Browsing tag: Boxers

Gastric Torsion in Dogs

Also known as Bloat, Twisted Stomach, Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus or GDV, this condition is one of the most serious emergencies in small animal practice, and it can make all the difference to the outcome if it is recognised immediately.

There are two parts to this condition, the bloat and the torsion. Bloat is when the dog’s stomach fills up with gas, fluid, froth or a mixture of all of these, to a far greater size than normal. Torsion (volvulus) is when the whole stomach twists inside the abdomen so that it is closed off at both its entrance and its exit, just like a sausage which is twisted closed at both ends.

They may both occur together, or one may lead to the other. If bloat occurs first, the enlarged stomach is at greater risk of torsion. If torsion occurs first, bloating will definitely result. No food can leave the stomach, so it ferments, and no gas can be belched up.

Annie, a Gordon Setter, suffered with bloat but survived thanks to her owner spotting the signs

Annie, a Gordon Setter, suffered with bloat but survived thanks to her owner spotting the signs

The effect of the swollen stomach is that it presses on all of the other vital organs close to it. The breathing will become difficult and if the large blood vessels within the abdomen get squeezed so much that they cannot allow blood flow, then other organs will begin to shut down. The stomach wall and the spleen can become necrotic or dead due to loss of blood flow, and this releases toxins into the bloodstream. It is very painful, and if not corrected, the dog will die.

The reasons for this condition occurring are not fully understood, but there are some well known and definite risk factors. The condition happens mainly in larger breeds, particularly those with a deep-chested shape like Great Danes, German Shepherds, Setters, Wolfhounds and Boxers, but these are not the only breeds affected. It also happens more (but not exclusively) in dogs over 7 years of age, and it is more common in males than in females. The risks increase if the stomach is very full, either with food or with water, so a dog which is fed once daily and eats very quickly, or gets access to the food store and gorges itself, would be at higher risk. Exercising after eating or after a big drink also increases the risk.

Symptoms

The onset of a gastric torsion is usually very rapid. The dog can appear quite normal one minute but once symptoms start they very quickly get worse. The most common symptoms are some or all of:

  • Restlessness, anxiety
  • Discomfort, followed by worsening pain
  • Arched back, reluctance to lie down
  • Drooling saliva or froth
  • Attempts to vomit (retching) with little being brought up
  • Swollen abdomen, often feels hard and if tapped feels like a balloon
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pale coloured gums and tongue
  • Collapse
  • Shock, possible death

It is vital to get veterinary attention as soon as possible if you suspect bloat or torsion. Always phone your surgery or your emergency service first as it will save valuable time if you go to the right place where the staff are prepared for your arrival.

Occasionally, there can be a slower onset. This may mean that the stomach has bloated without twisting, but there is still a high risk of torsion occurring so advice should be sought from your surgery.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing the condition can be very straightforward if a dog is showing all of the classic symptoms. X-rays may be needed to confirm it. Blood tests will probably be taken to find out how serious the changes in the blood are, because changes in the circulating levels of salts in the blood can be life-threatening. These will be treated with intravenous fluids given quickly and at high volumes. A stomach tube may be passed, but this will not be successful if the stomach has twisted because the tube will not be able to get through the obstructed entrance. The vet may decide to decompress the stomach (let some gas out) by inserting a needle into the dog’s side. The order in which these procedures may be carried out will depend on just how ill the dog is.

A surgical operation will be needed to untwist the stomach, to check for damage to the organs and to try to prevent it from happening again. Some will need immediate surgery and others will need to be stabilised first to improve their chances of survival. Some dogs have to have part of the stomach or the spleen removed if the damage has been severe. The surgery is very high risk especially if the dog is already in shock because of the effects on the circulation and breathing.

When successful surgery is carried out, with the stomach and spleen returned to their normal position or repaired if damaged, it is common to perform a procedure to try to stop the condition occurring again, known as a gastropexy. There are different ways of doing this, but the aim is to anchor the stomach to the abdominal wall so that it is unable to twist. It could still bloat, but hopefully the consequences would not be so serious.

The survival rate following this condition varies a lot, but sadly, many dogs die each year from gastric torsion. The survival rate is better in younger dogs and if immediate treatment is given.

Prevention

  • Be aware of the signs to look out for
  • Feed larger dogs two or three smaller meals a day
  • Do not allow your dog to exercise after eating or after a big drink
  • Try to discourage rapid eating by separating competitive dogs at feeding time
  • Try a specially shaped feeding bowl designed to slow eating down
  • The effects of type of food and feeding from a raised bowl are under constant review and more research will show whether these are significant or not
Martha with her young friend Tilly

Martha with her young friend Tilly

I suspect that most vets never forget the first case of gastric torsion that they see. Mine was in a Great Dane, which I worked on all night with the help of two nurses. That one was fortunate and survived. It was a great moment for all of us when it left the surgery mid-morning the next day. The nurses jokingly told me that there was another one on the way in but I didn’t believe them, at least, not until I saw it walk in, arriving just as the first one left. Since then I have treated many dogs with gastric torsion and it is always memorable and always a challenge.

My own boxer Martha died of this condition last year despite very prompt attention and all preventative measures being in place. Sadly, her age was against her and our only consolation is that her suffering was very short-lived.

If you are concerned about your dog’s health, talk to your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

Diary of a Puppy’s First Year

The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old

The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old

Choosing our pup

We had decided the time was right to get a second boxer for all sorts of reasons. Most importantly, it was right for our older boxer to get a new companion while she was still young enough to enjoy her instead of finding her a chore.

We chose a breeder who owned both parents of the litter and went to see them all when the pups were 5 weeks old. We met both parents and found them to be lovely dogs. We wanted a bitch puppy and were lucky enough to have 4 to choose from. Luckily we both liked the same pup best, so we paid our deposit and went home to prepare for her arrival.

Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.

Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.

Tilly comes home

We had decided as a family on the name Tilly, although her full pedigree name is Milkyways Mad Discovery! The middle name is particularly apt. Like most pedigree puppies who are Kennel Club registered, she came with 6 weeks pet insurance cover and we made sure to take out our own policy before this expired. Although I’m a vet myself, I want to be sure that even if she needs specialist treatment one day, she will be able to have it.

House training

We chose to use a crate for Tilly, which worked really well. The idea is that because the puppy will not soil its bed area, as long as she is taken outside every time she wakes and after each feed, she will quickly learn to toilet outside. It’s vital that the puppy does not think of going into the crate as a punishment; it must be a comfortable den which becomes the pup’s own space.

Microchipping

I implanted a microchip as soon as Tilly arrived, to make sure she was permanently identified. Although she was not going to be out of our sight, we weren’t taking any chances! It was painless and she was as good as gold.

Feeding

We chose a good quality proprietary puppy food and Tilly was a good eater from the start. Having another dog can encourage a healthy appetite!

Vaccinations & Worming

Tilly had her first and second puppy vaccinations at 10 weeks and at 12 weeks old. She had a full examination first and was completely healthy. She also continued her worming course, which is very important as most pups are born with worms even if the dam was wormed properly.

Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.

Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.

Training Classes

A week after vaccinations were finished, Tilly could start exploring the outside world and get used to walking on a lead. She didn’t like it at first, but soon grew in confidence when she saw that Martha liked it. We enrolled her in a puppy training class because we think that all puppies benefit not just from training but from the socialisation that goes with it. The first few months are a very formative time in a puppy’s life and an ideal time to learn from new experiences. With this in mind she was taken for walks in the country, in town and on the beach. We took her on a train ride and visited a dog-friendly café. It was also important to us that she should get used to young children.

Kennels

We also wanted Tilly to be used to going into kennels from a young age. This was easy for us as we run our own kennels and we have made a point of boarding both dogs regularly. Luckily, she loves it. Sometimes when the kennel staff go back to work after tea breaks she tries to tag along with them!

Neutering

Tilly has not been neutered because we have not yet decided whether to breed from her. We will only do so if she has a suitable temperament and is free of hereditary conditions common in boxers, so she will be seeing a cardiologist before deciding. If anything is amiss we will not breed from her and will have her spayed.

I would always recommend spaying a bitch which is not going to be used for breeding. Although spaying is a major operation, great care is taken to make sure that the risks involved are very small. The benefits are much greater than the risks. Spaying will prevent several serious conditions such as pyometra (infected womb), ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. It will also minimise the risk of mammary cancer and, importantly, will prevent unwanted pregnancies.

First Birthday

At one year old, Tilly has almost reached full adult size, but still behaves very much like a puppy. One minute we are very proud of her mature behaviour; the next she is chasing her tail like a whirling dervish, or doing a double take at her own reflection in the oven door. When the oven is opened, I think she half expects the dog that lives inside to pop out!

We are looking forward to many more years of fun with Tilly.

Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door

Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door

She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible

She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible

If you have any concerns about your puppy’s health, please contact your vet or use the interactive dog symptom guide to help you decide what to do next.

Epulis: a gum problem seen mainly in boxers.

Tilly aged 1 year and Martha aged nearly 11

Tilly aged 1 year and Martha aged nearly 11

Although I love dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds, I do have a bit of a soft spot for boxers. We have owned one or more for over 20 years.

Personality-wise, you might describe the boxer as a mixture of boisterousness, joyfulness, fearlessness, even brainlessness, but with a huge enthusiasm for everything about life.

All breeds have certain conditions to which they are pre-disposed, that is, more likely to suffer from than their friends of other breeds. One such condition in boxers is epulis, a lumpy overgrowth of gum tissue. Other breeds can get epulis, but not as commonly as in boxers.

Epulis is a benign growth of the gum tissue, which begins as small bumps on the gums and continues to grow, sometimes becoming cauliflower-like and almost enveloping some of the teeth. Unlike a malignant growth, it does not spread to other areas of the body. It can cause problems when the growths become large and when food and bacteria become trapped in the crevices, causing infection, a bad smell and sometimes bleeding. Sometimes the centre of the growth will become quite solid and almost bone-like.

Removal may be necessary if it is extensive or causing these problems. It is carried out under general anaesthetic to prevent pain and to allow access to all the affected areas of the mouth. The growths are simply cut away, either with a surgical blade, or more commonly, by thermocautery or electrocautery. These techniques seal blood vessels as they cut and so prevent bleeding. Thermocautery uses heat to do this, and electrocautery uses an electric current running through the cutting instrument.

Pain relief is usually given after the procedure and any infection will be treated with antibiotics. Examination under a microscope of the removed tissue (histopathology) may be advisable as it can be difficult to distinguish from other types of mouth tumour with the naked eye.

The condition is likely to re-occur given time. Martha, for example, has had two anaesthetics in her life for the removal of epulis, and each time she has also had some minor dental work done. She currently has a lovely full set of nearly-pearly-white teeth and healthy gums.

Jenny Sheriff BVM&S  MRCVS

If you are concerned that your dog may have an epulis you should consult your vet for advice. Use the interactive symptom guide if you are unsure how urgently you need an appointment.

More Useful Information

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Simple ways to check the health of your pet. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examiniation.

Medicating your pet

Arming you with the same simple techniques for stress free pill giving.

Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.