Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) is an acute and potentially fatal disease of dogs. This condition can be extremely distressing for pet owners. Although hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is very debilitating, if it is treated early and aggressively, most dogs have a good chance for recovery.
What is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis?
Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is an acute condition of dogs characterized by the sudden onset of severe bloody vomiting and explosive bloody diarrhea. Large amounts of fresh blood are passed in the vomit and diarrhea, leaving the animal weak, depressed, and reluctant to eat. As the disease progresses, pets rapidly deteriorate, becoming shocked and collapsed. This is a life-threatening situation that requires immediate treatment. The mortality rate is high for dogs that go untreated.
What causes hemorrhagic gastroenteritis?
The actual cause of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is unknown. There are several theories that HGE may be caused by a viral infection, bacterial infection, bacterial toxins, or immune-mediated destruction of the intestinal lining. The disease usually occurs in healthy animals with no history of concurrent illness. About 15% of dogs that have had an episode of HGE will suffer a relapse.
Are there any there any predisposing factors for HGE?
HGE occurs in all breeds of dogs, at any age. However, it appears to occur more frequently in small and toy breeds of dogs. Breeds that seem to have a higher than average incidence of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis are the miniature Schnauzer, Dachshund, Yorkshire terrier, and miniature poodle. The average age at onset of disease is 2-4 years old, and there is no gender predisposition.
How is HGE diagnosed?
If your dog is vomiting blood or producing bloody diarrhea, it should be taken to a veterinarian at once. Though the symptoms of HGE are very distinctive, other diseases that cause similar symptoms must be ruled out (e.g. ulcers, viral infections, bacterial infections, parasites, poisoning, cancer, etc.).
After taking a complete medical history and performing a thorough physical exam, additional tests may be required. Routine blood tests are necessary to calculate the extent of blood loss and to check for any other sources of illness. Other possible tests are fecal tests for bacteria and parasites, abdominal x-rays, and an electrocardiogram to detect any cardiac abnormalities arising from the loss of blood.
What is the treatment for hemorrhagic gastroenteritis?
If the veterinarian suspects that your pet has HGE, it should be hospitalized and treated aggressively. Fluid therapy is the mainstay of treatment. IV fluids, and occasionally blood transfusions, are used to replace lost blood, maintain adequate heart function, and correct any electrolyte deficits.
Antibiotics and steroids are also recommended. Dogs should receive nothing to eat or drink during the acute stage of the disease. As they recover, they should be started on a bland, easily digestible diet for at least a week before resuming their normal diet.
What is the expected outcome of the disease?
Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis typically lasts about 2-3 days. The majority of dogs recover with no complications if they are treated early on in the disease. Dogs that are not treated have a poor prognosis for recovery. Pet owners should always be aware that a small percentage of dogs with HGE will suffer relapses.
Are there any preventative measures for HGE?
Since the cause of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is still unknown, there is no way to prevent the disease. Thus, it is important for owners to act quickly when their pets show signs of illness.