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What is Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a disorder that only affects dogs. It's signature symptom, bloody diarrhea, comes on suddenly. While the exact cause of the infection is not known, certain intestinal issues could possibly be bring it about. Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is diagnosed with a battery of tests and requires extremely quick treatment. If left untreated, a dog can die within hours of the onset of symptoms.

A sudden bout of vomiting, anorexia, withdrawn behavior, and explosive, bloody diarrhea are the most noticeable symptoms of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. While it can occur in any dog, it is most common in smaller canines that reside in urban settings. It is very rare for a dog under one year old to contract this illness. Due to the rapid progression of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, it is typically difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the disease. In general, damage to the intestinal lining, a viral infection, or a bacterial infection are possible causes. It can also result from a hypersensitivity to food.

Once symptoms of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis present, the dog needs to be taken to a veterinarian immediately. To diagnose the disease, a vet typically looks for a higher-than-normal amount of red blood cells as well as testing fecal matter and urine; the vet will also run a general test for any other possible diseases. Once a diagnosis of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is made, treatment needs to begin immediately.

For the first three days following the diagnosis, the dog is given antibiotics and fluid. All food is withheld for two reasons: the dog's stomach needs a chance to settle, and the dog's food itself could be the cause of the illness. During this time, the pet typically needs to stay at the veterinarian’s office for round-the-clock care. After three days, or after the dog stops vomiting, it is given a bland diet of foods it has probably never had before, typically cottage cheese, lamb, tofu, and white rice. Once on this diet, as long as the dog is making visible improvements, the owner will most likely be able to take it home. The bland diet is then administered from home, with the dog's usual food being slowly reintroduced after seven days.

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is an extremely serious illness. If left untreated, it is almost always fatal; even with treatment, approximately 10% of dogs do not make it. In some breeds, especially toy poodles and miniature schnauzers, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis may become a recurring illness; this can happen in up to 15% of all cases. If the family vet is unavailable after hours, many communities have animal emergency care available for this type of situation; waiting until normal office hours to seek treatment can greatly reduce a dog's chance of survival. Immediate medical care is a must when a family pet is faced with this disease.

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