Dr. Danielle Wassink, an emergency-care vet at Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services (ACCES) in Seattle, answers the second of a two-part series on bloody diarrhea in dogs.
Question: What is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis?
Answer: Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, known as HGE, is characterized by an acute onset of severe bloody diarrhea, with or without vomiting, in an otherwise healthy dog.
HGE often starts acutely, without warning, in a dog that was acting normally several hours prior. Other times it may develop after a day or so of diarrhea, lethargy or vomiting.
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The diarrhea is very alarming as it is typically described as looking like “raspberry jam” or watery blood. There is not often any typical brown diarrhea present.
Though most often described in small breeds of dogs, any breed, gender and age of dog can be affected.
While the causes for diarrhea with blood are numerous, HGE is one of the more common reasons we see dogs at the emergency room for bloody diarrhea.
Question: What causes HGE?
Answer: The underlying cause of HGE is unclear, though inciting factors can include overgrowth of certain bacteria (Clostridium perferingens), food allergies, bacterial toxins, eating of trash and stress. Some pets have a history of getting into the trash or a bounty of table scraps, especially around the holidays. However, most animals with HGE do not have any significant previous history to point to an underlying cause.
In general HGE is not considered to be contagious; however, sometimes multiple dogs from a household are affected. In these cases, there is typically an inciting factor affecting both pets, such as stress related to moving or both dogs getting into the trash.
Question: What are the clinical signs of HGE?
Answer: Owners often describe the diarrhea as “raspberry jam” in color and consistency that often starts acutely. Some dogs may have a few episodes of diarrhea before it becomes bloody. Vomiting is also common, and occasionally there is blood in the vomit as well.
Depending on the severity of illness, some dogs are not eating, and they can become very lethargic or weak. Even if a dog is eating some or drinking water, he or she often cannot keep up with the amount of fluid being lost and dehydrates quickly.
Catching and treating HGE as soon as possible is very important because severe dehydration can lead to low blood pressure and shock.