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Gastric torsion in dogs: causes and preventive measures

The topic of gastric torsion should give any dog owner pause for thought, because it is far from a trivial condition: it can be a life-threatening situation for your pet.

In this article, you will learn how to recognize gastric torsion – a bloated, twisted stomach – in your dog, and how to behave in response in order to save its life. In addition, we will explain how you can take preventive measures so that this urgent situation never arises.

What is gastric torsion?

The Latin term for gastric torsion is torsio ventriculi, and the fact that it is possible for dogs to suffer from this condition at all is due to the fact that their stomachs are not connected to their abdominal cavity. Instead, the stomach is held in place by ligaments, meaning that it is highly flexible.

When gastric torsion occurs, your pet’s stomach twists around its own access. This causes its entrance to become blocked, so that no air can escape and nerves and blood vessels are trapped. Consequently, the body suffers from inadequate blood flow and oxygen supply, which causes a fatal collapse in the body’s circulatory system within a few hours.

Possible causes of gastric torsion

In principle, gastric torsion can occur in all breeds of dog. Nonetheless, the extent of the risk varies between breeds. Large breeds in particular, such as the Great Dane and herding dogs, are particularly at risk that of gastric torsion over the course of their lives.

Moreover, the risk increases as the dog gets older, as the gastric ligaments in older dogs are often stretched thin, making them less robust. The risk is also higher in dogs whose parents have suffered from gastric torsion than those where this is not the case.

Apart from these risk factors, a few factors can at least increase the chances of gastric torsion. These include feeding with only one meal per day. Similarly, the risk is increased if the dog runs around immediately after feeding.

In addition, a diet based mainly around dry food – which swells significantly in the dog’s stomach – or excessive stress are also possible triggers that can make gastric torsion more likely to occur.

How to recognise gastric torsion

A number of indicators can point to gastric torsion. This includes a highly bloated stomach, which is caused by the build-up of air in the stomach.

Moreover, you should watch out for the following symptoms:

  • The dog tries to vomit, but cannot manage to do so.
  • Your pet appears unsettled and changes position strikingly often.
  • It suffers from a shortage of breath and a significantly elevated heart rate.
  • Its mucosal membranes are very light in colour and it drools extensively.
  • Its back is cured and its stomach appears concave.
  • Its mood is apathetic, ending in collapse and unconsciousness.

First-aid measures

Unfortunately, there is no way for dog owners to provide suitable first-aid treatment to help in cases of gastric torsion. Remain as calm as possible and seek veterinary treatment immediately.  Due to the urgency, you should contact the vet before arriving at the surgery, so that appropriate preparatory measures can be taken. Your dog can be allowed to walk if it is capable of doing so; if not, the dog must be carried.

Veterinary treatment

Gastric torsion can only be treated by surgical intervention. For this reason, the vet will place your dog under general anaesthetic to restore the stomach to its correct position. To prevent the condition from reoccurring, the vet will also stitch the stomach in place at a few positions.

Despite timely veterinary treatment, the risk of fatality is still around 30%, as gastric torsion can be accompanied by several complications. These include a tear in the stomach wall, cardiac arrhythmia (disruption to the heartbeat), or simultaneous torsion of the spleen.

Options for prevention

As you will appreciate, gastric torsion is a serious issue. For this reason, you should do everything possible to avoid it as, if the right steps are taken, the risk can be reduced considerably. After eating, your dog should rest for two hours, with running around or playing being prohibited during this period.

In addition, you should avoid stress at mealtimes and ensure that your dog does not “wolf down” its food too quickly!  Moreover, it is worth splitting up your dog’s daily rations into two or three meals per day, as this means that your dog’s stomach does not have to deal with too much food at once.

In addition, you can also reduce the risk of gastric torsion in your dog by supplying the right food. For this reason, we recommend feeding a cereal-free, cold-pressed dog food.

Dry dog food, which is manufactured using a cold-press process, does not swell as much in the stomach, and thus helps to reduce the risk of gastric torsion.

We therefore recommend that you feed your dog with one of our cold-press manufactured Country Feasts, which are available in flavours such as Meadow Feast (with chicken) or Natural Feast (with insect protein).


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