ASK THE VET: Gastropexy protects dog’s stomach from dangerous twisting

Q: We recently welcomed a Labrador retriever puppy into our family. Our veterinarian recommends that during her spay surgery, the surgeon attach her stomach to her body wall to prevent it from twisting. Is this "gastropexy" procedure safe?

A: Gastropexy is a standard, low-risk surgical procedure to prevent gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), also called bloat or stomach torsion. This torsion occurs when gas distends the stomach (gastric distention) which rotates on its long axis (volvulus) either before or after the distention.

This causes restlessness, drooling, unproductive retching and a painful, distended abdomen. It can compromise the stomach's blood supply enough to rupture the organ, and because it interferes with blood circulation to the heart and throughout the body, the volvulus is fatal without immediate surgery.

The condition is most common in large- and giant-breed dogs with chests that are much taller or deeper than they are wide. Great Danes are at highest risk; without gastropexy, 40% will develop GDV. Other breeds at increased risk are the Irish setter, Rottweiler, standard poodle, Weimaraner and to a lesser degree, the Akita, Bernese Mountain dog, boxer, collie, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Gordon setter, Irish wolfhound, mastiff, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard.

A dog is also more likely to develop the condition if he or she is middle-aged or older; has a first-degree relative that had it; has an anxious, fearful or aggressive temperament; has a gastrointestinal motility disorder; eats a single large meal each day instead of two or more smaller meals throughout the day; or experiences a stressful event.

Gastropexy, affixing the stomach to the right side of the abdominal wall, can be done at any age, including before physical maturity. It is often performed at the time of spay or other abdominal surgery. It can also be done by laparoscopic surgery without opening the abdomen. After the procedure, the stomach can still become distended with gas, but it can no longer twist.

Fortunately, gastropexy has a low risk of complications, and research shows it does not alter normal gastrointestinal motility.

Q: I recently adopted a kitten that sneezes and has a runny nose. Her veterinarian diagnosed an upper respiratory infection but said an antibiotic wasn't needed. I thought antibiotics cured infections. Why didn't the vet prescribe one?

A: Kitten upper respiratory infections, or URIs, are essentially head colds. Clinical signs, which can vary from mild to severe, include sneezing, nasal and ocular discharge, conjunctivitis, decreased appetite, lethargy, fever, respiratory distress — and even death.

Almost all cat upper respiratory infections are caused by the feline herpes and/or calici viruses. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses and sometimes cause unpleasant side effects, such as loss of appetite, diarrhea and emesis. So, they are usually prescribed only when the veterinarian finds the cat has a bacterial infection.

If your kitten has only a viral infection, her immune system will probably overcome the viruses, just as the human immune system kills the viruses that cause our head colds.

Sometimes, though, such viruses damage the respiratory tract enough that bacteria thrive. If your kitten gets worse, stops eating, has trouble breathing or develops a fever, contact your veterinarian, who may prescribe an antiviral medication or an antibiotic for a secondary bacterial respiratory infection.

Upper respiratory infections are highly contagious among cats, though they do not spread to humans. They can be prevented by vaccination, so it's best to consult with your veterinarian once your kitten is back to normal.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at