Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

By: Christine New, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, Texas

Published May 2015

Diarrhea is one of the most common reasons owners take their pets to be seen by a veterinarian. But does every case of diarrhea warrant a trip to the veterinary clinic? If your pet is still eating, drinking and overall appears bright, alert and healthy and the diarrhea is infrequent, you could try feeding a bland diet (e.g., chicken and rice). If the diarrhea continues beyond 12 to 24 hours or is increasing in frequency, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian at a convenient time.

When is it Serious?

However, if your pet is having frequent amount of jelly-like bloody diarrhea, vomiting and is weak or lethargicSluggish and apathetic., your pet may be suffering from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Don’t wait until the next available appointment. HGE is a rapidly dehydrating form of diarrhea that is characterized by jelly-like diarrhea that contains a large amount of red or black blood. Pets with HGE can become critically ill in as little as 12 hours. Sometimes dogs with HGE will go into shock or even die.

How Common is HGE?

HGE more commonly affects dogs than cats. All dogs, regardless of size, breed and age, can develop HGE. Small dogs tend to be more prone to this condition. Dogs with a history of a sensitive stomach may experience HGE more frequently than others. HGE is usually caused by dietary indiscretion or ingestion of a different food or treat. HGE commonly occurs after dogs consume human foods that are high in fat and/or seasonings but also occurs in dogs that eat a high-fat doggie treat or eat excessive amounts of treats. Dogs with sensitive stomachs have been known to develop HGE after rapid diet changes to a new dog food. Veterinary clinics tend to see more cases of HGE around the holidays, likely because of all the extra human treats and visiting friends and family that may be more likely to feed your pets scraps from the table. Dogs that get into the trash can or raid the leftovers are at a high risk of developing HGE. Oftentimes, the exact cause of HGE may not be known.

When does HGE Occur?

HGE typically occurs anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after dietary indiscretionThe tendency of certain animal of eating unusual items. Initially, your pet is likely to become lethargicSluggish and apathetic., may skip a meal and vomit and then develops bloody diarrhea. These symptoms can all occur within a few hours of each other.

How is HGE Diagnosed and Treated?

HGE is easily diagnosed by your veterinarian with a simple blood test called a PCV (packed cell volume) or hematocrit. A PCV of greater than 55% with a low to normal protein count is generally considered diagnostic of HGE. Normal PCV values for a dog range from 37% to 55%. Other diseases such as parvovirus, pancreatitis and foreign objects stuck in the GI tract may cause similar signs as HGE. In addition to diagnosing HGE, your veterinarian may also perform other bloodwork, X-rays and fecal testing to rule out these other serious diseases.

The exact cause of HGE is unknown but is thought to be caused by the bacteria Clostridium perfringens or its enterotoxins. These bacteria are frequently in the pet and coexist with no problem. HGE can also occur with pancreatitis, either as a cause or result of inflammation of the pancreas.

A dog with HGE will almost always have to be hospitalized for a minimum of 24 hours. Large amounts of fluids are given thru an IV catheter, and an antibiotic such as ampicillin or metronidazole is administered as well as anti-nausea medications. The PCV will be monitored during fluid therapy as will electrolyte levels and protein levels.

With aggressive treatment, the outcome is typically good, as the majority of dogs with HGE make a full recovery. HGE is usually an isolated event and while it can recur in the future, it’s best avoided by monitoring your dog’s access to human foods, garbage and new doggie treats.

Dr. Christine New practices veterinary medicine at the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas.