Is your dog vomiting and having diarrhea? A potential cause is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, or HGE, and it can be life-threatening. Your dog may have no warning signs and need to be hospitalized with intensive treatment. Contact your veterinarian as soon as your dog shows signs to ensure a prompt diagnosis.
What is It?
Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is usually characterized by bloody diarrhea and vomiting. The vomit may contain bile, mucus or blood. Signs progress in a matter of hours rather than days. Any dog can suffer from HGE, but young small breed dogs are most commonly affected -- especially miniature schnauzers, poodles, and Yorkshire terriers. Most pets do not have a fever, but they can be lethargic or uninterested in food. The exact cause is unknown, with factors such as anxiety and stress thought to contribute. Dogs may eat something they are allergic to or be exposed to a toxin. No infectious agent is directly responsible, although some households may have multiple pets affected at the same time, which suggests a predisposing factor may link them.
Your veterinarian will usually have to run diagnostic tests to rule out other disease processes to diagnose HGE. Parvovirus, foreign body ingestion and intestinal parasites can all present similarly. Blood work may show an elevated red blood cell count or hematocrit, representative of dehydration and fluid loss, with a high hematocrit over 60 percent as a hallmark sign. Fecal evaluation rules out intestinal parasites. Radiographs may be needed to check for foreign objects. Giardia and parvovirus tests can help eliminate causes. Your veterinarian can work with you to determine the most prudent tests, as more invasive tests like intestinal biopsies can be expensive and slow the start of treatment.
The treatment goal is stabilizing your dog. It should be started immediately to prevent further problems, and generally intravenous fluids are needed to correct for fluid loss. The disease only lasts for several days for most dogs, but without stabilizing treatment your pet may develop other problems like clotting disorders. Antibiotics are used to prevent secondary bacterial infections in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Most dogs are not fed initially, to prevent added stress from digestion. Other treatment options include anti-nausea medication like Cerenia and gastrointestinal protectants.
Since the exact cause of HGE is unknown, prevention suggestions revolve around eliminating possible causes of HGE. Refrain from allowing your dog to eat table scraps and feed him a high-quality dog food. Maintain a low-stress environment for your furry friend, and work with your veterinarian to manage anxiety. Regular parasite prevention, such as a reliable heartworm prevention product, can also help prevent HGE by eliminating certain intestinal parasites. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Elizabeth Muirhead is a practicing veterinarian with an undergraduate degree in biological sciences. She has real-world experience with the husbandry, grooming, training and feeding a variety of household pets.