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Haemorrhagic gastro-enteritis (HGE) in dogs and cats

Haemorrhagic gastro-enteritis (HGE) is a syndrome where a dog or cat passes diarrhoea and/or vomit containing fresh red blood. Sometimes they can have profuse watery bright red diarrhoea and it can appear very dramatic, which can be extremely distressing for owners as. There are many different causes of this HGE. Some pets are more prone than others. Depending upon the cause, most pets make a full recovery. However, sometimes they require hospitalisation before they are well enough to return home. Our vet describes what to look out for in this article.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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Causes of HGE in dogs and cats

  • Stomach or intestinal ulcers - usually causes either fresh red blood in stools or vomit, or black stools with digested blood. The vomit may also appear speckles brown like coffee granules

  • Infections - bacterial, viral, parasitic or protozoal infections can cause bloody diarrhoea and/or vomit. Parvovirus in dogs and panleukopenia in cats are a severe cause of this disease and ones we vaccinate for in the UK.

  • Foreign bodies in the gastro-intestinal tract

  • Gastro-intestinal tumours

  • Clotting disorders - these can stop blood clotting normally, for example, after consuming rat poison

  • Certain medications - for example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can trigger this syndrome in certain individuals

Symptoms of HGE in dogs and cats

  • Profuse watery diarrhoea with blood - may be in large quantities with straining and urgency

  • Vomiting with fresh red blood or coffee ground colour brown speckles

  • Reduced appetite and nausea - lip smacking, drooling

  • Lethargy

  • Abdominal pain - reluctance to move, being withdrawn, crying/whimpering

  • Fever

If dogs or cats lose large amounts of fluid rapidly from the gut then they are at risk of developing shock, which can cause damage to vital organs. It is important if your dog is passing large quantities of vomit or diarrhoea you seek advice for this to treat for shock. Signs such as low blood pressure and high heart rate are usually only detected by a vet.

Symptoms of shock include:

  • Rapid breathing

  • Weakness

  • Severe lethargy

  • Pale gums

Diagnosis of HGE in dogs and cats

There is no specific test for HGE. Diagnosis is usually made by clinical examination together with a full history. Other tests, such as blood tests, faecal analysis and ultrasound/x-rays, may be used to look for an underlying cause. It is common not to find a specific underlying cause. As a result, your pet may be treated symptomatically and as long as they are responding to treatment further testing may not be required.

Treatment of HGE in dogs and cats

Not all dogs and cats with HGE require hospitalisation. If they are still bright and eating, and their diarrhoea is not profuse, after examination by your vet, they may recommend that they be treated at home. Medications often prescribed include gastro-protectants, probiotics and a highly digestible (bland) diet.

If they are dehydrated, or in shock, your pet may need to be admitted for intravenous fluid therapy and medication, especially if they are not eating. They may require anti-sickness drugs, pain relief and sometimes antibiotics.

When should I see my vet?

  • Passing vomit or diarrhoea with blood

  • Not eating or lethargic for two days or more

  • Passing repeated profuse diarrhoea or vomit

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