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Mesenteric Torsion

A mesenteric torsion is the twisting of the intestines around the mesenteric axis. The mesentery is the suspension system for the intestines. The many feet of the intestines are suspended by a pretty small mesenteric root that contains the attachment of the mesentery and the major blood vessels providing nutrients to the intestines. Occasionally, this system ca twist on itself causing serious, often fatal consequences.

The mortality rate is almost 100% and was once thought to be a rare condition, but evidence has brought to light the fact that this is occurring with ever increasing incidence and has been seen to occur more commonly in German Shepherds than any other breed. The symptoms of this condition are rapid onset of shock, abdominal pain and vomiting. The twisting stops the blood flowing to the intestines, causing tissues to die immediately. This condition causes a dilemma for veterinarians as the symptoms are often nebulis and diagnosis is difficult. The dog is usually “down” – in shock, making any surgical options a tough decision.

The underlying cause for mesenteric torsion is any condition that that irritates the bowel, such as infections diseases of the gut (parvo, coronovirus, foreign body obstructions, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal parasites, etc.) It is believed bu some that allowing too much activity following a big meal can be a predisposing factor. In my own experience, this has seemed to play a role in some cases of mesenteric torsion. It happens most commonly in young dogs less than one year of age, and must be considered as a possibility in any puppy presenting vomiting with abdominal pain.

As previously noted, diagnosis can be difficult in the short time that surgical management may still be a viable option to save the patients’s life, which is why many patients die before treatment can be initiated.

Therefore, any puppy experiencing severe vomiting with abdominal pain, should be seen by a veterinarian ASAP.


By: Roger L. Welton, DVM
Founder, Web-DVM
President, Maybeck Animal Hospital
CEO, Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care

Article Updated 5/23/2014

15 thoughts on “Mesenteric Torsion

  1. Tom Marchant says:

    My vet at Pawleys Island, SC diagnosed my dogs death from this malady. He was an 8 year old, 92 pound Lab who was a “class act”. Thank you for this information.

  2. RonVf says:

    Had this happen to my 21 month old German Shepherd today. He was fine at 6:00 PM last evening, by 9:00 he was in pain and at 02:00 started to vomit. To him to the emergency clinic where they took the X-rays and diagnosed his condition. By 12:00 he was gone. Hugo was the best and will be missed greatly. This is my 4th Shephard and had never even heard of this until today.
    Thank you for your web site.

  3. Jim Marcelletti says:

    This happened to our 8 month old German Shepard. She started to vomit around 6pm. Seemed like she was just fighting a bug and wanted to be left alone. Could never really get comfortable to lay down and rest. Kept on vomitting for a few hours and when we let her outside she wanted to find a place to burrow and hide. The night did not go well. She vomitted more and was not better by morning. We took her into vet. The vet ran a blood test. But by the time the blood test results were back she had passed. Blood test showed that maybe she had gotten into ibuprofen or something poisonous but this was not the case. After she had passed the vet decided to open her up and diagnose. His diagnosis was a mesenteric torsion. He said there was nothing he could have done even if we had brought her in when she first started to vomit. Very rair condition. Something many vets only hear about in their schooling.

  4. Deb S says:

    This happened to my 3 year old Standard Poodle. All was fine in the morning, played ball, etc. In the evening I fed her dinner and approximately 30 minutes later she vomited up her dinner in 5 different areas of the house. I kept an eye on her and notice she could not get comfortable laying, standing, sitting, etc. She just kept getting up and moving from place to place, inside and outside and back in again. I noticed when she was laying down trying to get comfortable she was pulling her back legs up like she was having abdominal pain. I put her in the car and got her to the ER right away. Blood work was run and at the time was normal. Xrays were taken and the xray was abnormal in that they could see some gas but the intestinal area was pretty loopy and double the size and a blockage was suspect. It was now midnight and I had signed off for emergency exploratory abdominal surgery. The oncall surgereon was called to perform the surgery. Unfortunately, by the time they started the surgery, 5am the next morning my furbaby’s small intestines were twisted and blood flow had been cut off. 80% of her intestines would have had to have been removed. I was told she would never be the same dog with only 20% of her intestines left. I was also told that she may not even make it out of surgery or even make a full recovery and it would be very tough on her. There was a huge time lapse between when I brought my furbaby in to the ER and when they actually performed surgery, almost 6-7 hours later. Time is of the essence with Mesenteric Torsion if you suspect your dog may have this, please don’t sit and wait patiently for the vets to act. I will always wonder if the ER Vets would have performed exploratory abdominal surgery on her after I brought her in if she would have made it. Again, when I brought her in her blood work was normal and no diahrea. She got worse while at the ER. I think this condition is more prevelant these days but you just don’t hear about it. It’s fatal. Your dog can be perfectly fine in the morning and gone by the end of the day. By 5am the next morning my baby was gone. Please don’t wait or allow Vets to wait because they aren’t 100% sure of what is going on if your dog shows these symptoms. This is a matter of life or death.

  5. Brenda Sixkles says:

    My 6 yr old Great Dane was just released from the ER vet hospital Mar 28, 2016 after having a colectomy following colonic torsion / voluvus. He also lost much of his small intestines. We went to one ER vet the night of Mar 22 because he vomited up his breakfast that day and then bike at 5PM. Following that he was just laying around shaking. That vet gave him barium and took X-rays and sent us home. Because he wasn’t any better, we retuned the next morning and took more X-rays and did blood work. When they said they couldn’t figure out what it was (because if it was a foreign object it should have moved) we went to our normal vet.

    Our normal vet sent us to a surgeon and ER. They saw us right away and took more X-rays. He stayed over night. The next day after more X-rays, we decided to open him up! The dr found horrific stuff- he had never seen anything like it Ina a gastropexied Dane! He refused to eat and battled lots of drainage and infection. But eventually the antibiotics broke it and the drainage was gone!

    Once the pain patch was pulled he began eating. He is still on a small dose of pain pills and eating well. Stiched come out next Thurs! Now we just need to pray his stools firm up because his butt is raw!

  6. Nancy Marotta says:

    We lost our 2 yr old Weimaraner this past weekend. She seemed to suffer from bowel problems chronically. So we were real careful with her food and no table food. The breeder was not helpful from very early on when her stomach/ bowel issue persisted. Well this past weekend she was happy and playful and then vomited 10 times, her stomach became like a huge balloon we rushed her to the animal hospital and they took an X-ray and the vet came in and said she was not going to make it it! She has a mesenteric torsion. All within 2 hours she was gone. We are broken our personal vet said her had never seen this, breeders we speak to say they have never heard of that issue with Weimaraners, some had to even ask what it was… The ER Vet said it was extremely rare. Ugh we miss Molly. She was only 2!! It can happen apparently.

  7. Sarah Bruss says:

    Our 4 month old chocolate lab was “out of sorts” on Monday night. She had a normal day, played outside, her sister lives next door, it was 85 degrees out and had access to water all day. At 8.30, she wanted nothing to do with her dinner, my husband picked her up and carried her to her dish (super abnormal for her and any lab I know). She ate half of her bowl and then threw it up immediately. My husband kept saying “it was hot out and she is so tired from playing”. I know her and this is her typical day. She was out In her kennel by my husband to “rest”, I heard her whimpering so I opened her kennel and she wouldn’t come out to me. Very unlike her! I did a quick Google search “lathargic dogs” and it said to check her gums for the coloring. I lifted her Jowels and couldn’t tell the difference between her teeth and her gums (super white, she’s 18 weeks old). I texted my neighbor (who is a vet), and asked where the nearest emergency vet was. She met us in our driveway and looked her over. She looked very depressed and had a hard knot like lump in her tummy. Our neighbor told us that she suspected rat poison, or swallowed something. She told us to go, she called ahead to get us seen faster. (10.30pm) We walked in, they checked her heart rate, a little fast, her gums had gotten slightly pinker. We were not seen as an emergency, so we waited for three hours in the waiting area. When we were seen (1.30am) by the vet she did an exam, Nellie (our lab) arched her back when she touched her tummy. She had an X-ray and it showed a “blockage” in her intestine, it was four times the size it should be. We were asked if we wanted to take her in for surgery that night after pushing liquids for two hours or if they could do liquids and then we could take her into our vets to have he surgery done ther (at probably half the cost). We chatted privately and decided that because we saw that she was in pain that we should go ahead with the surgery and just get it done! We kissed her goodbye and took bets on what our lab had gotten into. Nellie had surgery at 3.30am. At 5.30am we received the call from the vet and she informed us that “no foreign object was found”, and in fact had Mesentric Torsion. She had 50% of her intestine removed and was in recovery. My husband and I were in SHOCK! We really thought they would find one of the million pacifiers we had laying around our house. Our puppy had major surgery and survived! We had no idea how big of a deal this was, until I did another Google search. She is our miracle puppy! The choice to take her in on such mild symptoms still shocks us both, and the decision to just get her in for the surgery that night and not take her to the vets in the morning was a life saving decision. She is in recovery from her surgery. The vet said her intestine looked like “black rope”. She had 2.5′ removed. She’s the luckiest dog alive! Our vet spoke to an internist specialist at the University and all she could respond with was “these dogs die”! We are feeding her soft food, for now. She’s on antibiotics and probiotics. Other than that she’s sore but slow to move. Crazy whirlwind of the past few days, but so far so good! Continued thoughts and prayers for her are much appreciated!

    • Lyn says:

      Our 8 week old Golden has undergone two surgeries in the past 3 days we are praying every minute she gets through this……. we have a ‘gofundme’ account on Facebook as it is running into $1000s we are just trying to give her a chance

  8. Kathy says:

    Our 7 month old Sheperd has just gone through this. Had emergency surgery a week ago. Part of his intestine has no blood flow. We believe he had an earlier episode of this in May and the twist corrected itself. He is healing well but having experienced this twice in 3 months, we are VERY nervous about the future and how to prevent this from happening again. He is a very active dog and for now we are trying to curtail is exercise, make sure he does not gulp down his food and water, which he definitely does, and going forward make sure that he does not have strenuous activity within 2 hours of eating. It feels like a ticking bomb and though all of our vets are researching this condition for us, we have not come to any kind of definitive answer as to how to prevent this from happening again.

  9. Chris P. says:

    I just lost my 6 month old Irish Wolfhound to Mesenteric Torsion yesterday. He was fine at 5:00 pm, and started vomiting huge amounts at 6:00 pm. It had the most foul smell…not like any “normal” vomit. Then he started with diarrhea, also not normal. (We had dealt with chronic diarrhea for a couple of months but he had been good for the last 24 days.) Normally, it just looked like pudding, this was lighter and full of mucus. He would just lay and diarrhea wuold just come out. Took him to emercency vet at 10:00 p.m., had no choice but to put him down. Vet said he would not live through surgery and he was full of gas and probably in a lot of pain. Anyone with a large breed dog that notices symptoms that just don’t seem normal, please get x-rays right away. This is a terrible way to lose a dog.

  10. Lisa Mainolfi says:

    We lost our 8 month old cavapoo to mesenteric torsion saturday. He vomited in the afternoon, was running and playing with the kids later that afternoon. That evening he started vomitting again and couldn’t get comfortable. We had a rough night, but at 1 point after vomitting, he looked better, his tail was wagging we thought he ate something outside and judt needed to get it out of his system. In the morning he looked weak and dehydrated so we went to the vet, his temp was low and an xray showed a possible intestinal obstruction and swollen intestines. We were referred to the emergency clinic for an ultrasound. Got there at 11am. Ultrasound unfortnuately was not performed for 1 1/2 hrs as a technition was not on hand and needed to be called in. At 1pm obstruction was confirmed, unfortunately there appeared to be a perforation. Surgery was to be performed immediately. Although he was not stable. However surgeon did not get there till 3pm. During that time he coded, was brought back, but when incubated blood poured out of his mouth and torsion was suspected. Although odds were slim we weny ahead with surgery to give him a chance (he was only 8 monthd old, only a baby). In surgery, torsion was confirmed, 50% of his intestines were going to be removed with no guarantee he would recover. Unfortunately he didn’t make it through surgery. He coded a 2nd time and could not be brought back. Awful disease. He demeanor changed so quickly. I will always wonder if the delay in the vet hospital lowered his chances, although I was told he was very sick when he came in. I will never ignore a dogs vomitting again. I’ve had dogs my whole life, they always got into things and vomitted. Never heard of this before.

  11. Vanessa Gonzalez says:

    This happened to our German Shepard yesterday. Zoey was diagnosed with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) a few months ago and at 1yr and 3 months passed away. It happened so fast…came home from work & immediately noticed she was acting different, didn’t greet me at the door, didn’t eat, drink or play. Vomited a few times during the evening. I worked from home the next day to keep an eye on her. She moved to a few corner spots a few times in the morning, still no signs of progression. I moved her back to her crate and within the hour she started panting like she was out of breath. She walked out of her crate & collapsed on the floor. I rushed her to ER who performed CPR but it was too late. Vet performed an autopsy and confirmed she passed from Mesentric Torsion. Was told her intestines were twisted and purple. Vet said there was nothing they could do even if we had brought her in at the first signs of symptoms. Never heard of this condition until nowZoey will forever be in our hearts.

  12. Charissa says:

    I just lost my almost 2 year old pup to this. Restlessness started at about 10am and then vomiting happened about 5 times every ten minutes. Called the vet and was a drop in appointment. Got to the vets around noon. She became super lethargic very quickly. Originally I thought she had an obstruction and the X-rays pointed that way as well. Went ahead for the surgery and then found out it was her intestines were dead due to being twisted and in a knot. There was no saving any part of her intestines. She was perfectly fine all morning until she became restless and then, before 4pm she was gone.

  13. Rob says:

    Just lost our 18 month old GSD. She had a great day today. She showed the first signs of illness about 10PM. Took her to an emergency vet immediately. It’s 2AM, and she’s gone… Had to euthanize her- nothing could be done to help her.

  14. Velvet Kennedy says:

    We lost our 21 month old male GSD yesterday to this silent killer. He had such a joyous personality and it shined all day Sunday. Yesterday morning he was a bit wobbly when he first got up, he threw up once & was taken to vet. It’s so similar to the other postings I’ve read here- X-rays, possible blockage, as they determined mesenteric volvus, he was gone. The vet said he had never experienced a case in his practice. It was so sudden, tragic and heartbreaking.

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