Jack, a Giant Schnauzer who developed a gastric torsion

Jack is a well-bred 10 year old dog: his father won best of show in Crufts. The Giant Schnauzer is an unusual breed in Ireland, heavier and taller than a large Labrador, with a distinctively hairy body and face. The breed wouldn’t suit many homes, needing plenty of space, exercise and attention. In the wrong environment, a Giant Schnauzer can be a liability; Jack is in the right home, and he’s a delightful companion for his human family.

The first sign of Jack’s current problem was back in June. He vomited up his dinner and went off his food, becoming dull and quiet. He was taken to the vet, and monitored for a day, but with simple treatment, he returned to normal.

The episode was seen as a one-off digestive upset. Jack had no further problems all summer, but last week, he wasn’t quite himself. He was just a bit dull, not wanting to play as much as usual. He didn’t finish his dinner on Friday evening, which was unlike him. He then went out into the garden for a stroll, and when he came back in, he let out the largest belch that Sally has ever heard a dog make. He then paced the room, walking around, trying to lie down, then getting up again and pacing. He was continually panting, and it was obvious to Sally that he was uncomfortable. She brought him in to see me at the end of the evening surgery.

I could tell that there was something seriously wrong and my big fear was that it could be Gastric Torsion or bloat, when the stomach twists around and swells up with digestive gases. Affected dogs can blow up like weather balloons, and even when prompt veterinary action is taken, there’s a high mortality rate. The condition is common in large breeds of dogs like Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds and St Bernards: a tall, deep chested dog like Jack is also high risk.

Diagnosis of gastric torsion is confirmed by taking x-rays, so I sent Jack in to the Pet Emergency Hospital for these to be taken. These removed all doubt: his stomach showed up like a huge black balloon, twisted into the wrong position. Nobody knows exactly why gastric torsion develops: if you imagine the stomach like a big floppy shopping bag, it gets flicked around so that its attachment points – the equivalent of the bag handles – are twisted around themselves. The entrance and exit to the stomach are closed, the dog can no longer belch to release excess pressure, and the stomach gets more and more distended with digestive gas, as if being pumped up with air on a garage forecourt. If no action is taken, affected dogs die within hours.

Even with the most advanced treatment, with intensive fluid therapy, complicated emergency surgery to untwist the stomach, and careful monitoring, only two out of five dogs survive. Sally had to leave Jack with the Pet Emergency Hospital team on Friday evening, knowing that she might not see her dog alive again.

She finally received a call at 2am: the operation to correct Jack’s stomach had gone well, and he was making a good recovery. The crisis was almost over.

I saw Jack for his post-operative check up on Tuesday. He has a large scar on his underside at the site of the operation, but he’s back to eating properly, and he’s as bright and cheerful as ever. Sally is glad that she had Jack insured: so far, the gastric torsion episode has cost over €2500.

If you have a big dog, be aware of the risk of gastric torsion: if you spot the signs early, you could save your dog’s life.


  • Gastric torsion is common in large breeds of dog
  • Many affected dogs don’t survive the surgery that’s needed to treat the problem
  • Early veterinary intervention, as with Jack, is crucial to a successful outcome

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