Hemorrhagic GastroEnteritis (HGE) in Dogs

What is it?

HGE as most commonly called is a potentially life-threatening intestinal condition.  HGE manifests as very sudden onset bloody, watery diarrhea.  Vomiting is also often present.   This may seem like your usual tummy upset or irritated bowel that can occur from time to time.  The difference with HGE is that it extremely dehydrating for what may appear as a relatively small amount of diarrhea.  Without prompt treatment the dog can go into shock and most often it can then be fatal.

What Are The Signs?

In most cases pet owners have reported that the dog was healthy and happy only hours prior and then a very sudden onset of bloody diarrhea and possible vomiting.  The dog may stop eating and appear fatigued or listless.   Dogs become dehydrated; however this is not usually clinically seen on initial presentation.   Shock can develop very quickly if left untreated.

How Do Dogs Get It?

We don’t know what causes HGE.  There are many theories.  There is some suspicion that a bacterium called Clostridium Perfringens may be involved.  It is also thought stress may play a role in the development of HGE.  Nothing has been proven yet.  HGE is not considered contagious.

Are Certain Dogs More Susceptible?

For some reason, young, small breed dogs appear to be at the highest risk.  Stress and hyperactivity seem to be predisposing factors as seen in many small breeds.   HGE also appears to occur equally in males and females.  However, it can affect any breed, gender and age. 

What Happens During A HGE Episode?

The lining of the intestinal tract becomes very leaky, however interestingly is not inflamed.  Fluid, protein and red blood cells seep out of the intestinal wall.  The body then reacts with a process known as splenic contraction.  The spleen releases its red blood cell reserves into circulation.  Despite large amounts of water being lost through the intestinal tract, dogs with HGE often do not appear dehydrated.  As a result, Hypovolemic shock can quickly develop if fluids are not replaced intravenously.

How Is HGE Diagnosed?

Why there are no specific tests for HGE.  By combing the clinical signs of bloody diarrhea and completing a packed cell volume ‘PCV’ test that presents a reading higher than 60% indicates HGE.  There are other potential causes of bloody diarrhea such as Parvovirus, Poisoning, Addison’s disease, Parasites to name just a few. 

What Is The Treatment?

Without knowing the exact cause of the disease the treatment is essentially supportive but aggressive fluid replacement.  It needs to start immediately with IV fluid to get the PCV back to normal range and prevent shock.  Antibiotic in case the cause is bacterium Clostridium Perfringens.  If the dog is vomiting then anti-nausea medications will also be prescribed.  Once the dog’s condition starts to improve and no longer vomiting, water and small bland meals can be offered.  Several days of hospitalisation are commonly required until the dog is stable enough to go home with oral antibiotics.

Will My Dog Get HGE Again?

Even though HGE is not contagious, around 10% of dogs will have more than one episode during their lives.

What Is The Success Rate?
Treated early and aggressively Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis has a good prognosis.  Most dogs usually recover within a few days.

Once your dog has had HGE owners tend to become more aware of the symptoms and seek medical treat much more quickly than first time around. 

In Closure:

If your dog is showing any unusual signs or displays behaviour that is ‘not normal’.  Please contact your veterinarian immediately.  Your veterinarian will be able to advise if it sounds like an emergency or if it can wait.


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