What You Should Know About Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE) in Dogs

What You Should Know About Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis in PetsHemorrhagic gastroenteritis is an acute gastrointestinal disorder that strikes healthy dogs without warning. This serious condition can progress quickly in small dogs. It causes vomiting, hemorrhagic (bloody) diarrhea, and other symptoms. The illness can potentially kill if left untreated.

Read on to learn the difference between gastroenteritis and hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE), and to find out common symptoms of this potentially deadly ailment. 

What is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is a general medical term that refers to an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Affected organs include the stomach and intestinal tract. Underlying medical conditions and environmental factors may trigger gastroenteritis. Factors that can cause this illness include:

  • Intestinal Parasites: These include coccidia, protozoa, giardia, whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms.
  • Dietary Issues: Some pets develop gastroenteritis after eating non-food items. Others contract the illness when they consume foods their bodies can't process.
  • Immune-System Diseases: Inflammatory bowel disease can trigger gastroenteritis episodes.
  • Allergic Reactions: Inhaled or food-related allergies. Environmental allergens include meat proteins, food additives, artificial coloring, preservatives, and grains.
  • Viruses and Bacteria: Parvovirus and Coronavirus are viral illnesses that can cause gastroenteritis.
  • Secondary Health Conditions: These issues include renal failure, hepatic disease, hypoadrenocorticism, and pancreatitis.
  • Bleeding Disorders (Coagulopathy): Illnesses include thrombocytopenia, rodenticide toxicosis, thrombocytopathia, and other diseases.
  • GI Tract Abnormalities: Ulcerations, neoplasia, and perforations may cause the illness in dogs.

How Does Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis Differ from Gastroenteritis?

Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis differs from typical cases of gastroenteritis. The disease is an idiopathic condition. This means that veterinarians are unsure about the specific mechanisms that trigger the disease in dogs. A diagnosis is made by eliminating other causes of bloody stools.

Unlike gastroenteritis, patients will have the following symptoms:

  • Dogs will have an acute presentation of the disease. The condition starts within hours, then worsens.
  • Pets will have an elevated packed blood cell volume. The packed cell volume (PCF), or hematocrit (HCT), measures the number of blood cells in dogs. Normal canine HCT levels range between 37 percent to 55 percent. In HGE patients, levels spike higher than 60 percent.
  • Affected animals will have bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Other HGE symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anemia (Lack of Appetite)
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea with a raspberry jam consistency
  • Bloody stool
  • Vomiting
  • Sore stomach
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Fainting
  • Fever
  • Blood dripping from the rear legs

HGE is not contagious. Although veterinary researchers don't know what causes the disease, several studies have linked the condition to a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens. Veterinarians found the bacterium in biopsied samples from diagnosed HGE patients. Some researchers believe stress, anxiety, and hyperactivity disorder can also trigger HGE.

"Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis can cause serious health complications, even death. Make sure you know the symptoms—your dog's life may depend on it." TWEET THIS

Which Dog Breeds Are More Likely to Develop HGE?

HGE can affect dogs of any size, breed, age, or gender. Unfortunately, the disease usually impacts small-sized and toy breeds dogs with a median age of 5 years old.

Typical breeds affected by HGE include:

  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Miniature Poodles
  • Maltese
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Miniature Poodles
  • Dachshunds
  • Mixed Breed Dogs

The condition can cause severe dehydration in smaller dogs. Bring your pet to South Boston Animal Hospital immediately if you suspect they have HGE.

Diagnosing Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis in Canines

A South Boston Animal Hospital veterinarian will use blood tests and screenings to rule other causes of gastroenteritis. If the vet cannot find the cause for your pet's gastroenteritis, he or she will provide a clinical diagnosis of HGE.

We'll use several tests to diagnose HGE in your pet. They include:

  • Biochemistry Panel:  We will check your pet's electrolyte and protein levels. We'll also test your dog's liver functions.
  • Complete Blood Count: This test will measure your pet's platelet levels. We'll also test their red and white blood cell count.
  • Fecal Evaluation: We will rule out any parasitic and bacterial infections.
  • Urinalysis: We'll check your dog's kidney function.
  • X-Rays: A veterinarian will check for obstructions inside your pet's intestinal tract.
  • Coagulation and Clotting Tests: These screenings will rule out common blood disorders that can kill.
  • Ultrasound or Endoscopic Examination of GI Tract: The tests will identify any GI tract abnormalities. 

Standard Treatments for Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

Dogs who develop HGE can become seriously ill within hours.  Untreated canines can die, so don't hesitate to bring your dog in. The prognosis is good once pets receive medical treatment.

HGE causes dehydration in canines. Veterinarians use aggressive fluid therapy as a primary treatment. Subcutaneous fluids don't provide enough fluids to rehydrate pets. Our professionals will hydrate your pet using intravenous fluids and electrolytes.

Dehydration can cause an elevated blood cell count in dogs. The condition can cause a potentially fatal clotting disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

Other HGE-related complications include:

  • Marked Hypoproteinemia
  • Sepsis
  • Hypovolemic Shock
  • Sudden Death

Your dog may receive medications to prevent vomiting and protect their gastrointestinal tract. Pets with HGE won't receive food for 24 hours to heal their digestive tract.

Additionally, we will treat secondary infections with antibiotic treatments (enrofloxacin, ampicillin, or metronidazole).  Patients may receive plasma and colloid transfusions to treat low blood protein levels.

What To Do if You Suspect Your Dog has HGE

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is an illness that can cause serious health complications. If you suspect your dog has HGE, bring them to South Boston Animal Hospital immediately. Contact us to schedule an appointment.