BLOAT AND TORSION IN BRIARDS
by Martine Huslig, MS
Bloat…is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of many dog owners, especially those who have experienced it first hand.
Very little "official" information exists about the possible "genetics" of canine (dog) bloat and torsion. It is an area in great need of canine genetic research . As a human genetic counselor---it is clear that certain family histories in Briards are consistent with an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance. This has also been suspected to be the case in the Standard Poodle "The late John Armstrong, PhD, professor of genetics at the University of Ottawa, believed that much of the bloat seen in Standard Poodles was caused by a dominant gene and that 50% of standards who had one parent who had bloated would themselves bloat. Dr. Armstrong put up a bloat pedigree analysis of Wycliffe dogs at http://www.canine-genetics.com/pedigree.htm" quote from Poodle Health Registry at http://www.poodlehealthregistry.org/docs/Standard/PHR_Standard_Bloat.html
Bloat with onset of over 8 years and occasional cases of bloat in younger Briards seem to potentially have a sporadic (random) occurrence. In Briards--- familial bloat strikes dogs most typically between the ages of 2 years and 8 years (rarely as early as 6 months.) This history seems to be in agreement with information from Standard Poodle pedigrees.
The best scientific information on bloat to date are "epidemiological studies doen by Dr. Larry Glickman at Purdue University. These studies DO confirm that a first degree relative with bloat is a primary risk factor for bloat. Indicating a NEED for genetic studies into this condition. To learn more go to Purdue study at http://www.vet.purdue.edu/epi/bloat.htm
Dogs with early onset bloat will often have a first degree relative who has bloated (parent, sibling or offspring.) When I purchased my first Briard---her mother and grandmother had both torsioned. By the time the litter was 2 years---2 of her littermates were dead due to bloat/torsion. A the time it did not seem controversialto conclude that bloat was a genetic condition in the breed. Observations have shown that breeders who breed from dogs who have NOT bloated with relatives that have NOT bloated at early ages---produce dogs that have a low risk of bloat. Identification of the genetic factor or factors that lead to bloat would allow breeders to continue with families of at risk dogs while eliminating the gene/genes for bloat in the family.
What is "bloat"?
Signs of GDV
What to do?
What more do we know?
These are the best and only significant SCIENTIFIC studies on the potential causes. Although they may not be the definitive last word on Bloat—they are better than any information on Bloat to date. There is no scientific evidence to support limited exercise before and after meals, wetting food etc. as decreasing the risk of bloat. These "preventative measure" were looked at and did not appear to influence the incidence of Bloat.. These studies show that raised food bowls and wetting certain foods actually significantly increase the risk of Bloat. (These have all been “traditional” methods to try to combat the occurrence of GDV.)
Quoted from the Purdue website:
"Most of the popular methods currently recommended to prevent GDV did not appear to be effective, and one of these, raising the feed bowl, may actually be detrimental in the breeds studied."
The studies report an increased risks of GDV
Dry foods containing a rendered meat meal with bone among the first four ingredients significantly decreased GDV risk by 53.0%.
Dogs described as "happy" had a decreased risk of bloat.
More on the possible "Inheritance of Bloat" and
Genetics and diversity/Genetics for breeders etc...
A Message to Dog Owners from the Director of the Purdue Bloat Research Program
Excerpt from Bloat Notes, January 1997
Several times a week I receive a phone call from someone whose dog has died of bloat. Usually my role is to provide a sympathetic ear and assure the callers that there was nothing they could have changed to prevent the incident. Our current knowledge of bloat does not allow us to identify specific events that trigger an acute episode in susceptible dogs, although some form of "stress" was probably involved. One of our long-term research objectives is to better define what constitutes stress for dogs and to measure their physiological response to it. However, the primary goal of the research is to determine why some dogs are more susceptible to bloat than others, i.e., what are the risk factors for bloat. This has led to studies of the physical conformation of dogs, their diet, vaccination histories, and even to new ways to evaluate a dogís temperament and personality.
The overall bloat fatality rate approaches 30% for dogs with a dilated, rotated stomach. Approximately half of the dogs that die with a rotated stomach will do so before veterinary medical or surgical treatment is obtained. Dogs may be found dead or die on the way to the hospital, or may be euthanized by the veterinarian because of their poor prognosis or the owner's financial considerations. In contrast, dogs properly treated have [greater than] 80% probability of surviving a bloat episode and then leading a normal life. Veterinarians over the past 2 decades have reduced dramatically the postoperative fatality rate from gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) from [greater than]50% to [less than]20% by using improved therapy for shock, safer anesthetic agents, and better surgical techniques.
Too often, however, owners of dogs that died of bloat tell me that they had recognized that the dog had a serious problem and rushed the dog to a veterinarian, only to be told that it was probably only a "belly ache," or that the dog's stomach was dilated, but not rotated. Sometimes the veterinarian recognized dilatation, but not a rotation (volvulus, torsion), passed a stomach tube to relieve the pressure, and sent the dog home. Or the dog was diagnosed as having dilatation and rotation, and a stomach tube was passed to relieve the pressure, but surgery (gastropexy) to permanently correct the rotation was delayed, either because the dog was thought to be too ill to withstand the surgery, or the veterinarian was not adequately equipped or prepared at the time to perform the operation. The latter may occur if the veterinarian is in the midst of busy office hours or if -- especially at night -- there is insufficient technical help available to properly perform the surgery, which requires careful administration of anesthesia, appropriate fluid therapy, and close monitoring of the dog's vital signs.
Numerous clinical reports from Europe and the United States show that gastropexy to prevent gastric rotation should be performed as soon as possible following stomach decompression on all dogs with gastric dilatation, whether or not the stomach is thought to be rotated at the time. The recurrence rate of gastric volvulus in dogs treated for bloat conservatively, i.e., without surgery, approaches 100%, whereas the recurrence rate following gastropexy is [less than]5%. The stomach of a dog that has had a gastropexy can still dilate, but it is unlikely to rotate, so if dilatation does occur after gastropexy, it can probably be treated conservatively.
What does all this mean to you? If your dog suddenly develops a distended abdomen, appears uncomfortable, and gets progressively worse, rush the dog to a veterinarian, preferably one equipped to do emergency surgery. Gastric distention is a life-threatening condition, even if the stomach has not rotated. Immediate decompression is required to relieve pressure on blood vessels and to restore circulation to the heart, because shock can occur within minutes of the first clinical signs. Fluid therapy is indicated to treat shock, and drugs may be needed if the heart rhythm is irregular. This should be followed as soon as possible by surgery to reposition and immobilize (gastropexy) the stomach before it is irreversibly damaged. The best indicators of how well the dog will do postoperatively are its physical condition (state of shock) prior to surgery and the appearance of the stomach during surgery (since dead or dying stomach tissue implies a very poor prognosis). Intensive monitoring is usually required for several days postoperatively in case complications occur.
If you suspect your dog has bloat, but the veterinarian dismisses it as a minor problem, inquire about radiographs to rule out GDV. If dilatation with or without volvulus is diagnosed and the stomach is decompressed, either by passing a stomach tube or by piercing the stomach with a large needle (trochar) passed through the body wall, the dog should be considered as a candidate for immediate surgery, unless its condition is too unstable to tolerate anesthesia. If the veterinarian recommends that surgery be delayed for any other reason, seek a second opinion immediately. Delay in surgery will increase the chance of the stomach rotating if it hasn't already, or will decrease the chance of the dog surviving if rotation has occurred.
Following is an excerpt of a letter that illustrates some of these points. "I noticed Kelly [an Irish Setter] attempting to vomit with nothing coming up. Grass? Chicken bone? I watched her and we continued to walk. She was happy and greeted people, wagging her tail, ... and had fun. We went home and Kelly went upstairs where she attempted to vomit several times. I immediately called my vet. Kelly and I arrived at the veterinarian's office within five minutes of the phone call. I told the veterinarian that Kelly had vomited two or three times with nothing coming up. I said that she looked a little broad around the ribs. The veterinarian did a physical examination and concluded that Kelly's problem was just a "stomach ache." ... I was directed to give her Pepto Bismol®. I took Kelly home and she lay down on the bed. About 45 minutes later she went out to the back yard. When I went out 10 minutes later, I found her bloated up. I grabbed her, took her back to the veterinary hospital, but she died on the operating table." (Comment: There is no guarantee that if radiographs had been taken during the first veterinary visit, Kelly's outcome would have been different. However, radiographs might have confirmed the presence of gastric dilatation or volvulus, and thus the need for immediate gastric decompression and surgery.) Be prepared -- Teamwork between you and your veterinarian is your dog's best hope when it comes to bloat.
For more information on the early signs of bloat, talk with your veterinarian. Ask what treatment he/she recommends for bloat, and if their hospital has a 24-hour emergency service.
--Larry Glickman, VMD, DrPh