As Your Dog’s Stomach Churns and Turns

An article from WWA’s Doctor’s Orders

By Dr. K.C. Brooks, an avid waterfowler, dog lover and practicing veterinarian at Lodi Veterinary Care.

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s March, 2022 eNewsletter.

One of the most common ailments your hunting companion experiences during their lifetime is gastrointestinal disorders – stomach upset.  This can come in many forms and may result in minor inconvenience, days lost in the field or in extreme cases, loss of your dog.  This article will discuss a few of the common maladies and give some concrete information on how to avoid or treat them.

 The first issue for many of our dogs is dietary indiscretion.  Retrievers are notorious for putting things in their mouths that don’t belong there.  A certain percentage of these things then go down the esophagus and into the stomach.  Once there, they can cause minor symptoms such as brief vomiting, abdominal discomfort, anorexia or diarrhea.   More serious complications, such as intestinal obstruction or perforation, may require hospitalization or surgery. The list of things commonly ingested by our hunting dogs is long.  Dead and decaying animals, corn cobs, feminine hygiene products, socks, bedding, bones and objects from the trash can lead the way.  While often there is little you can do to avoid these situations, careful observation of your dog while they are off leash can help you avoid many bad situations.  “Dog-proofing” the house by being sure trash cans are secure and out of their reach is very important.  Finally, feeding bones of any sort is discouraged.  Many intestinal foreign bodies come from owners knowingly feeding their dogs bones for one reason or another.  This can not only lead to GI upset but is a very common cause of tooth fractures.

The second big category of ailments causing stomach upset is infectious or parasitic conditions.  Hunting dogs are at far greater risk for these due to the environment they work and play in.  These include the common worms (roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and whipworms) along with agents such as Giardia, Coccidia and Cryptosporidium, as well as others.  The worm component can easily be prevented by using a monthly heartworm preventative that contains a small amount of medication to prevent infestation of the common worms.  For hunting dogs, it makes sense for that monthly preventative to also cover all four of the worms listed above.  Because our dogs are often in water that can be contaminated with organisms like Giardia, they are at higher risk for these infectious organisms.  No reliable preventatives are on the market for this group of agents so prompt diagnosis and treatment is advised.

The final condition that you may encounter with your hunting companion is by far the most serious.  It is commonly called “bloat”.  The technical term is Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV).   GDV occurs when the stomach fills with more gas than usual and then finds a way to twist upon itself.   Once twisted, the stomach is usually unable to allow ingesta or gas out and most often compromises the blood supply to the stomach.  The end result is extreme distension of the stomach resulting in repeated attempts to vomit, abdominal discomfort and rapid deterioration of condition. Failure to seek medical attention at the beginning of this condition most often results in death as the stomach wall’s circulation is compromised to the point of the tissue dying.

Treatment for GDV involves rapid release of the gas in the stomach (by tube or large needle). This is followed by administration of large volumes of intravenous fluids to correct life threatening acid-base and electrolyte disturbances. Prompt surgery to untwist the stomach is required.  The stomach is then tacked to the body wall by a procedure called a gastropexy to prevent this condition from happening again.  Preventative gastropexy is now common and can be done via laparoscopy, making it less invasive. Hunting dogs that are being spayed or neutered can have the gastropexy done during the same anesthetic event.  Unfortunately, there are no other proven ways to prevent GDV.  Vigorous exercise within one hour of eating is not advised.  While raising of the food dish has not been proven to diminish the incidence of GDV, it is commonly touted as a way to prevent GDV.

Most gastrointestinal upset starts with vomiting.  In this situation it is best to withdraw food and water for 6-8 hours before offering small amounts of water to see if the vomiting will subside. If vomiting persists during the time that food and water is restricted, prompt medical attention is advised.  If vomiting stops, slowly reintroducing water followed by small meals of bland diet may suffice in allowing your dog to work through their stomach upset.

While most gastrointestinal upset is not life threatening, these incidents can definitely impair your hunting dog’s ability to perform and often inconvenience you in many ways.  Common sense preventative measures, along with appropriate early intervention, can go a long way in minimizing the effect of these conditions.  Enjoy your dog!