Both Bloat and Gastric Torsion are a disorder, and they are not the same.
Bloat describes the condition of a distension of the stomach with a lot of gas buildup. Bloat is not the healthy occasional passing gas as in farting.
The distension of the stomach is triggered by a paralysis of the stomach lining, such that the gas which is produced in the stomach upon processing meals cannot escape.
The paralysis of the stomach lining is caused by a poor diet - dry "food" (kibble) or high carb fatty meals - and by the administration of antibiotics and other medicaments that indiscriminately destroy gut bacteria which would normally allow the stomach lining to release excess gas.
This distension of the stomach with gas (ie Bloat) may or may not be followed by Gastric Torsion.
Gastric Torsion describes the condition of a twisting of the stomach such that entry and exit of the stomach get blocked while food is being processed inside and builds up more gas.
Thus Gastric Torsion is the end result of Bloat in dogs where twisting of the stomach occurs. For anatomical reasons this is predominantly the case with deep-chested dogs, like for example German Shepherds.
The twisting happens quite easily when a full, heavy stomach is being moved abruptly during exercise like jumping. As the blockage of entry and exit of the stomach makes it impossible for digestive gases to ever escape, Gastric Torsion is almost always fatal!
In fact, the only chance of survival is that within less than 60 minutes the stomach is being successfully punctured to allow the gas buildup to escape. But even then, the leakage of stomach fluids into other tissues and organs often causes death soon thereafter.
Thus do not ever allow your dog to exercise after food intake.
The problem with Gastric Torsion is, you cannot see or feel if the stomach is twisted, you only see that your dog is struggling with Bloat and you can feel that the belly is firm, hard, and bulging.
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 in either direction - 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 with this condition, but most dogs will die within an hour. The rapid development of this disorder 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 Suffers Bloat or Gastric Torsion
For anatomical reasons, deep-chested dogs like German Shepherds are most susceptible to Gastric Torsion, while any dog can suffer Bloat.
The initial paralysis of the wall of the stomach can have different causes, but there is no doubt that the administration of antibiotics and certain other medicaments is one such cause, because antibiotics destroy the beneficial bacteria in the gut that allow the gut walls to release excess gas.
German Shepherds are at high risk to suffer Gastric Torsion, at an even higher risk are the Great Dane and Bloodhound.
There does not appear to be any association with gender or age of the dog. Gastric Torsion has been reported in young adults as well as older dogs.
There are no known tests of susceptibility either to Bloat or Gastric Torsion, but it is known that even an entirely healthy dog can suddenly suffer Gastric Torsion after a large dry or fatty or high carb meal combined with exercise!
Industrial dry "food" is the biggest culprit because the stomach needs to extract large amounts of fluid from the body in order to digest the dry "food".
Exercise after a large meal is another big culprit because abrupt movements can readily twist the full stomach (weight is subject to gravity).
The first warning signs can be seen without even looking at the dog:
- giving the dog a large dry or fatty or high carb meal
- exercise after a meal
- gulping down the meal
- stress during or after a meal
- dog is breathless after a meal (dyspnea)
- excessive passing gas after a meal
- excessively large abdomen (distended)
- dog stands, lies still, or moves only with caution
- vomiting after a large or dry meal
Preventing Bloat and Gastric Torsion
Do not fall victim to the modern myth that industrial dry "dog food" is "balanced and complete". It isn't even food, it's costly toxic waste marketed as the best there can be.
Instead, the only truly balanced and complete food is what our domesticated dogs have been raised on for thousands of years: natural foods, foods from nature! Cooking or steaming the food for better digestion is fine, but that's it, no processing.
Likewise, 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 larger dog like the German Shepherd healthy if you provide all the food (s)he needs in a single large meal. Rely on common sense, not myths.
In fact, here probably more than with the other ailments, a planned regime of dog meals, meal times, feeding routine, and regular exercise is the best way to prevent Bloat and Gastric Torsion altogether!
Two or three smaller natural food meals spread over the entire day and a good supply of fresh water as well as regular exercise will make the occurence of this fatal ailment unlikely, because there will be little gas production in the first place. And regular exercise stimulates stomach and gut activity.
Another important factor in avoiding Bloat and hence also Gastric Torsion is that you get your dog to eat slowly.
However, most eat-slow remedies are ineffective, they don't make the dog eat slower (for example Portion Pacers). And a few eat-slow remedies force the dog to a bite-by-bite treasure hunt or they slip all across the floor, both of which causes the dog much distress during food intake which may well lead to Bloat more than a normal bowl would have done!
The best compromise we have found that really make the dog eat slower without causing distress are this stainless steel Eat-slow bowl that we have ourselves, and alternatively this Eat-slow bowl (which is even more effective but made of plastic, surely not ideal to eat from every day).
Both these Eat-slow bowls justify their name, they gently make the dog eat slower. The benefits of slower and more relaxed food intake:
- better digestion
- better absorption of nutrients
- dog feels full quicker
- reduced risk of Obesity
- reduced risk of Vomiting
- more relaxed and so better behaving dog!
- reduced gas production and passing gas
- reduced risk of Bloat and Gastric Torsion!
Treatment of Bloat and Gastric Torsion
Once Bloat does occur, treatment is difficult, and you don't know if Gastric Torsion is developing too.
Further, at the time you notice that your dog is breathless after a meal, an emergency call may already be too late.
Therefore if you overlooked your own first two warning signs, it may be life-saving that you closely observe your dog after a large dry or fatty or high carb meal, and all the more when exercising your dog after such meal (although you would then likely overlook this too).
Unfortunately there isn't much treatment you can do when the stomach is already distended. If you notice that the dog is breathless after a meal, and you touch the stomach and it feels distended, your only treatment option is to render first aid to the dog by puncturing 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, note that this not only requires that you get all your confidence together in one of the most stressful moments you can have in your life, but also it is not necessarily 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).
There is no uniformly successful method to relieve the distension. Although a stomach tube can be passed, and this can - theoretically - be done by the owner, this does not help in cases with major twisting of the stomach since the entrance to the stomach is obstructed by the twist in the esophagus.
Nevertheless, 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.