On July 4th 2005, my family lost Roxy, our 4-year old Golden Retriever to Gastric Dilation Volvulus Syndrome, commonly known as bloat. It seems an insignificant occurrence in light of all the death, destruction and suffering in the world today but they are mutually exclusive events. Our personal loss does not minimize world affairs but my story may save someone else’s dog.

Roxy was a beautiful, healthy and active Golden. No words could overstate how sweet she was or how much we loved her. She lived to make people happy. She loved people more than food. She made everyone feel special. Anyone and everyone that ever met Roxy loved her. Roxy had a great life. She spent the summers at the beach. She got to swim in the ocean several times a week. I ran with her a few times a week. My wife walked her each morning and afternoon and I walked her every evening. Roxy was in excellent shape.

That July 3rd seemed like any other day. My youngest daughter and I took Roxy for an evening walk and she seemed fine. By 9 pm, we were in the house and by 10:30 pm in bed. At 1am Roxy began to gag. Thinking she needed to throw up some grass she may have eaten, my wife and I took her outside. Roxy repeatedly retched without producing any vomit. While trying to comfort her, we noticed her stomach area had gotten hard and dismissed it as muscle tension from the retching. After about 40 minutes, we took her back into the house. It was now close to 2 am. Roxy crawled into a tight ball in the bathroom, one of her favorite spots since the tile makes her feel cool. We heard a faint whine. This was highly unusual as Roxy tolerated pain extremely well. She never complained. We took Roxy into some light and noticed her abdomen was distended and hard. My wife had read about a condition called bloat and knew we were in serious trouble. She called an emergency vet who instructed us to get Roxy to a specific animal hospital immediately. I prepped the car while she got directions. She stayed home with the kids while I drove close to 20 miles with my left hand on the wheel and my right hand under Roxy’s head. We kept in contact by cell phone. At one point, I thought I lost her since she rested all the weight of her head on my hand. I reached back to feel her still breathing. We arrived and I carried her to the emergency entrance. They took her from me and I waited. In around 20 minutes, a vet came out to see me. She was visibly distressed and displayed a high degree of urgency. We went into an examining room where she showed me an x-ray of Roxy’s stomach; it was 8 times the size it should be. She spoke fast and explained that Roxy had a condition called Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) commonly known as bloat. This is where gases build up inside a dog’s stomach and it begins to dilate. The expansion prevents adequate blood flow to the stomach. The stomach also may have rotated within the abdomen preventing any blood flow. If so, some of Roxy’s stomach tissue may have died. Roxy was in shock. Her heart rate was irregular and she had a weak pulse. It was a grave situation. A specialist would need to do immediate surgery to see if any of the stomach tissue was salvageable and if so, the prognosis was still poor. Without a second thought, I gave the ok for the surgery and waited. About an hour later, the same vet came out to see me. Her eyes welled up as she explained that the majority of Roxy’s stomach tissue was dead and the necrosis had spread to her esophagus. The damage was extensive and there was little chance of saving her. She recommended and we authorized euthanasia.
The vet came into the waiting room to tell me it was over. I asked to see Roxy and they wheeled her into an examining room and I got to spend some time with her alone. I am a former wrestler, trained in the martial arts for 16 years and I wept like a baby holding her. I said goodbyes for all of us as I cradled her head. I didn’t want to leave her. At 5:30am, I came home with her collar. Me, my wife and our two daughters held each other and cried together in disbelief.

Grief and guilt immediately consumed me. What signs did we miss? What if we had gotten Roxy to the hospital sooner? We retraced the entire night and in retrospect, there were some signs. Roxy ate her one meal real fast that day. She laid in an unusual position at around 10:30 pm. We heard Roxy drinking a lot of water at around 12:30 am. I knew her abdomen was hard. I have heard animals go off to be alone when they know they are dying and Roxy had crawled into a weedy area and laid down while we were outside with her that evening. Did I play too rough with her after she ate? We may never know and that in itself is difficult to accept.

The outpour of sympathy from our family and friends was a big help. Once word spread of Roxy’s death, we received dozens of cards, emails and letters expressing condolences and how much Roxy meant to them. The vet that treated her later told me that when they stabilized her and inserted a needle into her stomach to relieve the pressure from the gas buildup, Roxy looked up at her with love and appreciation.

The causes of bloat are not completely understood and it may be difficult to prevent this condition. It is suspected that overeating, over drinking, eating foods high in cereal content (causing gas), eating one meal a day, eating or drinking fast, strenuous activity on a full stomach, stress, a dogs anatomy can all be factors. Symptoms and signs are abdominal hardening and distension, panting, unproductive retching, an arched back, drooling, an anxious look, lethargy and weakness. Minutes count with bloat. Being aware of the signs and getting timely professional help may decrease the risk of death. It is estimated that 60,000 dogs die of GDV annually.

Every time I pass the exit on the Garden State Parkway for the animal hospital I took her to in Tinton Falls, NJ, my eyes well up. Basically every time I think of Roxy, my eyes well up. She will always be sorely missed.

Now two years later, we have Josie, a beautiful Golden Retriever. She is different but a terrific dog and we all love her. If she turns out half as sweet as Roxy, she’ll be perfect.

One Response

  1. Kate Says:

    Hi there. We understand about Roxy and Josie. We have had goldens for a very long time, bred them and are now going through anticipatory grief over our 14 yr old golden Meg. (her story is here on the blog too). They are the best. Wonderful friends and the best of companions — they really do love people more then food!!! ;)
    Thanks for sharing your story and if you can, please read about Meg.
    The Stokes family in Oregon