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What Is HGE in Dogs and Is Your Dog at Risk?

Christina M Ward is a nature-loving writer from the Carolinas where she spends most of her social time with dog (Josie) on chatty walks.

If you have a dog, especially smaller or toy breeds, you need to know about a dangerous disease your dog could get. Sudden onset could potentially lead to the death of your beloved dog if you don't know what to watch for.

Today, we’ll take a look at a condition is called hemorrhagic gastroenteritis,what causes it, what you need to look for, and how you can save your dog.



Every Dog Parent Should Be Taking Note Right Now

What makes me an expert? Well, I am not. I am a dog momma. (And a professional research blogger for cbdMD’s people, skincare, and pet blogs.) And this week, I nearly lost my beloved pet partner — my 10 year old Yorkie/Chihuahua mix pup named Josie.

And not knowing what was happening, not knowing what to do, rationalizing away the symptoms — could have cost her her life.

So, let’s make sure that as a caring pet parent — you and your pet never go through what we have been through these last few days.

When the Vet said my dog could die...

I paid attention.

I felt guilty.

But there was hope...

What Is Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis?

I had never heard of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. When the emergency vet explained to me my dog Josie’s condition, and then explained our two courses of action (one: immediate hospitalization or two: I’d try to care for her at home) I responded with worry (ok, maybe panic) and wonder — how as a dog-mom have I never heard of this condition?

And how did I not know that my own dog was more likely to get this condition than some other dog breeds?

So what is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE)?

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) is a disease of unknown cause. It typically affects young to middle-age, small breed dogs, and its clinical course usually includes a peracute onset of clinical signs that can progress rapidly to death without appropriate therapy. Affected animals are often previously healthy dogs with no pertinent historical information. The syndrome is characterized by acute onset of bloody diarrhea, often explosive, along with an elevated packed cell volume (PCV) (at least 60%). Although the cause remains unknown, it has been suggested that abnormal immune responses to bacteria, bacterial endotoxin, or dietary ingredients may play a role. Perfringens has been isolated from cultures of GI contents in dogs with HGE; however, its exact role in the syndrome has not been determined. Fatal acute HGE was reported in a dog with large numbers of enterotoxin-positive A C. perfringens isolated from the intestinal tract. — Science Direct (Bold emphasis added by the author of this article.)

Basically, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a disease of your dog’s gut that can come on suddenly, will dehydrate your dog quickly, and could be deadly if you are not able to intervene quickly and aggressively enough. The condition usually warrants a hospital stay with some IV treatments for your dog. And the most frightening part — veterinary professionals are not even really sure why some dogs develop this condition, though some types of dog seem to be more at risk.



What Causes Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis?

There are some factors that scientists believe may contribute:

  • Stress | trauma
  • Dietary changes or dietary indiscretion
  • Stomach or intestinal ulcers
  • Gastrointestinal tumors or obstruction
  • Foreign bodies
  • Infectious diseases such as canine parvovirus infection
  • Coagulation disorders
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Intestinal bacteria, particularly C. perfringens may play a role

What Dogs Are Most At Risk?

Smaller dog breeds seem to be more susceptible:

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AHDS can affect any breed, age, size, or gender of dog, but it is most common in small- and toy-breed dogs. Young Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, and Yorkshire Terriers seem to be more commonly affected. Other breeds commonly affected include the Pekingese, Dachshund, Maltese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Shetland Sheepdog, and Poodle. — VetsNow

Can My Other Pets Contract it From An Infected Dog?

No. Thankfully this condition is not contagious.

But stress is a big factor so you may want to keep your dog's environment free of engaging social visits from their best furry pals. Your dog will need lots of time to rest and heal.

Symptoms of Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)

One thing that could have helped my dog avoid several days of suffering would have been me recognizing the earliest symptoms. If I hadn’t spent a few days speculating, wondering, and rationalizing — well, she has eaten some different things since the vet put her on a “soft food diet” or — she did just have surgery so the dietary upset could just be the medicines — then maybe I would have called the vet right away. And when I did call the vet, they thought the same thing I did at first — it’s the dietary changes, let’s try this for a day or two

It was the emergency vet who recognized the severity of Josie’s illness. That one phrase “stools like raspberry jam” gave me chills — because I had seen that for days and didn’t know how dangerous it was.

My dog had these symptoms in this order and this series of events:

  • We moved to a new town (lots of stress there, right?)
  • One week later, she had terrible breath issues. The vet diagnosed she had dental problems and she underwent surgery to remove some teeth.(Lots of pain and stress there too, right?)
  • Soft foods diet moved her from eating a varied diet to only chicken and rice soup I made for her and a new canned dog food which seemed to kick off the tummy upset.
  • She began with very itchy skin and a little bit of diarrhea (New dog food must not be settling, right? Maybe she’s allergic to one of the ingredients?)
  • I cut out the new dog food but the diarrhea persisted into the second day. Then, she vomited, once. (I still wasn’t too alarmed. I mean, she’d just had surgery, new medicines, lots of stress…)
  • The third day — more diarrhea, and lots of vomiting, even with water. I called the vet — they advised, let’s cut out the canned dog food. Restrict food altogether for the rest of today and tomorrow let’s just water down her regular kibble and see if she’ll eat that (She did not. By the next morning she was too sick for me to give her anything at all. She’d vomit, terribly, then hide because she was so upset to have made a mess on the floor…poor baby! Still trying to please me though she was dreadfully ill!)
  • Overnight — the vomiting turned pinkish red. She was violently shaking, violently vomiting, and I was absolutely terrified.
  • In the morning I called the vet again — they were on short hours (for Saturday) and had no spaces in their schedule to see her. They advised I take Josie straight to the ER vet. I took her out to potty before heading to the emergency vet — and there it was, the dark and bloody stools. A lot of it. By this time, she was very weak and visibly very thirsty, but no water would stay down.

Symptoms of HGE in dogs

  • Vomiting (can be severe)
  • Sudden onset of diarrhea
  • Bloody stools. (As the condition advances these stools take on a “raspberry jam” color and consistency.)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy and listlessness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Collapse

What to Do When Your Dog Shows These Symptoms

If your dog is showing these symptoms, get them to a veterinarian — immediately.

Your pup may need emergency fluids administered at a veterinary office or emergency vet.

Your pup may need emergency fluids administered at a veterinary office or emergency vet.

Courses of Treatment

Your vet will likely do some bloodwork, a fecal check for blood, and may check your dog’s blood platelet levels.

Evaluation usually requires a complete blood count (CBC), biochemical analysis of the blood, urinalysis, radiographs (X-rays), coagulation or clotting tests, fecal evaluation, and ultrasound or endoscopic examination of the gastrointestinal tract. — VCA Hospitals

Your dog will likely be treated with a combination of the following treatments:

  • IV fluids.
  • Anti-nausea medication.
  • Withholding of food while the digestive tract calms.
  • Metronidazole antibiotics to treat C. perfringens, which is suspected as a factor in this digestive tract condition.
  • Probiotics to help reset the gut bacteria .
  • Careful reintroduction of foods, a bland diet for a few weeks while your pup’s digestive tract heals.
  • Subcutaneous fluids may be given if the owner chooses at-home treatment, which many sources say is insufficient. Be aware that without a hospital stay, your dog may be more at risk of death from their condition.

Will My Dog Survive Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)?

Your dog can survive this condition and usually within a few days if the appropriate aggressive therapeutic measures are taken. Early intervention is important, which is why as a loving pet parent — you need to know what to look for. If you suspect your dog may have symptoms of Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE), call their vet immediately. If you see pinkish or reddish colors in diarrhea or in their vomitus, insist your pet be seen or find a vet that can see them right away.

My dog is on her way to recovery, though still very ill. Probiotics and antibiotics and the subcutaneous fluids seem to be working — and I am so grateful that veterinary intervention likely saved her life.

Thank you for reading today about Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE), a very unpleasant and terrifying condition. It’s hard to read about things like this but you need to know about this so you can protect your dog.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Christina M Ward

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