Recently I had to rush my Parsons Russell Terrier to the Veterinarian ER. He had vomited the night before and seemed out of sorts a little bit, but not unusual for a 10+ year old dog. The only thing different that night was that he did not play his “Ha Ha I can catch you but you cannot catch me” game with Babs our Border Collie. This is a nightly ritual around the living room furniture.
When my husband got up the next morning, Riley had had diarrhea and was listless. This was 5:30 a.m. Larry immediately woke me up and when I looked at Riley I knew he was very sick. We immediately took him to the Veterinary ER.
We spent the morning at the ER and then took him to my regular veterinarian when they opened. The diagnosis was Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, (HGE). Because I had caught the disease before it had progressed and got Riley to the veterinarian right away, he was able to come home that afternoon. By the next day he seemed like his old self but still had a few days of medications and a bland diet left to go.
HGE is a disease that causes sudden vomiting and bloody diarrhea. The symptoms are severe and can be fatal if the dog is not treated right away. The progression of the disease is so fast that a dog can die within 24 hours.
Although it is common in young adult dogs (Riley had it when he was one to two years old) it can show up in older dogs as I found out. It is most common in small breeds but it can affect any dog of any size.
What is important to know is that the disorder occurs very suddenly and without warning. The main symptoms are vomiting and bloody diarrhea which is often bright red, like fresh blood. Some dogs have painful abdomens, they will not eat, can have a high fever and are listless. In Riley’s case his temperature dropped to 98°F.
The exact cause of HGE is unknown but some suspected causes are:
- Eating non-food items
- Eating different foods that the dog is not used to
- Immune-mediated disease
- Various toxins
- Stress (note that stress can be good stress such as excitement about playing, as well as bad)
- Allergic reaction to food or airborne substances
- Intestinal parasites and bacteria
Riley had a battery of tests and X-rays to rule out other causes of his symptoms. Some of the tests that a veterinarian may use could include a CBC, analysis of the blood, urinalysis, X-rays, clotting tests, fecal test, ultrasound or gastrointestinal tract exam.
Treatment must include IV fluids, antibiotics, and in some cases gastrointestinal protectants, anti-vomiting medications and perhaps plasma or colloids. The most critical treatment are IV fluids which must be given right away. If not, the dog will most likely die.
Since there is not clear trigger for HGE, it is hard to prevent it. What I learned is that while a younger dog can tolerate some of the causes, an older dog may not. That means that an owner with an older dog must be more careful. One of the things that my veterinarian stressed is to only feed a high-quality dog food, which I do. Dog foods that are available in the supermarket or discount stores are not high quality. I personally like Annamaet and Wysong foods. Even if you feed your dog a high-quality food, you must also be careful with the treats you give your dog. Poor quality treats may trigger HGE as well. Another important preventative measure is to be sure to give your dog regular heartworm medication as well as tick and flea prevention.
Always keep the phone number and address of your emergency veterinarian clinic handy as well as your regular veterinarian. Some emergency clinics are only open at night and weekends instead of 24 hours. A dog who is being treated for HGE must stay at a clinic under supervision until they are well enough to come home. The total treatment can be costly, Riley’s bill came to over $1000 for both clinics combined. If your dog is young, it might be a good idea to get pet health insurance, many plans are reasonably priced. This is a very good idea if you have a working dog who is more likely to be injured or get sick.
Some people may see the early signs of HGE and feel that the dog will get better in a day or so. What I hope my readers learn from this article is that you cannot wait. It is much better to be safe then have your dog die. The longer the dog suffers from HGE the less likely they will survive due to complications that HGE causes.