In the early hours of Christmas morning 2010, Bernie* a Saint Bernard from Tallebudgera was presented to Animal Emergency Service. His owner woke at approximately 6am and noticed Bernie dry reaching with a bloated abdomen.  The 3 year old was rushed straight to the Carrara clinic and examined by Dr Philomena Kwong who diagnosed GDV and advised his owner that emergency surgery was required. So, while many were waking to open their presents, Dr Kwong and Dr Robert Webster prepared for the operation to save Bernie’s life.

GDV short for Gastric Dilation Volvulus is the twisting of the stomach at the digestive tract.  Gas distension occurs causing the stomach to bloat and expand.  The spleen may be damaged if twisting interrupts blood supply and if not treated quickly, death can most certainly be imminent.

Symptoms of GDV can include discomfort for no apparent reason, bloating of the stomach, weakness, depression, difficulty breathing, hyper-salivation and as mentioned with Bernie, retching without vomiting.

Treatment includes intravenous fluid therapy and decompression of the stomach soon followed by emergency surgery to place the stomach back into its correct position.  In Bernie’s case, anaesthesia was induced as well as intravenous fluids.  A midline celiotomy was performed and exploration of the abdomen revealed the stomach had already de-rotated and was not severely distended.  A gastropexy was then performed attaching the stomach to the right abdominal wall in an effort to prevent future reoccurrences.  A central line and urinary catheter were placed and Bernie was transferred to the Animal Emergency Service Intensive Care Unit for constant monitoring during the post-operative period.

By 8.30pm that evening, Bernie became hyperthermic and stressed.  He was actively cooled with a fan and additional IV fluid.  After this initial deterioration, Bernie was slowly weaned from his oxygen therapy and his morphine reduced.  Antibiotics were administered and he showed great improvement overnight.

By Boxing Day, Dr Webster noted Bernie’s recovery remained routine and vital signs had remained normal throughout the day.  While he wasn’t willing to eat, he drank water without complication and these observations improved by the next day when Dr Lisa Brumby found Bernie was progressively brighter and commenced eating and was able to walk outdoors, allowing his urinary catheter to be removed.

After successful monitoring and treatment, Bernie was discharged to go home on the 28th December 2011 (3 days after presentation) with instructions to keep rested, have small meals often rather than one large meal a day, and visit his regular veterinarian in 10 days for a post-operative examination and suture removal.  Another successful day at Animal Emergency Service.

To avoid your pet suffering from a GDV (especially but not confined to large breeds such as Saint Bernards, Great Danes, Rottweilers etc), serve small meals through the day rather than a large meal once.  Avoid play or exercise after large meals or drinks, and monitor your pet to assure they aren’t consuming large volumes of water in one go.  Hopefully, this will help you avoid the situation Bernie found himself in, but if you do notice symptoms as mentioned above, the most important advice we can give is for you to get your pet to a veterinarian as a matter of urgency.

(*Bernie’s name was changed to protect his identity)

Written by Solange Newton