by Mary Lou Tingley

The Briard is basically a long-lived healthy dog averaging 10-12 years with some hardy fellows going on to 14 and beyond. They do however, share one serious problem with many other deep-chested breeds. An immediate medical emergency is gastric torsion, more commonly referred to as "bloat." For reasons still unknown to medical research, the stomach will turn 180-360 degrees on its longitudinal axis, sealing off both entry to and exit from the stomach, the spleen swells, pressure is applied to the vena cava, the major vein bringing blood back to the heart.

Without immediate medical care, the dog goes into shock and dies. When medical treatment is provided the dog is placed on intravenous fluids first to combat shock, then he is sedated, x-rayed and an attempt is made to pass a gastric tube through the mouth into the stomach. In cases of incomplete torsion, the passage of the tube may release the pressure and the Vet can then empty and flush out the stomach. However, the dog must be monitored carefully over the next 48 hours as he is quite likely to bloat again due to whatever the initial reason for the onset.

When a gastric tube cannot be passed, surgery must be performed to reposition the stomach. Since dogs who bloat once are at higher risk to bloat again, the Vet may "tack" the stomach to try to prevent recurrence. Originally this was done by stitching the stomach to the chest wall. On occasion dogs with severe recurring bloat managed to tear the stitching, thereby causing additional problems for both the dog and the surgeon. A second procedure was developed by putting a small drainage tube from inside the stomach through the abdominal wall to the outside of the body. This was left in position for several days until a ring of scar tissue was built up around the tube. The tube was then removed leaving a small permanent opening from the stomach. This was more effective in preventing torsion but had as a side-effect, slight leakage of stomach contents. The current procedure consists of wrapping a small piece of stomach muscle around a rib for stability. This seems to have universal approval of Veterinarians and eliminates the side-effect.

It is essential in owning a Briard to have a Vet who can be reached 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and to familiarize yourself with the symptoms. Since the symptoms can vary from case to case, if you suspect bloat take the dog to the Vet. Itís much better to pay for an unnecessary visit than to assume simple indigestion and lose the dog.

Symptoms of bloatógenerally in progression:

  1. Unusual restlessnessódog paces, sits, stands, lies down, canít get comfortable, wants to go out, wants to come in, wants to go out again.
  2. Futile attempts to vomit and/or defecate. Dog may throw up foam or bile.
  3. Haggard expression, stiff legged stance, sometimes with back roached.
  4. Pale lips and gums indicating onset of shock. Lethargy.
  5. Distension of the stomach; abdomen feels hard and drum like.

There are many theories as to why dogs bloat. Researchers have indicated soybean meal, exercise after meals, abrupt changes in diet, grass eating, greedy gulping of food, lack of bulk in the diet, but nothing has been proven. To be on the safe side it is recommended that dogs be fed 2 or 3 small meals daily, rather than one large one, and dogs should be exercised before meals and given time to settle down before being fed. Diets should be changed gradually. (This is a good suggestion in any case, as sudden changes can cause intestinal upset with resultant diarrhea.)

Grass eating should be discouraged, and dogs should be fed RAW carrots, broccoli, apples, etc. on a daily basis. Modern nutritionists also recommend these foods for their high beta-carotene content as a possible prevention of cancer.

An excellent research paper on Bloat entitled "Canine Acute Gastric Dilatation" written by Dr. H.J. Van Kruiningen of the University of Connecticut, Storrs Campus, is available from the Briard Club of America, Medical Chair, and should be read annually by every Briard owner.

Permission to reprint is granted by the author and Atlantic States Briard Club. Article must be used in its entirety and credit given to Atlantic States Briard Club.

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