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Lisa Nicolello

Death In The Afternoon - The Reality of Bloat

by Lisa Nicolello

January 4th started off like an ordinary day. I got up at 5:00 AM, fed the dogs breakfast, and was off to work by 6:00 AM. My dog family consisted of eight-year-old littermates, Emmy and Marshal, four year old Tegwen, two year old Pooka, and three, twelve week old puppies.

We (my husband Pat and I) had suffered the loss of our wonderful eight-and-a-half year old Bullmastiff, Brig, on December 28th. We lost Brig to bone cancer. We had time to prepare for his euthanasia, but were still very sad, and missed him terribly. My husband left for work at 10:00 AM, leaving Emmy, Marshal, Tegwen and Pooka in the house, and the pups in one of our 30' runs.

I got home at 11:00 AM and let the dogs out into the fenced acreage. It was gorgeous day; cool, crisp and sunny. I had mastiff owners/fanciers from Brazil coming to visit, so I set to work, making the house spotless, and getting lots of mastiff information ready for them. I could see the dogs from the windows. They were sunning themselves on the deck, and playing with pinecones and toys. I got lots of phone calls that day, and as I talked on the phone, I watched the dogs outside. I even laughed about Emmy laying on her back in a sunny spot in the yard, scratching her spine with vigor. That was at 2:00 PM.

At 3:45, I went from the dining room to the kitchen to rinse out the towel I was washing the walls with. As I turned to return to the dining room, I saw, to my horror, Emmy, laying flat on her side, by our back deck. Her belly was grossly distorted, enormous, horrible, stretched so tight that I couldn't believe my eyes. I screamed, ran to her, looked at her gums -- she was pure white!

I thought; NO, THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING! EMMY, DON'T DIE! PLEASE GOD, DON'T DO THIS! SHOULD I GET MY GUN, SHOULD I GET A KNIFE TO STAB HER WITH TO RELIEVE THE AWFUL PRESSURE, WHAT DO I DO, SHE'S IN AGONY! To my everlasting sorrow, she died in front of my eyes, seconds after I found her.

I lost it. I screamed as loud as I could, I couldn't, wouldn't believe that she was gone. I cried, I cursed, I walked in circles. I woke up and found myself washing the living-room floor over and over again.

I knew I had people coming to see my dogs within 30 minutes. I didn't want to see or speak to anyone. I was deep in my agony.

I forced myself to call my vet, and the clinic I work at. They listened to my sobs, and were very kind and caring. I couldn't move Emmy myself, and didn't want to leave her on the cold ground. The local Humane Society was closed, (it was now after 4:00), but Carole, (an angel) at my clinic, made special arrangements to have Emmy's body picked up for private cremation. The couple from Brazil called me when they were 10 minutes from my house. I had to try to explain to them through my tears, that they couldn't come visit, that my dog just died. They didn't speak English very well, but understood me anyway.

The aftermath was awful too. I covered her body with a quilt, called my husband at work, and waited for the pick-up man. My husband did not believe me at first. Emmy had never been ill in her life, and was very athletic. We expected to have her another 4 to 6 years. When I was able to make him believe in her death, he was so subdued, he seemed to fade away. On top of the loss of Brig, it was too much.

In sixteen years with mastiffs, I have experienced three cases of bloat. All three were different. I don't know how seriously most of you take bloat articles. Please pay attention. It is a horrible death that no dog deserves. If Emmy had lived a few more minutes, I was planning either to puncture her side with a knife, or to shoot her to put her out of her misery. I have never shot a living thing in my life. If you haven't seen bloat, you cannot imagine the terror and pain.

I have since ordered and received, bloat tubes, trocars and a stretcher. Have you ever tried to pick up a 170lb dog by yourself? Think about what you would do. I am now terrified to leave my dogs alone. I open the front door and say "there better not be anyone dead in here". It's not at all funny. I feel helpless to prevent this nightmare.

My first experience with bloat was with my 10 1/2 year old male, "Chopper". His bloat was totally different. He had a small breakfast at 7:00 AM, snoozed in the house all morning, but became restless at around 1:30 PM. I let him outside, and he went to the water bucket and drank and drank and drank. That was not normal behavior, so I checked him out closely, and his stomach was extended and hard. I called in to work, and rushed him to the vet. The vet did not have the equipment to do a bloat surgery (they did feel he was bloated), so I was sent to a surgeon 45 miles away. By then "Chopper" seemed to feel good, other than he had to pee often.

I got him to the surgeons office, and at that time he looked and acted fine. He was cheerful and wanted to leave the vets. The surgeon did an x-ray, and found that his stomach was twisted at both ends.

I was newly married, we were strapped for money after buying our house. I knew my husband was not as committed to the dogs as I was. The bill for surgery would be between $900.00 and $1200.00, but I had to do it. I had "Chopper" for over 10 years, and my husband for less than 1 year, so I had to try. He survived, became the darling of the clinic, and lived 'till 12 years of age. My husband understood and loved the old guy too. It was well worth the cost.

#1. Bloated at 10 1/2 years old. Fit, healthy, active 170lb male. Had small breakfast of ANF, symptoms started 6 1/2 hours after AM meal. Drank lots of water. Had surgery, lived.

My second experience was with "Amy", "Emmy's" mother. Amy was a thin, hard-to-put-weight-on dog. When I changed to Robert Abady dog food, she did gain weight and looked good, but it was also after she was spayed at 5 years old. "Amy" was found dead on a cool evening when she was 9 years old. She had obviously bloated. I went to work at around 2:30 PM, found her dead at 7:00 PM. She had no previous health problems, and had only a small meal at 6:30 AM. I did not necropsy her, as it was a Friday evening, and I could not store her body until Monday. We dug a human sized grave in the yard for her. I still have nightmares about her.

In retrospect, I think "Amy" tried to tell me something was wrong. I was in my office, chatting with my husband, when she came in. She purposely stomped on my bare foot with all her weight. We both were surprised, gently scolded her, and petted her. We thought she was just wanting affection. She probably had pain in her stomach at that point, but we did not realize it. I will always feel guilty for not paying attention.

#2. Bloated and died alone at 9 years old. Slender, deep-chested, long-bodied, 145 lb bitch. Died approximately 10 hours after small breakfast of Robert Abady dog food.

Her connection with "Emmy" was genetic, and in that they both had deep bodies that had slightly softened with age. "Amy" had two nieces that bloated at young ages. They were daughters of "Amy's" half sister (same sire). An article about them was in the MCOA Journal approximately 6 years ago.

#3. "Emmy", bloated and died 10 hours after small breakfast of Natures Recipe, with supplements and gravy from canned Pedigree (1 can divided up among 7 dogs). Our dogs get Daily Greens Plus, Seameal, vitamin C, and fresh veggies, meats, yogurt, with their dry kibble. They get canned food mixed in, whenever the "dog stew" runs low. It is used once or twice a week.

I did not see any retching, or any signs other than I mentioned. "Emmy" knew how to open doors, and could come in or out as she pleased. Why didn't she come inside? Why didn't she come stare at me through the many windows or the French doors, if she felt bad? Why didn't I go outside and see that she was in trouble? I carry more guilt than most murderers.

None of my three dogs overexerted themselves. All were fit and active. All ate different, high quality foods in small amounts. All were deep-bodied, older dogs with level bottomlines.

I hope you never experience the horror of bloat, but please; if your dog acts even a little bit oddly, take them to the vet! If only I had known I may have been able to save my two girls from painful and undeserved deaths.

I will never forget them. Many thanks to all of our friends for their sympathy. "Emmy" now has a star named after her in Canis Major. I go outside at night to look up and remember.

Lisa Nicolello

(Thank you Lisa for allowing us a first hand look at this horror that can hit our beloved kids without warning. If you are not aware of this condition, please refer to Volume III, Issue 5 & 6, and Volume IV, Issue 1 for discussion on bloat by Great Dane breeder, Linda Ardnt.

Prior to Emmyís death, I had occasion to take Cassie to the vet for suspected bloat at 2am. Her stomach was somewhat distended, fairly hard and when I pressed on it she threw up. Luckily it was not the case, but I feel that with this condition you canít be too careful. While I donít have a great belief in coincidence or history repeating itself, having just lost my 9 year old Rottweiler, Teddy, to bone cancer (same as Brig) on May 12th and having Emmyís daughter Amanda (Amyís granddaughter), I am constantly following the girls around the house feeling their stomachs. Just too much coincidence. Be vigilant!!)

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