Rufus arrived at the clinic at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, extending his neck uncomfortably and drooling puddles on the floor. He had devoured two venison bones earlier that day so my suspicion was that one was stuck on the way down. Sure enough, digital xrays confirmed this, with one of the knuckles lodged just before the stomach and the other about halfway down, sitting neatly over top of the heart (the oesophagus passes through the chest cavity within a space called the mediastinum). There was however, an additional problem. The xrays showed that Rufus had a twisted stomach known as a ‘gastric dilatation & volvulus’ or GDV. This life threatening condition occurs when the stomach rotates, blocking off the entrance and exit to the stomach. As digestive juices and gases build up and cannot escape, the stomach dilates like a balloon. Time is of the essence as if left untreated, the dog will not survive.
It made sense as his owners had described him having not been quite right the day before, which would have been the beginning of his GDV. In an attempt to cheer him up the knuckles were offered and without hesitation he had snaffled them up, but stuck and blocking his oesophagus, the drooling began…
So Rufus was faced with not one but two major problems. We had a busy Saturday evening ahead of us! First up we got Rufus onto IV fluids and under general anaesthetic. With a nurse dedicated to monitoring his blood pressure and vitals, we tackled the first hurdle – moving the bones. As they were too large and far down to bring them back out his mouth, we carefully pushed them down to his stomach entrance. So far so good.
Then into the operating theatre for part two. Rufus was positioned on his back and his belly shaved, prepped and draped for surgery. Exploratory laparotomy is the term for opening of the abdomen in search of a problem, however, from our xrays we were quite sure of what we were going to find here. His stomach was bloated and stretched, and rotated about its axis. First it was deflated with a large needle to make for easier handling, sending out a long whiff of smelly stomach gas as it shrunk down. Our faces all screwed up behind our facemasks. Then the stomach was untwisted so as to lie in the correct position within the abdomen again. But don’t forget those venison bones! A hole was made in the stomach wall to enable the venison knuckles to be milked down from the end of the oesophagus, into the stomach and out.
The fourth and final step was to perform what is called a gastropexy – essentially stitching the stomach to the side of the abdomen to prevent it from twisting again in future. All went without hassle and Rufus was woken from his anaesthetic just after nightfall.
Recovery over the following days and weeks went similarly smoothly, with Rufus walking into each of his post operative checkups like nothing had ever happened. What an incredible dog!