In April 2020, Niko, a 3-year-old German Shepherd, had been a completely healthy dog, but out of nowhere, trouble came. That evening started like any other – Niko ate his dinner normally and seemed fine. But about an hour after he ate his dinner, he began to retch several times without producing anything.
Immediately, a red flag went up and Niko’s mom, Nancy, knew something was wrong. She monitored him closely. He suddenly seemed very uncomfortable and he put his head down on Nancy’s lap. When he tried to lie down, he became very uncomfortable and would immediately stand up again. He also started groaning.
That’s when she knew. She had seen these symptoms before in her other German Shepherd. Wasting no time, Nancy followed her intuition and got Niko to the car. She knew if she was right, she had to get Niko to the animal ER now.
Around 9:00 PM, Niko arrived at AERC. Our team agreed with Niko’s mom! He was experiencing Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV). This is a very painful condition in which the stomach twists on itself. The cause of GDV is unknown, but it’s life-threatening if not promptly treated. Our team stabilized Niko with fluids and pain medications and within two hours, he went into emergency surgery.
Dr. Meyers, one of our board-certified veterinary surgeons, performed Niko’s surgery to correct his twisted stomach – which had a 180-degree rotation and was very distended. Dr. Meyers returned the stomach to its correct position, but unfortunately, that wasn’t all that had become twisted.
When the stomach rotates, it can involve the top portion of the stomach, as well as the spleen (which is known as a splenic torsion). The splenic blood vessels can rupture as well, which is why dogs often require spleen removal after experiencing GDV. Fortunately for Niko, dogs live well without a spleen!
To prevent Niko’s stomach from twisting again, Dr. Meyers performed a gastropexy, which is a surgical procedure in which the stomach is sutured to the body wall. While many dogs like Niko have this surgery performed to prevent a repeat offense, it can also be done preventatively. Often, veterinarians recommend that deep-chested or large breed dogs have a gastropexy at a young age since they are at higher risk of developing GDV.
Niko recovered well after surgery and stayed at AERC overnight for observation, pain management, and to ensure he was eating. By late morning, he was doing well and went home to his family that day.
As pet parents, we know our pets best! That’s why it’s so important to trust your gut when something doesn’t feel right. Delaying treatment for GDV can have fatal consequences – so we’re glad Nancy recognized what was happening and promptly got Niko the veterinary care he needed! She reports today that Niko is still the happy-go-lucky (five-year-old!) “puppy” he was before surgery. Nancy says, “He is the happiest dog I have ever owned and loves life to the fullest! He is pure joy!”
Our “Fur-tunately: Stories of Animal Survival” series feature real pets treated by our team at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. All images and information have been shared with the owner’s permission.
Case content provided by Megan Brewer (Johnson), DVM.