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Riddle of the burping dog

Name: Sally Evans from Kilquade, Co Wicklow

Problem: Jack nearly died after developing a gastric torsion

Jack is a well-bred dog: his father won best of show in Crufts. The Giant Schnauzer is an unusual breed in Ireland, heavier and taller than a large Labrador, with a distinctively hairy body and face.

The breed wouldn't suit many homes, as they need lots of space, exercise and attention. In the wrong environment, a Giant Schnauzer can be a liability but Jack is in the right home and he's a delightful companion for his human family.

The first sign of Jack's current problem was back in June. He vomited up his dinner and went off his food, becoming dull and quiet. He was taken to the vet and monitored for a day, but with simple treatment, he returned to normal. The episode was seen as a one-off digestive upset.


Jack had no further problems all summer, but last week, he wasn't quite himself. He was just a bit dull, not wanting to play as much as usual. He didn't finish his dinner on Friday evening and later let out the largest belch that Sally has ever heard a dog make. He then paced the room and was continually panting. He was obviously uncomfortable. Sally brought him in to see me at the end of evening surgery.

There was something seriously wrong and my big fear was that it could be gastric torsion or bloat, when the stomach twists around and swells up with digestive gases. Even when prompt veterinary action is taken, there's a high mortality rate. The condition is common in large dogs such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds and St Bernards: a tall, deep-chested dog like Jack is also high risk.

Diagnosis of gastric torsion is confirmed by taking X-rays, so I sent Jack in to the pet emergency hospital. The X-rays removed all doubt: his stomach showed up like a huge black balloon, twisted into the wrong position.

Nobody knows exactly why gastric torsion develops: if you imagine the stomach like a big floppy shopping bag, it gets flicked around so that its attachment points -- the equivalent of the bag handles -- are twisted around themselves. The entrance and exit to the stomach are closed, the dog can no longer belch to release excess pressure, and the stomach gets more and more distended with digestive gas. If no action is taken, affected dogs die within hours.

Even with the most advanced treatment, with intensive fluid therapy, complicated emergency surgery to untwist the stomach, and careful monitoring, only two out of five dogs survive.

Sally had to leave Jack with the pet emergency hospital team on Friday evening, knowing that she might not see her dog alive again. She got a call at 2am: the operation had gone well.

I saw Jack for his post-operative check-up on Tuesday. He has a large scar on his underside, but he's back to eating properly, and he's as bright and cheerful as ever. Sally is glad that she had Jack insured: so far, the gastric torsion episode has cost over €2,500.

If you have a big dog, be aware of the risk of gastric torsion: spotting the signs early could save your dog's life.