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German Shepherd Bloat or 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.

  27 Responses to “German Shepherd Bloat or Gastric Torsion”

  1.  

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

  2.  

    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? :-)

  3.  

    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.

  4.  

    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.

  5.  

    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.

  6.  

    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

  7.  

    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.

  8.  

    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.

  9.  

    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.

      •  

        The vet told me later she took an x-ray of the dog’s stomach when we brought her in to be cremated and it showed no bloat. She just died healthy, of old age, as 10-1/2 is the average age for a GSD. That makes me feel much better.

  10.  

    My 7 year old German Shepherd was just diagnosed with Bloat and Gastric Torsion last night. I came home at 5:00 p.m. after being gone for 1.5 hours and found him drooling, largely bloated, lethargic and pale waiting outside on my deck. If I had come home any later, I was told, he may have died. I phoned the emergency line for the local vet clinic, and met the vet within 15 minutes of the phone call. They did 3 x-rays, and determined that there was definitely gas build up. Then he was tubed 3 times, once with a smaller tube and twice with a larger tube. The vet was happy the tube was able to go through and it helped to release the gas build up. At 7 p.m. he was still at the vet and appeared ok. By around 10:30 the gas was building up again and at 12:00 a.m. they were prepping for surgery. I am so extremely thankful to report that the surgery was a success, however there is still the chance of developing sepsis through any leakage etc. This happened so quickly. Today I wait for feedback on his healing and understand that he will be overnight for a few more nights to ensure he’s healed. What a fright! I wish all dog owners the best of luck when it comes to this horrific diagnosis. I am thankful that we were able to act quickly and hope that he heals and is back to his 100% beautiful shepherd self.

  11.  

    Tim, I have loved reading your periodicals and all the wealth of information you have provided for us all. I am in debt to you for all your hard work into this site. We were so excited for our new puppy and loved him so much. He was a sick boy since we brought him home just a little over 5 weeks ago.

    During exploratory surgery on him yesterday he was found to have a severe case of Intussusception and we had to make the hard decision to have him put down. The vet even thought it was the best thing, he would have had to have all of his small intestine removed and there were problems starting with his large intestine too. Czar was 12 weeks, 6 days and the light of our life in his short time with us. Just another thing for us all to think about for our puppies . . . Diarrhea and not eating well can just mean so many different things.

    Thank you again Tim, for everything.
    Czar’s family

    •  

      Oh Miki!! So sad to hear that! And that you who has been a model dog owner.
      I am sure your decision was the best, avoiding a life of suffering for all of you.

      You will find happiness for the family again! Very soon. Best wishes for that!

  12.  

    Question: Is it best to raise the bowls off the floor or to keep them floor level?
    Thank you!

    •  

      Good question, there are conflicting research results, and that’s because the big research studies on this topic have not considered the DIET – but the DIET is the KEY risk factor when (pseudo) vets argue with Bloat or Gastric Torsion (which is what our article here is about). The (allegedly) biggest study on the topic of raised dog bowls at least makes this key point obvious already in its own title: “non-dietary risk factors …”! Thus this “study”, like all the other “studies” on the topic, should go straight in the bin.

      So if you ask me (you did), I say: Don’t worry about raised vs non-raised bowls, worry about WHAT you feed! For the reasons explained in our Periodicals (free) and in My New Puppy Diary (almost free), if you feed kibble then your dog’s risk to die of Bloat or Gastric Torsion is exponentially higher, and likewise the risk of living with immune system disorders thanks to the toxicity of kibble from rendering plants, and then to die of cancer. :shock:

  13.  

    My beautiful 131/2 year old boy Junior suddenly died yesterday. He is fed 1 time a day at around 6 PM. He eats very good, drinks a lot of water and poops and urinates regularly. He has been taking Vetprofen 2 times a day for about a year or so with regular blood tests which have been normal. He has had increasing difficulty walking due to weakness and arthritis in his hips. His exercise capacity has decreased due to this problem. He has had 2 surgeries in the past 3 years for tumors on rear leg tendon. He made it like a champ through this. So all in all he was doing quite well. Last night around 2 hours after eating he started gagging but did not produce any vomit. His breathing was becoming
    labored and his stomach was gurgling. He vomited flem once during the night and was very lethargic and you could see he was in distress. His stomach became quite distended and hard. Breathing was gurgled and becoming more labored. He took his last breath at 4:45 AM in our arms.We are totally devastated!! We knew he was old and that the end was coming but we weren’t prepared for this so suddenly! Is there any possibilities that this could have been bloat? We are also concerned that he suffered through this! Can some help?

    •  

      Sorry Linda, it sounds like bloat, yes.
      The next dog please feed three times daily natural foods. Minimum two times daily if unhealthy commercial dry food (hopefully not).
      Glad he had a long and happy life.

      •  

        This was our 2nd Shepherd and we were always told to feed 1 time a day! They never ate it all at once usually throughout the day. Sometimes the following morning. Does the dog suffer with this? We are in Northern WI with no 24 hour vets close. Could a vet have done anything considering his age??

      •  

        >and we were always told to feed 1 time a day!
        But now you are here Linda. Forget what people “always told” you, apply your common sense. We here don’t tell anything without explaining WHY. That’s a key difference.
        Cause you need to understand sth, so that you want to apply it consistently. And so that you don’t get distracted by people who “always told” you otherwise…

        In the end, at MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG we just try to train people to use their common sense. To develop their common sense. The MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL explain WHY we recommend the Feeding Times we do. It all makes a LOT of sense, you know.

        I have no more time now, sorry, got to get through another thousand comments or spam.

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