We were told of the slight chance of a successful surgery especially with the eleven hours or so that had passed before seeking treatment. I’m happy to say that on the weekend of October 30th, The Harkenreader Household will be celebrating Apollo’s 4th birthday! Noah’s Arc touts him as a rare success story from bloat.


      You were so much luckier than you can imagine! :-)

      >they tacked his stomach to his rib cage during surgery (a normal procedure for large breed dogs during spaying).
      No, it isn’t, it’s pretty dangerous too.


    I lost her last sunday …I was puzzld as it was sudden death and today I came to knw da fact ….yes it was bloat …..she was cute grlmy lifelinejst .4 yrs old..tough to live without her …luvu kelly ma sweethrt


    My 11 week old gsd pup just vomiited what looks like a lot of bubbles and also excreted some watery stuff, he has not eaten anything since and will not eat at all. Could this be a symptom of bloat or gastric torsion??? :(


      No Ekow, sounds like poisoning from scavenging/food. Give him a lot to drink, and if he doesn’t even want to drink it’s a sign I would take him to the vet straight away.

      The general principle is: If vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hrs =>> vet! For more, see our free MyGermanShepherd Health Manual.


    My loving GSD named Jordan passed away today evening at 05.30 pm due to same reason mentioned in above blog .it was born on 11.11.2011 .i was the lucky one owner of such pet .i will miss u JORDAN .


      Hello, Aarti,

      I’m sorry to read of your recent loss. I experienced the same, watched it occur, and the guilt is too much some days. My loss occurred last September and I’m still grieving. I adopted my 125 lb, a beautiful companion German shepherd/anatolian shepherd x, 9 years ago at the age of 2. I knew he was bloating and could not get him to an emergency vet in time. I watched him die in pain. I failed him miserably in the end. I recently adopted another large breed trying to move forward and give another life a good home. Still, I just cannot get over the guilt from the other loss just four months ago. I hope you are coping your recent loss.


    I lost my 13 yo gsd Saturday march 7 2015 from gastric distress. She was the joy of my life and I will miss her always. Now she’s gone all what’s left are my tears


      My 10 year old GSD also suddenly left me on Saturday, March 7, 2015 around 2:00 a.m. I saw her only 15 minutes earlier when I got up to check as I heard her go from her bed in another room fast down the hallway to the kitchen, stumbling twice. I don’t know if Sophie died of bloat, her blood work was recently okay, even normal for degenerative myelopathy as her rear legs had begun to collapse. Two weekends before, she stopped eating and had excessive thirst until I mixed canned food with the dry. Then Thursday at 5:30 a.m. her rear legs gave out on the stairs and she was stuck until I helped her. The next night she couldn’t sit or lie down to sleep until I gently forced her. For the next five days she was back to normal in all respects on Rimadyl. Her happiness ended on Thursday evening after she vomited 10 times water and bile. She got very weak and could hardly walk or lift her head by Friday, the last hours. This is devastating to not know why. She did not seem to be in pain and her stomach felt okay to me. Her body was shutting down so fast.


        Carolyn, this is very sad, I feel with you.

        An autopsy or sometimes a final blood test could answer why it came so suddenly.
        Rimadyl (Carprufen), Meloxicam and similar NSAIDs are lightheartedly prescribed by allopathic medics, but I have repeatedly written about their often devastating effect on overall health (as have many reputable holistic veterinarians). A simple read through drugs.com would have told you: “can cause serious effects on the stomach or intestines, including bleeding or perforation … these conditions can be fatal and can occur without warning“.

        Commercial dog food (both dry food and canned food) is no better either. I have repeatedly written about what’s in it and how it’s produced (in rendering plants), as have many reputable holistic veterinarians. Those who have read it/know it, stop feeding commercial dog food instantly (they are shocked/angry).

        We only feed fresh homemade human-grade foods, for a reason. Health. The ordinary veterinarians in the world only recommend (and sell!) commercial foods, for a reason. Veterinarians run a business. But we raise a dog. Naturally, our understanding of what’s good for dogs is diametrically different.

        None of this can comfort you now. But maybe you want to keep it in mind for the future, so I thought I take the time out to write it here. Again.

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