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When a Twisted Stomach is Not Twisted

September 24, 2009
greedy yellow labrador retriever

One look at Sammy, and anyone would know he was in trouble.

At 120 pounds, Sammy was a gigantic, chubby yellow lab. But that night in the emergency room, he looked miserable. He was pacing around the waiting room and retching up mostly nothing with a little foamy phlegm every few minutes. He couldn’t even sit down for a second.

Sammy’s gums were almost blue and his femoral pulses were weak and thready. His stomach bulged out behind his ribs; he looked as if he had a soccer ball inside his abdomen. Sammy was in shock, and near total collapse.

Suspecting the big guy had a gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), I lined up face to nose with Sammy to snake a 2-inch diameter by 72-inch long clear plastic stomach tube down his throat and into his stomach. If Sammy had a GDV, his stomach would be twisted on its long axis. The two ends where food comes in through the esophagus and out into the intestines through the pylorus, would be twisted shut. The stomach acids and gases would be stuck inside the stomach and expanding with the both ends twisted tight. If the stomach was twisted shut, not even a two inch plastic tube could thread through the corkscrew at the opening.

Sammy was so sick, he didn’t even notice a tube being (gently) pushed down his throat. But the tube didn’t stop at the opening to the stomach! It kept going all the way in!

So what was making his stomach so big and bloated? After a few minutes, I noticed only a little tan-colored stomach juice was starting to come up the tube. So I attached a vacuum pump to the end of the stomach tube and hit the “on” switch.

Chunks of light brown food material came up the tube. I examined the first few chunks in a collecting bucket. They were gritty, brown, and then I found an intact piece.

It was a dog biscuit! I continued pumping Sammy’s stomach until nothing more came out. He heaved a sigh of relief, his color came back to normal pink, and his heart beat stabilized.

In a few minutes, Sammy felt great! He stood up on the treatment table, where he had just been lying near death, jumped onto the floor, and ran directly over to the food storage cupboard and started eating dry dog food out of the top of an open 40 pound kennel pack! Apparently, Sammy believed eating cures overeating!

When I told his mom he did not need emergency surgery she was thrilled. She told me that she had gotten an urgent family call just as she came back from a shopping trip to a “big box” store. She had bought a 2 foot high box of Large Dog Biscuits, set them in the middle of the kitchen floor, and then ran out when she got the emergency call. When she came home, the biscuits and the box were completely eaten. Sammy looked guilty and sick, and her other lab felt fine. She guesses Sammy pigged out on the whole discount biscuit box while growling and guarding to keep them all to himself!

Sammy the gluttonous yellow lab recovered fully and did *not* receive a cookie from his veterinarian for good behavior!

P.S. Sammy was in circulatory shock because the biscuits filled his stomach and stretched it so much, that he squished the large blood vessel that returns all of the blood from the back of the body to the heart (called the caudal vena cava), and his heart wasn’t getting enough blood to pump properly. Sammy would have died if I hadn’t pumped the dog treats out of his distended stomach.

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