Stomach torsion in dogs: cause, symptoms, treatment and prevention


Stomach torsion in dogs is a condition that should not be taken lightly. Knowing how to recognize the symptoms is essential, it is always fatal if it is not treated urgently by a surgical operation.

Causes of stomach torsion in dogs

Stomach torsion mainly affects large dogs with a deep thorax (Labrador, Doberman, Saint Bernard, etc.) The risks increase with age, but there is a small “chance” that it will happen to a puppy.

There are many different causes for this condition. Here is a list of the main ones:

  • Dogs having eaten in large quantities too quickly, and / or having aerophagia.
  • Too much water or air absorbed (panting, or too rapid hydration).
  • Gastrointestinal illnesses such as hiatus hernia or inflammation of the intestine can predispose the dog to this syndrome.
  • Too much physical activity after a meal, or too much stress.

Symptoms of stomach torsion: how to recognize them?

During digestion, due to food in the stomach, gas quickly builds up and the stomach begins to swell. The stomach thus dilated, can then turn on itself (in general in the direction of clockwise), then obstructing the entry way to the esophagus and the exit way to the intestine, liquid and air can then no longer come out. This then causes ischemia (decrease in the blood supply to an organ), which can cause necrosis in the stomach or intestines.

In some cases, the spleen, carried away by the torsion of the stomach, can rupture and thus trigger internal bleeding.

The dog will then try to vomit by rounding his back but without success, moan, have the abdomen swollen, and may also start scratching the ground compulsively. He will have a high heart rate, as well as low blood pressure (hypotension). He will also refuse to lie down, because of his abdominal pain.

If you spot one or more of these signs during or around mealtimes, call veterinary emergencies immediately.

Treatment of stomach torsion in dogs

Urgent infusions and drugs are given to try to counter the dog’s state of shock. A trocar is placed (large needle or catheter) in order to decompress the stomach from the accumulated gases. The dog is then anesthetized and a tube is passed into the stomach via the esophagus in order to empty and rinse the stomach as much as possible.

The stomach is replaced and anchored on the right side of the abdomen to prevent recurrence. During surgery, signs of necrosis are looked for on the organs. Necrosis found on the stomach requires ablation. If too many areas of the stomach are affected, euthanasia is unfortunately necessary.

If the spleen has been carried away in the movement of the stomach and therefore has been severed, removal will be necessary. However, a dog can live without its spleen, but in 40% of cases where the spleen has been severed, the animal exhibits cardiac arrhythmias, which can be fatal and which require special treatment.

Finally, post-operative care will be explained to you by your veterinarian, depending on the progress of the operation.

Possible complications?

Being a sudden problem, requiring urgent surgery, some complications can unfortunately occur. Although rare, death during the operation can occur. Infection, although infrequent with modern strict sterilization techniques, and administration of antibiotics to the animal, can occur.

If several organs have started to fail, bleeding disorders can occur and sometimes lead to death.

Recurrence of stomach dilation can occur despite the operation due to a functional defect in the stomach muscle.

Cardiac arrhythmias, on the other hand, are a fairly common complication, and can occur several days after the operation, and can unfortunately be fatal if they become too frequent.

It is difficult to know if the dog will have complications following the operation, given the large number of factors that can intervene depending on the case. We only know that an animal that has been found to have gastric necrosis will be much worse than others.

Prevention of stomach torsion in dogs

All this is scary, it is a problem which can turn out to be very serious and which must be dealt with with extreme urgency when it happens. But don’t panic, there are preventive methods to avoid this tragedy:

  • split the daily meal into two or three times, rather than giving the meal all at once; this will prevent the dog from throwing himself on his bowl.
  • promote a mixed diet, between croquettes, pâtés and household rations.
  • avoid making your dog engage in heavy physical activity after a meal. Let it digest for an hour or two.
  • avoid stress in dogs.
  • make sure the dog does not eat too quickly. An anti-gluttonous bowl, large croquettes or pieces of meat that will force it to chew well will be effective.

Finally there is preventive surgery, gastropexy. It helps to minimize the risks in breeds susceptible to this problem. The operation can be performed from six months, at the same time as sterilization, it presents little risk; anesthesia and hospitalization times are shorter and the cost is less than with symptoms of stomach dilation.

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