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.
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.