I was on-call over the Christmas holiday and, fortunately, it was fairly quiet. I had several calls, but nothing I needed to go into the clinic for. Most were the typical "my dog ate some chocolate and I know that kills dogs, help!" calls that are easy to solve 9 times out of 10.
Then, the phone rang at 10:30 pm, immediately after I had gotten into bed. A dog belonging to a lady from out of town had gotten into the garbage and devoured the remains of a leg of lamb. For the past 3 hours, the dog (a Setter cross) had been acting painful, unproductively vomiting and her abdomen seemed large. After looking online, the owner was fairly certain her dog had "bloat."
For those of you unfamiliar with this condition, "bloat" (the more technical, medical term being Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus shortened to GDV) is a condition that occurs in large, deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, St Bernards, and the like. While those breeds are the most common to suffer from GDV, you will occasionally hear of other large dogs such as Labs, Boxers and Setters also being afflicted.
In dogs with GDV, their stomach literally twists on itself, cutting off passage of food (either up or down) and twisting off the blood supply. Dogs with bloat very quickly become extremely sick as gas builds up in their stomach (further cutting off the blood supply and pressing on nearby organs), their blood pressure plummets (again due to the blood supply issue) and they quickly become septic. Symptoms (often severe abdominal discomfort, unproductive frequent vomiting, visibly enlarged abdomen) typically come on quickly and come on after a large meal and/or exercise. Even with emergency surgery, many GDV dogs die.
So, back to the story: Christmas night, blizzard outside, warm and cozy in bed, possible bloat needing emergency surgery. After talking to the owner about the diagnostics we would need to do, the other rule outs and the likely costs we could be looking at (I've learned to be very up front about prices of everything), she decided to talk it over with her husband for a moment and call me back with what they wanted to do.
For the next 20 minutes I lay in bed in dread. Of all small animal emergency calls vets get, I'd be willing to wager that bloat calls rank up at the top as the most feared. GDVs can be very frustrating things, especially since the survival rate is so variable and often so low depending on the circumstances of each individual case. C-sections, fractures, even hit-by-cars don't scare me nearly as much as bloats do.
Eventually, the owner called back. Turns out the family member she was staying with is good friends with one of the other vets in town, and she was on her way to have him see the dog. After wishing her luck (and wondering in my head why they didn't call him in the first place), I hung up and sighed in relief. When I related the story the next morning, one of my colleagues pronounced it a Christmas miracle. And I tend to agree with her.