Bloat is a deadly emergency condition that develops quickly in primarily middle-age and older deep-chested large breed dogs, usually in the evenings after the dog has eaten. However, bloat can strike any breed, at any age, and at any time-day or night.
With bloat, gas builds up and greatly distends the stomach to the point where the enlarged stomach occludes blood flow return to the heart, spleen, and the stomach itself, leading to shock, sepsis, and heart toxins which can in themselves trigger fatal cardiac arrhythmia. The main things for dog owners to be aware of concerning this condition are the signs to be aware of that are associated with canine bloat, factors that may contribute to it, and the absolute need to find immediate veterinary emergency assistance to quickly diagnosis and treat this true emergency.
Your dog’s survival from bloat WILL absolutely depend, first and foremost, on how quickly you are able to get the dog to the veterinarian.
Gordon Setters, other setter breeds, Bloodhounds, Boxers, Great Danes, Irish Wolf Hounds, Afghans, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and many other large breeds are at higher risk for bloat. Dogs that eat one large meal daily of dry dog food, and which are emotionally high strung, stressed, panting, and who eat a large volume of dry food immediately before or after exercise, are also high risk bloat candidates.
Signs of bloat include panting, drooling, restlessness, discomfort, whining and crying, repeated attempts to vomit and/or defecate, weakness, and stumbling gait, along with brick red gums. The abdomen becomes very distended because of the sudden accumulation of gas in the stomach.
Diagnosis and treatment of bloat needs to be done quickly, but the dog suffering from bloat must initially be treated aggressively for shock, with the insertion of IV catheter(s) and rapid fluid administration, pain relievers, and antibiotics. Radiographs will confirm the diagnosis of bloat, and the heart should also be closely monitored for arrhythmia, with treatment to manage the arrhythmia given when necessary.
The bloat should be initially relieved, with a large-bore hypodermic needle inserted directly into the stomach, and a tube placed from the mouth into the stomach, if possible, to remove stomach contents and rinse the stomach. Once shock and gastric distension have been initially treated, the patient should proceed to surgery to untwist and reposition of the stomach and spleen back to their normal positions, and finally to perform a gastropexy procedure to anchor the right side of the stomach wall to the abdominal muscles, to prevent reoccurrence of twisting of the stomach upon itself. The dog is then watched closely for the next 3 to 5 days, and instructions on post surgical care and diet must be followed to the letter.
A list of references has been provided for you to become more familiar with signs, treatment, and things you can do to prevent bloat. Read these articles, and discuss this condition with your veterinarian, so you can do all you can to prevent bloat, and deal with it if it happens.
—Larry Occhipinti, DVM
Resources and links on bloat:
What is DUNGd? [excerpt of O'Brien article] In 2000, Dr. Michael Yaeger and his colleagues reported a fatal neonatal disease of Gordon Setters. The disease had been recognized by Gordon breeders for some time before that and they referred to the disease as DUNGd (Damned Unnamed New Genetic Disease). Pups with DUNGd appear normal at first, but beginning about 3 weeks of age, they start to show neurologic problems. Signs begin as intermittent stiffness, weakness and trembling. As the disease progresses, the signs become more constant. The pups may bump into thing. They will pace or circle and sometimes walk backwards. They begin to cry without reason, sometimes incessantly. Their weakness becomes worse. They have trouble keeping their heads up or getting back up if they fall over. By 5–6 weeks of age, they are unable to stand and will die if not euthanized. There were few changes in the brain at post mortem to provide a clue to why these pups are so severely impaired. More recently, however, we have found some evidence that DUNGd may be an inborn error of metabolism called an organic aciduria. Read the complete article....
Resources and links on DUNGd:
Michael J. Yaeger, Kristin Majercik, Margaret Carter, Max Rothschild: 2000, An autosomal recessive, lethal, neurologic disease of Gordon Setter puppies. J Vet Diagn Invest 12:570–573, jvdi.org/cgi/reprint/12/6/570.pdf (retrieved 8/15/2010).
University of Missouri-Columbia, College of Veterinary Medicine,
Comparative Neurology Program website:
DUNGd: A Fatal, Neonatal Disease of Gordon Setters
RESULTS of the DUNGd Study funded by the AKC CHF.
*If you believe you have a DUNGd-affected puppy please contact:
Dennis P. O’Brien, DVM, PhD
Department of Veterinary
Medicine and Surgery
University of Missouri
379 E. Campus Drive
Columbia, MO, 65211
Dysplasia is a potentially crippling developmental orthopedic disorder that should be of concern to all Gordon Setter owners, breeders, exhibitors, and field dog owners. Dogs are born with normal hips, but with those that develop hip dysplasia during the first two years of life, defects develop within the head and neck of the femur and the acetabulum (hip socket) with varying degrees of severity, in one or both hip joints, which result in abnormal hip anatomy and function, and potential crippling pain and chronic lameness.
Anatomic hip bone abnormalities associated with hip dysplasia result in a looser than normal articulation between the head of the femur and the acetabulum (hip socket), which can lead to varying degrees of degenerative joint disease, pain, and lameness, even in pups as young as 6 months of age when the hip(s) are severely affected. It is believed by veterinarians and genetic researchers, that hip dysplasia is the result between the interplay of multiple genes (polygenic trait), as well as dietary and environmental factors, in a roughly 40% genetic to 60% nutritional and environmental degree of influence.
What we know with certainty is that breeders who consistently screen for hip dysplasia, and select normal animals for breeding, have significantly less problems with offspring developing hip dysplasia than those who do not screen and select normal dogs for breeding. Various methods to diagnose and treat hip dysplasia are available today to alleviate pain and restore more normal function, including nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and chondrotins, MSM, and avocado extracts, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, and prescription medications, such as Rimadyl, Metacam, and Zubrin, and various corrective surgical procedures.
However, the best approach is to do all that is possible to avoid hip dysplasia, including limiting breedings to animals screened and certified as hip normal, and using appropriate diets and supplements recommended by your veterinarian, maintaining weight control during the first 12 months of age, and allowing only for moderation in exercise during this growth period.
—Larry Occhipinti, DVM
Elbow dysplasia has been cited as one of the leading causes of front leg lameness in the large breed dog. Elbow dysplasia occurs most frequently in young dogs. The elbow joint is formed much as in humans, with a hinged articulation involving the proximal radius and ulna with the distal humerus. Each articulating part of these three bones must grow and develop at the proper rate for a perfect fit within the elbow joint. Some cases of elbow dysplasia may result from traumatic injury, but for the most part, it's genetic in nature, with growth rate and nutritional factors being important as well.
Elbow dysplasia can take many forms, but the end result is that loose pieces of bone and/or cartilage occur within the joint. This can be very painful, with elbow joint effusion, crepitus, and eventually degenerative joint disease (arthritis) developing over several months. The typical age of onset of lameness due to elbow dysplasia is between 4 and 10 months. The dog may intially present with mild to moderate front leg lameness. If a diagnosis and treatment are not made early, more pronounced lameness, joint swelling, and severe arthritis can occur.
A diagnosis is made with physical examination aided by radiographs, although radiographs alone may not show the exact location of the dysplasia. When this is the case, more advanced imaging methods (such as CT scans) and arthoscopic surgery are necessary to both pinpoint the exact location of the elbow dysplasia, and to provide surgical treatment.
Management in mild cases may be achieved through conservative medical management, but in patients experiencing joint effusion with significant and persistent lamenss, surgical intervention to remove irritating bone chips and cartilage flaps may be necessary.
The use of anti-inflammatory medications and chondroprotectives, such as glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM nutritional supplements, as well as diets high in omega-3 fatty acids, acupuncture, and physical therapy all are helpful to manage canine elbow dysplasia.
Regardless of how mild the case is, or the treatment and management measures provided, as these dogs age some arthritic changes are inevitable. Various degrees of persistent lameness are to be expected with elbow dysplasia. In extreme cases, elbow replacement or elbow joint fusion surgery (arthrodesis) may be necessary.
Breeders are encouraged to regularly screen their breeding animals for elbow dysplasia (eg OFA) as well as hip dysplasia, as healthy elbows and hips are a must for the Gordon Setter to remain pain free in the home and field.
Resources and links for dysplasia:
Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive, rapidly spreading cancer found in soft tissue, including skin, blood vessels, and in the heart and spleen. It is more common in large breeds and older dogs and is diagnosed more frequently in males. Hemangiosarcoma often is undetected until it is in advanced stages. Hemangiosarcoma is classified into three categories based on location: skin (dermal), under the skin (hypodermal), and visceral (usually in the spleen or heart). Dogs with dermal forms of the disease can have a more positive prognosis but when the cancer occurs elsewhere the prognosis is poor.
Resources and links on hemangiosarcoma:
Canine lymphoma (also called lymphosarcoma) is a fairly common cancer, more commonly seen in larger breeds, primarily in middle to older aged pets. Lymphoma is a specific type of cancer that usually strikes B lymphocyte cells, but can also attack T lymphocyte cells, which are produced throughout the lymphoreticular system, which includes the bone marrow, liver, spleen, and lymph nodes; lymphoma also manifests itself in the skin, gastrointestinal tract, eyes, kidneys, and other organs throughout the body.
The most frequent type of lymphoma that is encountered in practice is the generalized or multicentric form of lymph node involvement.
Owners typically are not aware that the lymph nodes are enlarged, and present the animals for panting, lethargy, loss of appetite, and sometimes bleeding within the eyes. On physical examination multiple lymph nodes are usually enlarged, the animal is uncomfortable and panting, sometimes febrile, and usually “not feeling right”.
A needle aspiration can be quickly performed, microscope slides prepared, and large numbers of abnormal lymphocytes can be seen quickly in the office, with a medical microscope. This is usually how your vet will initially diagnose lymphoma, and submitting the cytology slides and small tru-cut lymph node tissue biopsy specimens, as well as blood and urine, and chest and abdominal x-rays are also recommended to properly stage the lymphoma.
Once the diagnosis has been made the owner needs to understand that this type of cancer can often be successfully managed worth various types of chemotherapy. Lymphoma cases may be successfully treated and remissions from 6 to 12 months and longer are the rule rather than the exception with the majority of lymphoma cases that are treated aggressively.
Please become informed about lymphoma, and be prepared to deal with it should it occur.
Having pet health insurance in place for your dog helps so much with the expense of diagnosing and treating lymphoma, and other cancers, and I strongly recommend every pet owner obtain pet insurance for their pets so they are able to make decisions without the cloud of finances being the prime factor in deciding whether or not to treat.
—Larry Occhipinti, DVM
Resources and links for lymphoma:
Mammary cancer and mortality related to mammary cancer occur in roughly the same percentage of the adult female canine population as we see occur with women, which as we know is one of the most common forms of serious cancer and cancer fatalities that occur with women.
What we know is there is a strong familial genetic predisposition to develop mammary cancer in dogs, just as there is with women, and as yet unidentified environmental factors. Offspring that develop mammary cancer are several times more likely to develop mammary cancer than offspring from females that do not develop breast cancer during their lives. Gordon Setter breeders must be aware of this familial genetic tendency to develop mammary cancer, and address this health issue from generation to generation, when selecting dogs for breeding-both male and female.
Also, we know that female dogs that are spayed before the age of two years have a near zero incidence of developing breast cancer later in life. This is also very significant, because females that, are not intended to be bred, should be spayed sometime around one year of age, to spare as many as possible from developing breast cancer later in life
Breast cancer must be monitored closely with all our female canines.
Just as women regularly examine themselves and go in for regular medical examination, we should apply these practices to our female dogs, especially middle-age and older intact females, and all those females that are spayed after two years of age. Dogs of course have 10 or more mammary glands, and we must monitor not only the nipple areas, but also the soft tissue between each nipple. Think of the mammary glands as connected like a linear chain, so that when you examine individual glands you also examine the region between the glands too.
Any suspicious lumps should immediately be brought to the attention of your veterinarian, and removal and analysis of the growth is strongly recommended, since at least 50% of mammary cancer in dogs is found to be malignant in nature. Caught early, surgical removal is usually curative, so find those lumps and if possible, get them surgically removed as soon as you do. Please note that, although very rare, male dogs can get mammary tumors as well. Please make sure and investigate any suspicious lumps that your dog may develop around his nipple area.
—Larry Occhipinti, DVM
Resources and links on mammary tumors:
Osteosarcoma is the most common form of canine bone cancer. It is considered to be more prevalent in some breeds than others, although it can occur in all dogs. It frequently is diagnosed in the long bones, the skull, spine, hip, ribs, and shoulder. Persistent pain and lameness are key symptoms; however, since these also are symptoms of injury or arthritis, a diagnosis can be delayed. Osteosarcoma has been treated most effectively with a combination of amputation and chemotherapy.
Resources and links for osteosarcoma:
Sebaceous cysts, also called epidermoid cysts, epidermal inclusion cysts, or epidermal cysts, are a common problem for dogs. They appear as lumps that arise in the skin and are believed to occur when sebaceous (fat) glands become obstructed. While they are believed to occur in all breeds of dogs, the cysts are commonly reported in Gordon Setters. The cysts are benign; however, any rapidly growing masses should be examined by a veterinarian. If a sebaceous cyst problem is frequently recurrent, it would be wise to have the thyroid levels checked on the dog, as hypothyroidism is commonly associated with sebaceous cysts and other skin and ear maladies, and could be an underlying contributing factor.
Resources and links on sebaceous cysts:
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