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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lesson Learned From "Marley and Me"

I have never read the book or seen the movie. There are two topics I just can't tolerate in print or film when it comes to my reading or viewing for fun, and those are cancer and the death of a pet. My wife knows this - I get really (embarrassingly) emotional about those topics - so we don't watch movies about a beloved pet dying or a person struggling with cancer. So, I've neither read nor seen "Marley and Me." However I do know that (spoiler alert!) Marley dies. I also have been told that Marley dies of a condition called "GDV" (Gastric Dilitation and Volvulus).

Now, I don't know if "Marley and Me" is based on a true story, but if it's not, GDV is a creatively-dramatic (and horrible) way for a protagonist-pet to die. I hope I never see another case of it during my career as a veterinarian. Some of the most agonizing deaths I've seen were patients with GDV.

In GDV, the stomach becomes distended with gasses and/or liquid ("bloat"). Then the distended stomach twists on its axis. This gives the air/liquid no way to escape and also severely compromises the blood flow to the stomach. As a result, the stomach becomes more distended and at the same time the stomach wall starts to die. The dog is in unimaginable pain.

Despite a lot of misinformation on the internet and other places, we really don't know much about what causes GDV. We do know that it it occurs almost exclusively in large, deep-chested dogs (German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, Great Danes, etc...) Once a dog develops GDV, the only hope is through emergency surgery, and even with that the prognosis is fair to guarded at best.

The good news is, we now have an effective method to prevent GDV. It is a preventive surgical procedure called gastropexy. A gastropexy is where a veterinarian attaches the stomach to the body wall so that it is unable to twist. We usually do this surgery at the time that the pet is spayed or neutered. Dogs with gastropexys are twenty-nine times less likely to develop GDV. So, in my mind if you have a new puppy that is a high-risk breed for GDV, doing a gastropexy at the time of spaying/neutering is a no-brainer.

Who knows? If we were offering gastropexys during the time "Marley and Me" was written, the story might have had a happier ending.