Gastric dilatation-volvulus...Bloat

VSSF Admin - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What is bloat?

Saint BernardGastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is also known as "bloat," "stomach torsion," or "twisted stomach." Bloat is an extremely serious condition, and should be considered a life-threatening emergency when it occurs. There are no home remedies for bloat, therefore dog owners must contact their veterinarians immediately if they suspect that their dog has bloat. Dogs can die of bloat within several hours. Even with treatment, as many as 25-33% of dogs with GDV die.

The gastric dilatation is one part of the condition and the volvulus ortorsion is the second part. In bloat (dilatation), due to a number of different and sometimes unknown reasons, the stomach fills up with air and puts pressure on the other organs and diaphragm. The pressure on the diaphragm makes it difficult for the dog to breathe. The air-filled stomach also compresses large veins in the abdomen, thus preventing blood from returning to the heart. Filled with air, the stomach can easily rotate on itself, thus pinching off its blood supply. Once this rotation (volvulus) occurs and the blood supply is cut off, the stomach begins to die and the entire blood supply is disrupted and the animal's condition begins to deteriorate very rapidly.

Not all dogs that have a gas buildup and resultant dilatation develop the more serious and life threatening volvulus. However, almost all dogs that have a volvulus develop it as a result of a dilatation.

Bloat is a very serious and life threatening condition. Understanding the signs, prevention, and need for prompt treatment will help reduce the risk of mortality if your dog develops this problem.

What dogs are more susceptible?


There is a definite link between the likelihood of occurrence of GDV and the breed and build of the dog. GDV is much more likely to occur in large breeds with deep, narrow chests. The problem can occur in small dogs, but only rarely. The University of Purdue conducted a study of hundreds of dogs that had developed GDV, and they calculated a ratio of likelihood of a particular breed developing the problem as compared to a mixed breed dog. For example, using the GDV risk ratio, a Great Dane is 41.4 times more likely to develop GDV than a mixed breed dog.

Breed GDV Risk Ratio Risk Rank

Great Dane



Saint Bernard






Irish Setter



Gordon Setter



Standard Poodle



Basset Hound



Doberman Pinscher



Old English Sheepdog



German Shorthaired Pointer






German Shepherd



Airedale Terrier



Alaskan Malamute



Chesapeake Bay Retriever









Labrador Retriever



English Springer Spaniel









Golden Retriever









Miniature Poodle




In addition to breed predilection, there appears to be a genetic link to this disease. The incidence is closely correlated to the depth and width of the dog's chest. Several different genes from the parents determine these traits. If both parents have particularly deep and narrow chests, then it is highly likely that their offspring will have deep and narrow chests and the resulting problems that may go with it. This is why in particular breeds we see a higher incidence in certain lines, most likely because of that line's particular chest conformation.


Dogs over 7 years of age are more than twice as likely to develop gastric dilatation and volvulus as those who are 2-4 years of age.


Male dogs are twice as likely to develop gastric dilatation and volvulus as females. Neutering does not appear to have an effect on the risk of bloat.

Eating habits

Dogs fed once a day are twice as likely to develop GDV as those fed twice a day. It appears that dogs who eat rapidly or exercise soon after a meal may also be at increased risk.


Dogs that tend to be more nervous, anxious, or fearful appear to be at an increased risk of developing bloat.

What causes gastric dilatation and volvulus?

There is no one particular activity that leads to the development of GDV. It appears that it occurs as a combination of events. Studies of the stomach gas that occurs in dilatation have shown that it is similar to the composition of normal room air suggesting that the dilatation occurs as a result of swallowing air. All dogs, and people for that matter, swallow air, but normally we eructate (burp) and release this air and it is not a problem. For some reason that scientists have not yet determined, these dogs that develop bloat do not release this swallowed gas. There are currently several studies looking into what happens physiologically in these dogs that develop GDV.

What are the signs?

The most obvious signs are abdominal distention (swollen belly) and nonproductive vomiting (animal appears to be vomiting, but nothing comes up) and retching. Other signs include restlessness, abdominal pain, and rapid shallow breathing. Profuse salivation may indicate severe pain. If the dog's condition continues to deteriorate, especially if volvulus has occurred, the dog may go into shock and become pale, have a weak pulse, a rapid heart rate, and eventually collapse. A dog with gastric dilatation without volvulus can show all of these signs, but the more severe signs are likely to occur in dogs with both dilatation and volvulus.

How is gastric dilatation and volvulus treated?

When the dog is presented to the hospital his condition is assessed. Blood samples are generally taken and tested to help determine the dog's status. Usually the animal is in shock, or predisposed to it, so intravenous catheters are placed and fluids are administered. Antibiotics and pain relievers may be given.

The air in the stomach is removed either by passing a stomach tube or inserting a large needle into the stomach and releasing the gas. After the animal is stabilized, x-rays are taken to help determine whether or not a volvulus is present.

Some dogs with GDV develop a bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), in which small clots start to develop within the dog's blood vessels. To prevent or treat this condition, heparin, an anticoagulant, may be given.

The heart rate and rhythm are closely monitored. Some dogs with GDV develop heartarrhythmias, and this is a common cause of death in dogs with GDV. Dogs that already have a heart disease or are prone to heart arrythmias are generally treated with appropriate medications.

Once the dog is stabilized, abdominal surgery is usually indicated to accomplish three things:

  • Assess the health of the stomach and surrounding organs. If areas of the stomach or spleen have been irreversibly damaged, they are removed. In such a case, the chances for recovery are very poor, and euthanasia may be an alternative.

  • Properly reposition the stomach

  • Suture the stomach in a way to prevent it from twisting again (a procedure called gastropexy). If gastropexy is not performed, 75-80% of dogs will develop GDV again.

After surgery, the dog is closely monitored for several days for signs of infection, heart abnormalities, DIC, stomach ulceration or perforation, and damage to the pancreas or liver. Antibiotics and additional medications may need to be given.

How is gastric dilatation and volvulus prevented?

Despite adopting all of the recommendations listed below, a dog may still develop GDV. Because of the genetic link involved with this disease, prospective pet owners should question if there is a history of GDV in the lineage of any puppy that is from a breed listed as high risk. In addition, the following recommendations should be followed:

  • Owners of susceptible breeds should be aware of the early signs of bloat and contact their veteriarian as soon as possible if GDV is suspected.

  • Owners of susceptible breeds should develop a good working relationship with a local veterinarian in case emergency care is needed.

  • Large dogs should be fed two or three times daily, rather than once a day.

  • Water should be available at all times, but should be limited immediately after feeding.

  • Vigorous exercise, excitement, and stress should be avoided one hour before and two hours after meals.

  • Diet changes should be made gradually over a period of three to five days.

  • Susceptible dogs should be fed individually and, if possible in a quiet location.

  • Some studies suggest that dogs who are susceptible to bloat should not be fed with elevated feeders; other studies have not found this to be true. It is recommended, however, that dogs at increased risk be fed at floor level.

  • Some studies have associated food particle size, fat content, moistening of foods containing citric acid, and other factors with bloat. At this time, no cause-and-result relationships between these factors and bloat have been verified.

  • Dogs that have survived bloat are at an increased risk for future episodes; therefore prevention in the form of preventive surgery or medical management should be discussed with the veterinarian.


Bloat is a life threatening condition that most commonly affects large-breed, deep-chested dogs over two years of age. Owners of susceptible breeds should be knowledgeable about the signs of the disease, since early and prompt treatment can greatly improve the outcome. By following the preventive measures recommended, pet owners can further reduce the likelihood of their pet developing this devastating condition.


Brrrrr....it' cold outside!

VSSF Admin - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

 The following guidelines will help you keep your companion animals safe when the mercury dips.

While the SPCA encourages pet owners to keep their cats and dogs inside at all times for their safety and health, if you or anyone you know has an outdoor pet, ensure they are brought inside during cold nights.

  • If you are one of the many in the area who care for feral and/or barn cats, be sure to provide plenty of straw. It traps the heat from the animals’ bodies and keeps them insulated and warm in the cold weather.
  • During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, check under and/or bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.
  • More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.
  • Do not shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When bathing your dog in the colder months, be sure he or she is completely dry before going for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is everyday winter wear.
  • Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
  • Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the cold, you may opt to paper-train him indoors. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.
  • Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase her supply of food, particularly protein, to keep her, and her fur, in tip-top shape.
  • Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the Pet Poison Helpline more information.
  • Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Pet

VSSF Admin - Saturday, February 14, 2015
One of the most difficult decisions pet owners have to make is choosing to put down a pet. Ideally, need for this decision doesn’t come until after many years of fun and love between you and your dog or cat. If you’re lucky, Fifi or Fido goes quickly and without a prolonged illness, taking the need for the decision out of your hands. But usually, that is not how it happens.

This is not a decision to take lightly. If your pet is young and mostly healthy and an ailment is treatable, of course you wouldn’t choose to euthanize. However, if your pet develops an illness that a vet can’t cure and that interferes seriously with the animal’s quality of life, it may be the only right decision. But how do you really know?

Most veterinarians will not directly advise euthanasia, as they don’t want to be the ones making the decision for the pet owners. Therefore, it’s important to have a plan while your pet is still healthy so that you aren’t going into the decision last-minute while in the early stages of grief.
Some questions to consider and some to ask your vet:
  • What is the prognosis?
  • How will this condition affect the animal’s quality of life?
  • What treatments are available and how will they affect the animal’s quality of life?
  • How much pain is the animal in right now?
  • Is the animal eating and drinking?
  • Is your pet still playful?
  • How old is your pet?
Sometimes even with treatable ailments, it may not be best to prolong your pet’s life. If your pet is elderly and has cancer, is it in your pet’s best interest to go through chemotherapy, which comes with its own unpleasant side effects? That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to immediately make the decision to euthanize. If your pet is still feeling well and not displaying signs of distress, it’s OK to take him home and let him enjoy his time for as long as possible.

If you do decide it’s time to euthanize, the procedure is relatively simple. You can usually stay in the room with your pet, which many people find comforting. The vet will administer by needle into a vein sodium pentobarbital, which fist causes unconsciousness and then stops the animal’s heart. It is both quick and painless. Your vet will listen for a heartbeat to confirm that the animal has passed and will let you know when it’s finished.

There are several options for disposing of the body. If you have a place for burial, perhaps beneath a favored tree in your yard, you can take your animals’ body home and bury him. Otherwise, veterinarians offer cremation services and if you choose, they will inter the remains in a box and you can keep it as long as you wish or scatter the ashes. A third option is to allow the veterinarian or a service he contracts with the dispose of the remains for you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

VSSF Admin - Monday, February 09, 2015










What is Head Pressing and Why Worry?

VSSF Admin - Monday, February 02, 2015
Unfortunately, our pets don’t have the language to tell us when something doesn’t feel right. But their health can fail in myriad ways and there is almost always a change in behavior that can clue a pet-owner in to there being something wrong. One such signal, an important one, is called “head pressing.”

Head pressing happens with both dogs and cats and involves the animal pressing the top of its head against a hard surface. If you see your pet doing this, call your vet immediately.

There are several health issues head pressing might indicate. They include anything from a neurological disorder to liver damage. It can even indicate a rabies infection or some kid of parasite.

If the problem is your pet’s liver – called a liver shunt – the behavior is due to toxins building up in the body because the infected organ can no longer filter them safely out of the animal’s system. This condition is usually genetic and hereditary. If it’s neurological, it could be a brain tumor or a stroke or even the result of head trauma. Encephalitis and meningoencephalitis are also common causes.

Some of the causes are unavoidable, but keeping your pet up-to-date on vaccines and well visits can help prevent rabies and parasite infestations. Treatment and prognosis depend on the cause of the head pressing, but seeking treatment as soon as possible will increase your pet’s recovery chances.

Keep in mind that head pressing is not the same as when cats rub their heads and faces against surfaces to mark territory or when dogs or cats rub their heads up against people and other animals affectionately – head butting. It is the prolonged pressing of the head against a stationary, hard surface.
Other symptoms are
  • Seizures.
  • Pushing the head into the ground.
  • Problems with vision.
  • Pacing and walking in circles.
  • Problems with reflexes.
  • Getting stuck in corners.
  • Staring at walls.

Cats Communicate in Many Ways

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 26, 2015

Cats often have a reputation for being solitary and self-absorbed. Many people think cats don’t bond with their humans or that they don’t need or want any kind of social interaction. Those who really “know” cats, though, know differently. Cats, beneath their stoic demeanor, are full of emotion and they convey that to others – cats, humans, dogs, etc., – in varied ways. Understanding them can be an art, but there are a few things all cats do that have specific meaning:

  • Purring – Most think the cat’s purr in a sign of happiness and often it is. But the purr has many meanings. A cat purrs when it feels strong emotion. This can include love, contentment, pain or extreme stress.
  • Meowing – Kittens meow at their mothers, but as cats grow, they tend to save this particular form of communication for their human companions. The meow can mean many things and is a way of garnering attention. Cats meow when they want something – food, petting or for you to open the door and let them outside. Some meows, usually lower in tone and seeming to come from the back of that cat’s throat, are a warning sign that Kitty isn’t happy and might attack if you don’t stop doing whatever it is that bothers her. The meow can also indicate stress or loneliness.
  • Ears – Cats can’t change their general facial expression the way humans and dogs can. There is speculation that this is one of the reasons for their above-mentioned reputation, since humans read facial expressions to judge other creatures’ moods. But cats can do a lot with their ears. A laid-back ear is a sure sign that your cat is angry or afraid and you should probably leave him alone – or at least investigate a possible problem if the cat is reacting to something you can’t see. Perked up ears mean Kitty has heard something interesting that she might want to investigate herself. Perhaps there’s a smaller creature that needs hunting somewhere or someone to play with. A nervous cat will flatten his ears to the side while an annoyed cat will flick her ears.
  • Tails – Just like dogs, a cat’s tail is full of expression. A tail held high and straight in the air is Kitty’s greeting and a sign that he might want some petting. This is especially true if the end of the tail tips over a bit. A relaxed cat might gently move his tail back and forth, but if that tail begins flicking quickly, you know your cat isn’t happy at the moment. If you’re petting him, it’s best to stop to avoid injury.

Mapping the Feline Genome can Help Treat and Cure Human Ailments

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 19, 2015

The latest trend in the feline science world is geneticists attempting to map domestic cat DNA. The initiative began in 2007 with a genome sequence for an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon. The research, however, stalled due to errors and data gaps. In 2014, finally, scientists published the cat’s complete, high-resolution genome.

Now geneticists have begun the 99Lives project, which entails mapping genomes for 99 different domestic cat breeds. The project is due to the efforts of Leslie Lyons of the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. So far, the team has mapped 56 breeds’ genomes.

The project has implications in the human world, since cats can develop several conditions that humans are susceptible to and the feline versions are similar to their human counterparts. Some of these conditions are retinal atrophy, type 2 diabetes, asthma and even HIV.

Several sources help fund the project, but it’s expensive – more than $7,500 per cat. Besides grants, the project accepts individual monetary donations. But just as important, the project requires specimens for mapping. If you’re a cat owner who wants to help but can’t afford the cash, consider contributing Fluffy’s DNA.

Lyons’ website on the project, http://felinegenetics.missouri.edu/ninety-nine-lives, includes instructions for donating money and DNA. To donate DNA, you’ll have to ask your veterinarian to draw a small amount of blood in a specific kind of vial. The project needs cats of all persuasions from all around the world, whether purebred or a stray you adopted from your local shelter.

Why Do Dogs Kick their Legs When Scratched?

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 12, 2015

The infamous belly rub – dogs love it. They roll over and beg for it. They smile when you do it. Their mouths hang open, their tongues hanging loose in an expression of pure bliss.

And one of their back legs begins a violent jerking motion.

This is the “scratch reflex,” triggered when something rubs the dog’s “saddle” – flanks, belly and back. Each dog’s trigger point is different and they don’t all kick the same leg.

This kicking is a response to what the dog’s nerves recognize as an irritant that the dog needs to remove. While belly rubs are pleasant, a parasite isn’t. It could be a flea or something else harmful. Just as a person kicks out a leg when the doctor hits the knee in just the right spot, the reaction in dogs is involuntary and out of his control. Veterinarians can use this reflex – whether it’s working – to assess certain neurological issues a dog might develop.

The reflex is harmless and painless, but that jerking leg can inadvertently come into contact with the owner’s face or an errant nail can cause a scratch, so be aware of your dog’s specific reaction and steer clear to avoid injury. And as long as your dog isn’t whining or attempting to escape, most likely he’s enjoying the rub and not in any distress – especially if he rolled over and asked for it in the first place. The only time you need to worry is if your otherwise reactive dog stops kicking when you rub her belly. That can indicate a problem and you should seek medical attention.

New Year’s Resolution Time – Fifi and Fido Need the Gym, Too!

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 05, 2015

It’s the beginning of a new year, all is fresh and free. Everyone is thinking about what they’re going to do to improve their lives and one of the most common resolutions is “lose weight.”

But if you need to lose some extra pounds, there’s a good chance your dog or cat does, too. Maybe you’ve been feeding them little treats through the holiday season, or maybe being extra busy has meant a little less play time or fewer long walks. Either way, if your pet is carrying a little extra weight, it’s time to get serious about losing it.

As always, consult your vet to first confirm your pet needs to lose and second to make sure your pet’s health won’t suffer from fewer calories and more exercise. Once you’ve received the all-clear, go ahead and start restricting food.

If you free-feed your pets, stop. Set specific mealtimes and measure portions. Remove the food after 30 minutes if your cat or dog hasn’t finished eating it and isn’t interested anymore. How much and how often to feed will depend on your pet’s weight and how much your pet needs to lose. Usually feeding will occur two to three times per day. Losses should be gradual – no more than 2 percent a week.

With cats in particular, be prepared for active protest in response to less food. Cats like to eat and they like to eat when they want to eat – or at least when they’re used to eating. Some will find anything they can to make noise to wake up their people if the bowl is empty at 3 a.m.

Dogs complain a little less, but can be just as insistent when meal time comes around. They have their own internal clocks and will let you know if feeding time is coming up or passed without food in their bowls.

Exercise for dogs is straight-forward – more walks and more play-time. This is beneficial to your own waistline, so don’t skimp. Provide your cats with plenty of toys and invest in something you can dangle in front of your cat so he can chase it around. A laser pointer you can shine at a wall and move around is a good choice, too. Just be careful not to shine it in anyone’s (human, feline or canine) eyes.

These simple changes will have your pet in tip-top shape in no time.

A Guide to Performing CPR on Your Dog

VSSF Admin - Monday, December 29, 2014

Just like people, for various reasons dogs can go into cardiac arrest. If there is a medical professional nearby – specifically someone trained in veterinary science – it’s best to defer to that person for help. However, if you find yourself in a position where you must administer emergency treatment, performing canine CPR can save your dog’s life.

There are specific steps you must take for it to be effective and never, ever perform CPR on a dog that does not need it. This can result in your dog’s death.

  1. Lay the dog on a flat surface.
  2. Dislodge any objects in the dog’s mouth or throat.
  3. Breather directly into the dog’s nostrils, using your hands to create a small space around the nose and keep the dog’s mouth closed. Consider the dog’s size when breathing. It will take stronger breaths to get air to a larger dog’s lungs. Blow quickly, five to six times.
  4. For compressions, first check for a heartbeat. If there is none, place your palms on either side of the dog’s heart, which is on the left side. Press 15 to 20 times over 10 seconds. Be gentle, but firm – careful not to break ribs. Do 15 compressions for each breath.
  5. Continue until the dog begins breathing on its own.

Once your dog is breathing on its own and the emergency is passed, take him immediately to a veterinarian for further care.

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