Dog Health Alert!

Little did I know, but my parents were very busy last night. Our Irish wolfhound Liath was a very sick little hound indeed. Her stomach swelled up hard and hollow like a drum and stopped making digestive noises, she kept retching and hacking unproductively, she foamed gunky slobber at the mouth, she didn’t want to lay down, her heart raced, and she kept trying to find a place to hide.

What they (and I) didn’t know is that this is called bloat. It’s the earlier form of that killer condition, torsion — which is when the stomach or the intestines get twisted by all that gassy bloat. But even if torsion didn’t occur, the chances were extremely good that Liath was going to die from bloat alone.

Now, my parents did give Liath simethicone anti-gas pills, which was exactly right. And it probably didn’t hurt that they gave her plain yogurt and massaged her stomach to try to release the gas.

But they did not take her to the 24 hour vet hospital, and that was wrong. If need be, the vet could have released the gas with a needle directly through the stomach wall, given her other helpful medicines, and used an X-ray to find out what else was going on in her innards — like torsion. If they had taken her, she would have gotten immediate attention. Bloat is always a dire emergency. It is nothing to fool around with. (And some dogs even re-bloat, right after getting their stomachs decompressed!)

Bloat makes lots of bad things happen to a dog’s body — toxins in the blood, heart strain, bloodveins to important organs blocked, important tissue slowly dying — and torsion is even worse. Dogs can have heart attacks or go into shock, too. If any of these things happen, the dog can die in less than an hour, or suffer on and on for an interminable time before having a painful death. So the fact they didn’t go to the vet is pretty scary. (Especially since they suspected it might be something like torsion, and we lost one of our previous wolfhounds to that.)

As it happened, Liath finally managed to pass a mighty burst of wind through her constipated guts, and that seems to have relieved the whole problem. (If a dog manages to burp, that’s also a good sign.) But frankly, I’d be a lot happier if Mom and Dad would take Liath for a checkup before they take her on vacation. (Especially since they’re traveling to a state not known for medicos who care about their patients, so I assume that veterinary care is probably as bad or worse.)

Bloat and torsion are more common in deep-chested dogs, like Irish wolfhounds. But all dogs can get it. So please be aware of the symptoms.

The major cause of the disease is not understood well at all, but it seems to be associated with wolfing down dry kibble, drinking lots of water, jumping around, and then having the bad luck to have the stomach’s rhythms disrupted for some unknown reason. The last part is the important part, of course. (Liath didn’t drink an unusual amount, didn’t run around at all before or after, and only ate her normal evening ration of food.)

The major way to try to prevent the disease is to feed the dog more than once a day. Feeding the dog kibble that’s already been sitting in water half an hour, or including more meat or table scraps, also seem to reduce the incidence of bloat and torsion. But nothing is sure.

Dogs who have gotten bloat once are more likely to get it again. There is a surgical remedy, though — sewing part of the stomach to the wall of the body. It sounds gross, but is apparently pretty simple and effective. So a lot of folks have it done for their puppies at the same time as when they go to be spayed or neutered.

Liath was always fed twice a day, since she’s always bolted her food. But she is going to four times a day now. I am going to work on my mom to wet down Liath’s food a little. Other than that, I don’t know what we can do. She can’t have surgery, since wolfhounds are apparently notoriously bad at surviving anesthesia.

She seems to be all right now, and I hope she never gets bloat again. But people need to know that this can happen, and what they should do.

“Stomach Bloat in Dogs” by Anita R. Weidinger, D.V.M.

A bloat FAQ

Bloat in dogs

Bloat statistics and risk factors

More bloat statistics

Raised dishes — good or bad? Plus other comments on the Purdue bloat study.

Bloat First Aid has a list of stages of bloat and appropriate things to do about it.

If you’re really desperate, the vet’s far away, and your dog’s all shocky, here’s “How to Tube Your Dog” by Karen Leshkivich, DVM. This article explains how to safely work a tube down a dog’s throat to let the air out of his stomach, as well as a few other emergency bloat treatments. Read this and be prepared, I’d say. (If this link disappears, try “tube your dog” as a Google search term, and use the Google cache if need be.)

Bloat First Aid also has pictures of the tube procedure.

Gaysie Mae’s bloat story

Signs of bloat noticed by owners.

Bloat links

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