Posted By: Greg - Vet

Vets Diary - Lizzie is April's Pet of the Month

Old English sheepdogs are an unmistakeable and much loved breed, and 10 year old Lizzie is the perfect example of one. However, like other larger breed dogs, they are at risk of a life threatening form of bloat. Having owned the shaggy coated dogs for most of their life, Lizzie’s owners were aware of the signs of this condition and fortunately their quick actions ended up saving her life - after a trip to the vets and an emergency surgery.

Gastric dilation and volvulus (commonly shortened to ‘GDV’) is a veterinary emergency which occurs as a result of the stomach bloating and twisting. The condition is life threatening and often fatal if left too long without veterinary attention, and affects only large or ‘deep chested’ breeds – this is because the stomach has enough room to swing, and then become twisted. The situation is an emergency as the blood vessels that supply the stomach twist which can lead to the tissue lining dying away, rupturing the stomach and massive internal blood loss. This fatal process can happen within an hour or two so it is really important to spot the symptoms and visit the vet as soon as possible – surgery is the only cure.

Lizzie had just been reunited with her owners after a spell in kennels, and was so excited to see them that her jumping up had caused her stomach to twist, not long after eating a few treats. This is most commonly the cause of a GDV – activity after a recent meal, as the food gives the stomach weight to swing around. A few minutes later, and Lizzie wasn’t looking very bright at all; she became restless and lethargic. She was panting, drooling and retching without bringing anything up – these are all tell-tale signs of a GDV. Most crucially, she displayed the classic symptom of bloat – her ‘abdomen’ (or belly) had become very quickly and noticeably swollen.

Knowing the symptoms to look out for, Lizzie’s owners made an emergency visit to the vets and she was examined promptly. Her gums were very pale and her heart rate was very fast – she then needed to be admitted to the practice to investigate further and confirm the suspected condition. Pain relief and a fluid drip were given to Lizzie immediately, and an X-ray was taken which showed an enlarged, gas filled stomach. This confirmed our worst suspicions and meant surgery was needed to save Lizzie’s life. Her owners consented to surgery and by this time the fluid drip had stabilised her enough for her to undergo the general anaesthetic required.

To surgically correct the GDV, the stomach needs to be ‘de-rotated’ – twisted back into its right position. This must be done very gently and carefully, because the bloated stomach is like a delicate but dangerous water balloon that must not burst. Once de-rotated, a tube can be passed to empty the stomach contents and the blood vessels and tissue can relax after being relieved of pressure. Immediately the stomach lining looked a healthier, pinker colour, and her heart and breathing rate lowered to become stable. After this though, the surgery is not complete as steps must be taken to make sure this doesn't happen again. The best way to do this is to stitch the stomach to the body wall. A cut is made into the muscle of the body wall and a flap is cut out from the lining of the stomach, and then the two are stitched together. This will hopefully mean that part of the stomach fuses to the body wall, which will stop the stomach from twisting out of position.

Lizzie recovered from the anaesthetic very well, and the surgery proved to be a success. After a night’s hospitalisation she rediscovered her appetite and was able to be discharged home, under strict instructions to have small, frequent meals and very restricted exercise whilst the stitches kept the stomach in place. By the time Lizzie’s skin sutures were removed she had made great progress and could slowly return to normal life – she had her owners to thank for spotting those important GDV symptoms so early.


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