Haemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

What is haemorrhagic gastroenteritis?

Canine haemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) is a disorder of dogs characterised by sudden onset of vomiting or diarrhoea, containing variable amounts of blood. The blood may be bright red (fresh blood) or dark (digested blood). Affected dogs are usually very depressed. It is most common in small breeds. Sometimes, the dog could appear mildly unwell in the preceding 24 hours, but often the dog has been completely normal up until the onset of signs.  The condition is rapidly progressive and requires urgent treatment.

Causes

The exact cause of HGE is unknown, but bacterial toxins appear to be involved. Eating contaminated foods may contribute to the onset of the condition. There is a large loss of blood and fluid from the circulation into the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in rapid, severe dehydration and shock. Eventually, the blood may become so thick that it flows very slowly through the blood vessels. Left untreated, HGE may be fatal.

Diagnosis

Suspicion of HGE is largely based on the history and clinical signs, plus exclusion of other possible causes of bloody vomiting and diarrhoea. Conditions like parvovirus infection, hookworms or ulcers could also cause blood in the stool. Faecal tests, blood tests, and diagnostic imaging such as ultrasound or X-ray may need to be undertaken.

Treatment

Restoring the circulating blood volume and correcting dehydration are the two main concerns. Intravenous fluid therapy is essential, initially given at a rapid rate, then more slowly. The fluid therapy may have to be continued for one to two days or more. Antibiotics are also usually given.

If treated early, there is usually a rapid improvement. After one to two days, oral fluids can be introduced, then a low fat, easily digestible diet while the gastrointestinal tract recovers. There are usually no recurrences or long-term consequences after recovery from HGE.

If your pet displays any of the symptoms of HGE, immediate treatment is essential. Contact your local Greencross Vets clinic immediately.