( Gastric Dilatation & Volvulus )

Below is the story of Gambler's experience with bloat, which appeared originally as the second in a series of four articles on bloat published by Ginnie Saunders on her DaDane of DaWeek (click here to read the series). I am republishing it here, with permission, because of the importance of knowing the symptoms and getting immediate help. Everyone who lives with a Great Dane should be familiar with the condition and its symptoms, and know ahead of time what to do.


Bloat — From Fear to Recovery

Bloat. The very sight – or sound – of the word was always enough to turn my own stomach inside out and send fear racing deep inside the darkest corners of my mind. It was always as though seeing or hearing the word would bestow the same horrid fate upon my own dogs. Every new report of a dog who had bloated was quickly scanned, and then deleted, in hopes that I was somehow banishing the condition from my house. And always later, when my heart had stopped racing, my rational mind would allow me to revisit the reality of life with a Great Dane. At times when I felt less threatened, I would think calmly about what I would do if the situation ever presented itself. I even met with my trusted veterinarian to make sure he and I had a strategy worked out for all the possible scenarios. And I worried endlessly about it.

And then it happened – incredulously fast. I was feeding both dogs at 6PM on a Sunday evening. Gambler suddenly backed away from his bowl, and I knew something was wrong. He never, ever leaves food in his bowl. I watched him carefully, but saw nothing. I picked up his bowl and by then Maggie was finished. I cleaned up and went to my computer to check email. As soon as I sat down, I heard an awful retching sound. I ran from the computer room to the living room, where I found Gambler trying to throw up, but there was none of the “bellows” sound of pumping that typically precedes it. I brought him into the kitchen where the light was better, and saw that Gambler's sides were quickly swelling and his belly was tight like a drum head. After a few brief moments of panic – peppered with expletives – I grabbed the Phazyme, opened several capsules, and shoved them down his throat. But they were coming back up, and my hands were so slippery from that foamy mucous that was covering his mouth that I couldn’t pick them up and try again. Then I realized it wasn’t going to matter. Gambler had obviously torsioned, and the Phazyme wasn’t going to get to his stomach anyway. Time to stop that and try something that might work.

Overcoming the Fear
I was shaking like a leaf, and had to have a talk with myself. There wasn’t time for panic and muddled, emotional thinking. As long as I live, I will never forget the distressed look of panic and pain on Gambler's face. He seemed to be pleading with me to make it go away. I finally gathered my wits, and remembered my vet’s cell phone number. I knew he lived an hour away, so it was urgent to contact him immediately because with bloat, every minute counts. Dr Joe answered my call on the second ring. Without hesitating, he left a house full of company to drive to his office and meet us.

Knowing there was a possibility that Gambler would go into shock before Dr Joe could get to his office, I loaded him into the van right away while he could still get in on his own (just as I had planned it out in my mind for so many years). He was heaving up huge masses of the thickest, stickiest, foamiest white slime I have ever seen. It was all over the house, the van, and me. I couldn’t imagine where it could be coming from if he was twisted, but it was there. And it wouldn’t come off of my hands. I tried several times to wash it off, and it was only after using a pot scrubber that I was able to get it off my hands – only to be covered with it again.

Emergency Surgery
Dr Joe had called his vet tech and asked her to meet me at the clinic to get things going while he drove in. Gambler was able to walk in under his own power, and we got everything ready for surgery. As soon as Dr Joe got there, he started prepping him. I couldn’t watch as the incision was made, but I stepped back into the surgery once Dr Joe had him open, and I had shifted gears to a less emotional, and more analytical state of mind. When Dr Joe opened him up, he found both Gambler's spleen and stomach had torsioned. We were incredibly lucky to have gotten it so quickly. There was no damage, so Dr Joe rotated everything, did a gastropexy and sewed him back up.

After moving Gambler out of surgery, we sat on the floor with him and waited and watched while he recovered from the anesthesia. Dr Joe said he was concerned about his heart, because it is common to have heart problems after a torsion. He said when the stomach and spleen are rotated back into position and the blood supply is restored, dangerous toxins that were created by the blood-starved organs during the period of torsion are released back into the blood stream. These toxins can be deadly, and often affect the heart. We had one scare when Gambler's breathing became very irregular. By the time Dr Joe grabbed his stethoscope and got over to him, it had straightened itself out and his heart was steady. By 3AM, the two of us were loading Gambler back into the van. We drove him home and got him into his own bed. Dr Joe had to be back at his clinic early the next morning, so he spent the rest of the night at my house, trading two hours of driving for an extra two hours of sleep. I stayed by Gambler's side, reassured by the knowledge that Dr Joe was in the guestroom on the other side of the house, should anything go wrong.

The Painful Aftermath
By 8AM the next morning (Monday), Gambler was in quite a bit of pain. Dr Joe gave him a shot of Torbugesic, then left for the clinic. Gambler reacted very badly to it. He started shaking so hard that he couldn’t even sit; when he tried to sit, he rolled over backwards. I was in tears, thinking he was convulsing. I called Dr Joe at his clinic, and he rushed back over and gave Gambler a shot of acepromazine (ACE), and that settled him down quickly. In the meantime, we needed to find another way to control the pain. I dreaded having to give him another shot of Torbugesic. A friend suggested using a Fentanyl patch (morphine) instead. Dr Joe agreed. The Fentanyl proved to be very effective and it made a huge difference in his recovery. By the time the ACE and Torbugesic had worn off, the Fentanyl was being absorbed into the skin. By late Monday evening, Gambler was moving around and alert again. Dr Joe later remarked that there was no question that the use of the Fentanyl patch had contributed to Gambler’s quick recovery.

Recovery, and Some Advice
Once his pain was under control, attention was redirected to supporting Gambler with lots of fluids. To avoid nausea and to help keep his electrolytes in balance, I used Pedialyte rather than water. The scariest part of his recovery was feeding him. Gambler was very reluctant to eat, and I was scared to death to feed him, even though I knew he had to eat! On Tuesday I started with a small amount of a thin gruel made with i/d and Pedialyte, and used a syringe to put small amounts into his mouth. Gradually, he took more and more, and began eating it out of his bowl. He quickly regained his strength and appetite. Within a week he was back up to his normal daily amount except that he was eating smaller amounts more frequently.

During that week of recovery, Gambler lost almost 25 pounds, and getting the weight back on him has proven difficult. However, he looks and feels great, and is happy and active. Knowing he has been tacked does provide a certain peace of mind, although I know it is not a guarantee that we won’t have to deal with this again in the future.

In hindsight, having a game plan ahead of time was very helpful. The most critical element of the whole plan though, was having an excellent working relationship with Dr Joe and having included him in making plans for such an event. The more you can do to stack the odds in your favor, the better off you will be when it happens.

I have always said that my Great Danes have provided me with a tremendous learning experience over the 9 years that I've enjoyed living with them, and this was probably the most difficult lesson of all. It gave new meaning to the word “emergency,” and it gave me a new appreciation for these magnificent creatures. It made me realize just how much these dogs mean to me, and impressed upon me once again the tremendous responsibility we have in caring for them.

Gambler personally thanks Dr Joe and Emily two months after his successful surgery.


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This page last update November 20, 2004