Editor’s Note: This is a tough article to read, and is not pleasant for me to even think about. But it IS important. Our Cockapoo, Albion nearly died from this terrible illness, the symptoms of which came on quickly, horribly, and terrified us all. Luckily, he survived. But not all dogs are so lucky. You owe it to your dog and yourself to learn more about HGE, just in case.

What Is HGE?

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) is a potentially fatal condition which responsible dog owners should be aware of. Whilst it is clearly a dangerous disease, with a high mortality rate, if symptoms are identified early and if treatment is given immediately, there is a good possibility that the dog will make a recovery. Symptoms to be aware of include severe vomiting of blood as well as extreme bloody diarrhea. Since the dog may lose a large amount of fresh blood in the diarrhea and vomit, he will become very weak very quickly and will go off his food.
What Causes HGE?

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis can occur in healthy animals who do not have any other known medical conditions. The cause of the condition HGE is unknown at present, but there are a number of theories as to its cause. Specialists have suggested that HGE may be caused by infection, either viral or bacterial, or perhaps as a result of bacterial toxins. Tests have shown that around 15% of dogs which have suffered an attack of HGE will likely suffer a relapse.

As well as occurring in otherwise healthy dogs, HGE does not predispose between male and female dogs. Typically the average age at which HGE onsets in a dog is two to four years of age. There is no definitive list of breeds in which HGE occurs or does not occur, as it can manifest in any dog. However, evidence appears to suggest that smaller breeds of dog may be more predisposed to the illness. The miniature Poodle, the miniature Schnauzer, the Yorkshire Terrier and the Dachshund are all breeds which have higher than average occurrences of HGE. As a smaller dog, your Cockapoos also can be threatened by this illness.

How Does A Vet Diagnose and Treat HGE?

Hopefully, common sense will tell you to take your dog to your veterinarian immediately if he vomits blood or has bloody diarrhea. Your veterinarian will run tests to rule out other conditions which share some symptoms with HGE, such as viral or bacterial infections, ulcers, parasites, cancer, poisoning and so on. Blood tests will indicate how much blood your dog has lost and may indicate other sources of concern. Fecal tests will examine possible parasites and bacteria. An electrocardiogram and x-rays of your dog’s abdomen will also assist in diagnosing whether your dog has HGE.

Treatment for HGE tends to be aggressive and is usually commenced in hospital under close supervision. The dog will have lost a great deal of fluid and this will need to be replaced, sometimes by means of a transfusion, but almost certainly be using an intravenous drip. Heart function will be monitored and electrolyte deficiencies will be corrected. Steroids and antibiotics to prevent infection may also be prescribed. Since a dog’s digestion will have been badly affected during the illness, he should not have anything to eat or drink during the treatment of the acute stage of the condition. As recovery gets underway, a diet of bland and easily digestible food is recommended for at least a week, before a normal diet is reintroduced.

Editor’s Note: After the immediate threat was removed, and Albi was home, our own veterinarian told us that we should keep several things on hand. First, Pedialyte, a great thing to rehydrate your dog during your recovery, but also a good way to slow down the illness and add electrolytes if it starts up again. Also, Famotidine, an over-the-counter anti-acid tablet which dogs can take in small doses. These two things could buy time by keeping him hydrated and full of electrolytes, while reducing stomach distress until we got him to the vet. We bought a large puppy-feeding syringe to easily feed a fair amount of Pedialyte. Every moment counts when your dog is losing blood and fluids from every possible avenue, and if we ever even begin to even suspect HGE again, we will administer these things. Even if it is just during the car ride to the emergency vet.

What Prognosis Is Expected?

Provided that urgent treatment is given to a dog diagnosed with HGE, an attack may last only two to three days. Many dogs make a good recovery and do not suffer from any complications. Unfortunately, if treatment is delayed for any reason, the outcome for most dogs is not positive. If your dog has suffered from HGE, be aware that a small percentage of dogs will suffer a relapse, so be sure to take immediate action.

How Can I Prevent HGE? 

As yet there are no preventative measures for HGE, since the exact cause of the condition is not yet known. It is always a good idea to carefully monitor your dog’s eating and eliminating habits, and take good care to make sure he eats only high quality treats and foods, without an over-abundance of variation. Responsible pet owners should act quickly if their dog exhibits any symptoms or signs of illness, so that any conditions, including HGE, may be treated quickly.