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a primer on hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in pets

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

It is not uncommon for dogs to have bloody stools when they have diarrhea. Generally, this is not a serious problem – dogs tend to recover on their own with little intervention. However, there is one exception – hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, or HGE.


Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a potentially life-threatening disease that causes profuse watery, bloody diarrhea. Typically, affected dogs seem perfectly healthy until they suddenly start having diarrhea. Nausea often accompanies the diarrhea, so vomiting and inappetence may also be present.


The exact cause of HGE is currently unknown. We do know that young, small breed dogs are the most commonly affected, but any dog can come down with HGE.  Hyperactive dogs and those that are easily stressed may be more commonly affected as well. Luckily, cats are not affected by HGE.


What makes HGE so dangerous is its potential to cause extreme dehydration. Affected dogs will have such watery diarrhea that they quickly become dehydrated. Add in the fact that they may also be vomiting and refusing water, and the situation gets worse. Without treatment, dogs can easily go into shock and succumb.


There are no specific tests for HGE, but your veterinarian can run a few tests to help guide him or her toward a diagnosis. A packed cell volume (PCV or hematocrit) can usually be run in your clinic, and shows the percentage of red blood cells in your pet’s blood. Dogs with HGE will have a very high PCV due to dehydration, and their blood protein levels will be low.


A high PCV and low protein level in a dog with sudden onset bloody diarrhea points to a diagnosis of HGE. Generally, dogs will be hospitalized for a few days for treatment, which centers on fluid replacement through the use of IV fluids. Anti-nausea medications and antibiotics are also often given, as is other supportive care as needed. Typically, dogs will be held off of food until they’re feeling better. 


Dogs with HGE feel terrible, but luckily with treatment they usually are back to normal in no time. Without treatment, HGE can be deadly. Because conditions like HGE can pop up out of nowhere – and hospitalization for several days quickly becomes expensive – pet health insurance is a good idea for any pet. It can help take the worry out of finances so you can focus on your pet’s recovery.

Has your furry family member experienced a bout of HGE? Share your experience in the comments below. 

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Posted by Christine Preciado
on October 30 2014 13:19

My Havanese mix is 2 years old and has already gotten this 3 times :( Its the worst because of its sudden onset. My dog didn't experience the vomiting but would have diarrhea every 30 minutes. You should be concerned if it doesn't go away after 2 days and they start to get sluggish. My dog would even come and just lay on my lap with sad eyes, that's when I decided to call the vet. Thank God for pet insurance because vet care is expensive and cost me more than $800 each incident. I was smart enough to get the insurance after the first incident.

Posted by ben horsefield
on February 23 2014 11:42

our CKCS had jelly like blood stool the night after we were away on holiday,she was given a shot of antibiotics and sent to vets,she declined and was sent to a & e ! 7 days in after the vets scaring us half to death with kidney,brain,heart,blood problems and a clot to the leg from which she is still recovering we hope she is through the worst.they still are telling us that a platelet count of 12 is dangerous and needs to be kept in as she could still be bleeding somewhere?even though low is common in CKCS,she has had a blood transfusion which is 1 x plasma and then another with cells all product not real blood!she is on the mend now and will be on steroids for a while but hopefully she will recover ok!DRAMAAAAAA!!!comon missy!we miss you x

Posted by Georgia Eckart
on June 08 2013 18:56

We are greyhound parents. Our first 2 hounds both suffered with HGE and needed veterinary care, anitbiotics and fluids. It was very expensive. Now we keep a prescription of Metronidazole on hand and at the first sign of a change in stool with an unusual smell we start our dog on this medication. We have not had to hospitalize our dogs since we started this routine.

Posted by kim emilo
on May 19 2013 15:31

My Bella , 8 lb female yorkie has this Hemorrhage gastric....she was given to me at 3 months with all her pure breed papers , but she came from a pet store ....she has been in & out of emergency hospital so many times from this exact problem ? It cones on fast out of no where ... Starts Like discoloured red/ brown diarrhea....then liquid pools of blood everywhere ....then away I take here ...dehydration pal, antibotics $$$$$$$ only to hear from doctors,were not sure,what causes this ....I changed her dogfood royal canin hypoallergenic Hydrolyzed Protein dry & wet food has really helped her ...no table foods! She only has bloody pools,of blood once a year .... She is a nervous ,high strung dog & always wants to be # 1 .....

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Dr. Jules BensonChief Veterinary Medical Officer of Petplan
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