If you own a Berner, you no doubt have heard the term "bloat" or Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV). Most will regard it with some fear and will have read about it when researching getting a puppy. But how much do you really know about it and if your Berner is older (or you are on your 3rd, 4th, or 10th Berner) how much do you remember of what you learned early on? And what new research might have come along since then? And most importantly how prepared are you if it happens to your beloved dog?
Our first Berner, Magnum, experienced a life threatening bloat this last May 2005, and I'll admit that we were very lucky to have saved him. I don't ever want to rely on that much luck again, and now we are much better prepared in case it ever happens again. I want to share our story in case it helps another family to save a beloved Berner. My goal is not to educate you about bloat as much as it is to remind you to keep educated and to be prepared as you will need to react quickly. There is a wealth of information available via the internet (see the links to the right) and it is important for you to consult with your regular vet on the specifics regarding your dog. It is also critical for you to really know your dog and to act when they just "don't seem right" to you.
Our story began at the end of a typical day when Steve took Magnum out for a final potty before bed. Magnum got up and went down a short flight of stairs and outside looking perfectly normal. A few minutes later they came back in the house and Steve yelled for me because something "wasn't right" with Magnum. I rushed to the entryway to see Magnum looking quite panicked and pacing. A few minutes later he was blowing large bubbles out of his mouth and having a bit of trouble walking. I called the emergency vet clinic (luckily we had the number right next to the phone – I still had to dial 3 times because I was so nervous) and they told me to get him in right away. We left the house within a couple of minutes and arrived at the clinic about 15 minutes later. Always call first – the clinic needs to be ready for you upon arrival.
At first Magnum was sitting in my lap in the backseat of the car and later he decided to lay down next to me with his head in my lap looking up at me with a look of "help me". Somehow I was able to hold it together and not cry and pretend to be calm while I was talking to him and petting him. I think this is very important. If at all possible have 2 people take the dog to the clinic – 1 to drive and the other to sit with the dog and try to keep it calm. I truly believe that if the person who can be with the dog is the "alpha" in your "pack" your chances are much better of saving the dog.
The clinic was ready and waiting for us at the door and took him immediately to x-ray. The x-ray confirmed a bloat with a complete rotation of the stomach. We were told we had about 5-10 minutes to either get him prepped for surgery or to put him down. We got a very quick yet professional description of the risks and possibilities of what else could go wrong or be found during the surgery and an estimate of the cost for the immediate care ($3000) and a rough ballpark for further follow-up afterward ($500). I mention these costs so you have something to think about before it happens – there is no time to consult with anyone on if you can afford this or not when it is happening.
We opted for surgery and gastroplexy (tacking the stomach to the abdominal wall) to prevent the torsion from happening again. Magnum recovered from the surgery quickly and was rapidly back to his usual self. Unfortunately we lost Magnum just 10 months later to hemangiosarcoma but we wouldn't have given up those 10 months with him for anything.
I offer here a quick list of things to consider in order to be prepared in case of a bloat in your Berner.?Bloat Preparedness Checklist
Educate yourself and talk with your regular vet and ask questions.
The first thing is to talk with your regular vet about bloat and ask for their recommendations on feeding, timing of water, and if you have a female puppy that you will be having spayed ask how they feel about performing a gastroplexy at the time of spaying. This is a procedure where they sew the stomach to the wall of the abdomen – think of it as a bit of an insurance policy. The dog can still get bloated but the stomach cannot flip.
Locate a good (and hopefully close) emergency vet clinic.
Check with your regular vet to find out which emergency vet clinic they recommend. Ask other dog owners who live near you or others in the club. Many bloat cases seem to occur in the evening or night, so you will likely not be going to your usual clinic. Actually go and locate the clinic and write their phone number where you keep all your other emergency numbers.
Make a "just in case" plan.
If you have young kids at home, who will stay with them if you have to leave suddenly for the emergency vet? Is there someone who can stay calm and sit with the pet during the car ride? How much can you afford to pay to save your dog?
Consider some emergency supplies.
Again consult with your regular vet on these, but consider keeping a supply of GasX or Phazyme in the house. This is an over the counter human drug (simethicone) that can be given to dogs to alleviate some of the gas buildup and may buy you a bit more time. Also consider keeping a supply of Rescue Remedy which is an herbal liquid solution that will help calm a pet. Make sure others who watch your dog for you are educated and know what to do. There is a great 1 page reference guide for GVD that can be downloaded at: http://www.jersey.net/~mountaindog/berner1/bloat.htm I would highly recommend printing it out, adding your emergency vets phone number and keeping it handy. Certainly I'd leave it with anyone who was watching my dog for me while I'm away along with the dogsitter information sheet.