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How to Prevent Your Dog's Stomach from Twisting
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Have you ever blown up party balloons?
You huff and puff, the balloon gets bigger and bigger….then….BANG! It bursts.
Now imagine that balloon was a dog's stomach. There is a condition called bloat where the stomach fills with air. In itself, this would be OK because the dog could pass wind and get rid of the air. However, if the stomach twists the dog is then in serious trouble. With the air from fermenting food trapped, the stomach swells and swells, with life-threatening consequences. This is known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV)
Sadly, some dogs from breeds with a deep chest are prone to bloat, especially German shepherd dogs, Dobermanns, Great Danes, Weimaraners, and Rottweilers. Any dog owner should take basic common sense steps to minimize the risk of a twisted stomach, but special care is needed with these breeds at increased risk.
Feeding Choices and Prevention
There is a strong link between the risk of a twisted stomach and gulping down air, fermentable foods, and portion size.
Feed on the floor: The current advice is to feed the dog from the floor. Previously, raising the bowls off the floor was advised, but this has now been proven as unsafe.
Slow up eating: Whatever diet the dog eats, if he is a greedy gulper he's at risk. Use puzzle feeders or other behavioral methods to slow up his guzzling habit.
Portion Control: Avoid feeding one large meal a day. Multiple smaller ones are better.
Change foods slowly: Transition from one diet to another slowly, over several days. This allows the gut bacteria to adjust and reduces the risk of gas formation or a stomach upset.
Canned food: Dogs fed on wet food or wet mixed with dry have a statistically lower risk of bloat than those fed on dry food alone.
Feed a meat-rich dry food: Chose a good quality dog food with meat listed in the three main ingredients.
Avoid cereal-rich foods: Cereals and soy are highly fermentable, which leads to gas. Avoiding foods bulked up with these cheaper ingredients is a wise move. Avoid foods where cereals or soy head up the ingredients list.
Care with dry foods and citric acid preservative: Avoid adding water to dry foods that contain citric acid as a preservative.
Lifestyle Choices and Prevention
Simple actions, such as not exercising with 60 minutes either side of a meal, make a big difference.
Exercise: A full stomach is heavy and more likely to twist during exercise. Never walk immediately after eating. Indeed, ensure the dog is quiet and rested for 60 - 90 minutes after each meal.
Avoid stress: Anxious, stressed dogs are more prone to bloat. Encourage a relaxed atmosphere at home and avoid stressing your dog. Try strategies such as reward-based obedience training to encourage co-operation, build confidence, and establish safe boundaries in the home. Look at dynamics within the home, such as if one dog is being bullied by another. If there's a problem, speak to your vet about referral to a certified behaviorist.
Water: Do not allow the dog to bolt down large volumes of water
Selective Breeding: Bloat seems to run in families. It is inadvisable to breed from dogs that have themselves suffered a GDV.
Surgical Choices and Prevention
Some dogs are at such high risk that preventative surgery should be considered.
Gastropexy: This is a surgical procedure where the stomach is sewn to the body wall. While it doesn't prevent the stomach bloating, it does stop it twisting. Some vets routinely offer a prophylactic gastropexy at the time of desexing, in breeds such as German shepherds or Dobermans that are notorious for bloat.
A twisted stomach is life-threatening and requires immediate emergency treatment and surgery. Even so, some dogs don't make it. Far preferable is to prevent the problem in the first place. While this is not always possible, you can go a long way to reducing the risks.
Sensible steps such as two to three meals a day, of canned food, placed in a bowl on the floor are not hard to take. While it takes a little planning to avoid exercise after feeding, it's usually not difficult to establish a routine that works for every and is going to help your best buddy be around for many years to come.