“Todd, keep an eye on Beau—he’s going to throw up,” said Robyn Salvo of Jackson, NJ, as she sent the Salvos’ eight-year-old German Shepherd to join her husband in the backyard. It was a regular Saturday night three weeks ago; Beau had been fine all day, but was now retching and acting distressed.
Once in the yard, Beau squatted as if to defecate, but nothing happened. He continued to pace, pant and dry heave. As Todd put his arm around the dog to comfort him, he felt that Beau’s stomach was hard as a rock. “At that point, I knew he was in trouble,” Todd recalls. “Twenty years ago, before I got my first German Shepherd, I read a book about the breed. I somehow remembered what I had read about bloat and stomach torsion—and Beau was showing several of the classic signs. I knew that if he didn’t get help right away, he could die.”
Food bloat is a condition—rarely life-threatening—in which the stomach swells because a dog has eaten too much, too fast. However, the word “bloat” is often used to refer to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), or stomach torsion, a much more serious condition in which the stomach twists around in the body. GDV is fatal if not treated promptly. A dog who overeats and has a full, uncomfortable stomach is not the same as a dog who suffers from GDV, and a veterinarian is the only one who can distinguish between the two and make the proper diagnosis. While the causes of GDV are unknown, deep-chested breeds such as Shepherds, Boxers, Akitas and Great Danes are more prone to being stricken.
After calling ahead to see if there was a surgeon on site, Todd and Robyn put Beau in their car and raced to the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic. Beau was X-rayed, and within 10 minutes a vet told the Salvos that their dog did indeed have GDV—his stomach had flipped. Less than two hours after he began exhibiting symptoms, he was rushed into emergency surgery, where 20% of his stomach had to be removed due to tissue death. At that point, the Salvos were told that his chance of survival was 50-50.
Happily, Beau is a strong dog and pulled through with flying colors. He is back home with his family, and his stomach is now attached to his abdominal cavity wall so it cannot twist out of place again.
It was extremely lucky that the Salvos were home when Beau’s GDV struck—but when it came to taking correct action, Todd’s knowledge, rather than luck, made all the difference. “The biggest lesson from this that I hope to pass on to others is to research breeds and their potential health problems before you bring home a dog,” says Todd. “Don’t choose a dog based solely on looks. You need to find out what kinds of medical issues you might be in for, especially as they age. After finding out, if you still want that breed—as I did with German Shepherds—you’ll be better prepared to help them if something goes wrong.”
To learn more about bloat and GDV, visit our Dog Care section.