Seeing even small amounts of blood in a dog's stools is a concerning event for any dog owner. It's even more alarming if your dog suddenly develops diarrhea containing a large amount of blood. If this happens, your dog may have a serious condition called hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE).
Any dog can get HGE whatever their age or breed. It's not known why certain dogs develop the condition. It's important to know the symptoms of HGE, as dogs with this illness can die without prompt treatment.
HGE occurs when large amounts of fluid pass into a dog's gut. This causes the dog to pass very large quantities of bloody diarrhea, usually very bright red as the blood it contains is fresh. If the dog has a very severe case, their stools may have so much blood in them that they look like raspberry jam. This usually happens suddenly, and there are rarely any warning signs that a dog is becoming unwell beforehand.
HGE in dogs is idiopathic. This means that a cause probably won't be found if your dog gets the condition.
However, there are some theories as to the root cause of HGE in dogs, although none have been conclusively proved to be correct. Possible causes include food allergies, ingesting poisonous substances, parasites, pancreatitis, or gastrointestinal tract infections.
Apart from bloody diarrhea, there are several other symptoms you should be aware of that may indicate your dog has HGE. The condition often causes vomiting, which can be severe. Your dog's temperature may be higher than usual, and they may appear lethargic and generally unwell.
Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is often painful. Your dog may show signs of abdominal pain or discomfort, and this may make them reluctant to eat or drink.
If you notice symptoms of HGE, you should take your dog to see their vet as a matter of urgency. There is no need to worry about passing the condition to other dogs at the vet's office or at home as the condition isn't contagious. You should not delay seeking veterinary treatment, even if your dog generally appears well. Dogs with this condition can deteriorate very suddenly, and prompt treatment is vital to ensure a full recovery. Waiting to seek treatment can cause complications to develop.
Without prompt treatment, dogs can develop a complication of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). This is a life-threatening blood clotting condition. It occurs when the quantities of red blood cells in the blood rise uncontrollably due to dehydration. Once a dog has DIC, it may not be reversible and can be fatal.
Untreated HGE can also lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) and hypovolemic shock, where the levels of blood or fluid in their body becomes dangerously low. Both of these conditions can cause death if left untreated.
Most dogs with HGE require hospitalization for several days. They will need intravenous fluids to replace those lost due to diarrhea and vomiting, along with potassium and electrolyte supplements. If your dog has a gastrointestinal infection, they will require antibiotics. Depending on the cause, your dog may also need medications to protect their gastrointestinal tract from further damage or to stop them from vomiting.
Fortunately, most dogs with HGE will recover well as long as they are treated very quickly. Of those that are treated, more than 90% will survive. The survival rate is slightly lower in puppies and dogs with pre-existing health problems.
If your dog has had HGE, it's important to monitor them closely for any symptoms of the condition recurring. This is because around 10-15% of dogs who have had hemorrhagic gastroenteritis will get it again.
There's not much that you can do to stop your dog from getting HGE because the causes aren't well-understood. However, it's thought that providing your dog with a low-stress home environment may help to protect them. It may also be helpful to feed your dog a healthy diet free from allergens and any foods likely to irritate their digestive tract. Ask your vet whether giving your dog regular anti-parasitic worming medication is appropriate, as this can also help prevent the condition.
It's thought that highly-strung dogs prone to stress and anxiety are more likely to develop hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. The condition is most commonly occurs in small and toy breeds. Miniature Schnauzers, pinschers and poodles and Maltese and Yorkshire terriers are the most likely breeds to be affected. The average age at onset of illness is five years.
Treating hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in dogs can be very expensive, costing hundreds of dollars. It's a good idea to insure your pet dogs so that their treatment can be paid for if they develop this condition or another serious illness.
If your dog is uninsured, it's important to be upfront with their veterinarian about any financial restrictions before treatment is so that they can try to offer the most affordable treatment possible without compromising the dog's well-being.
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