Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis is a potentially life threatening syndrome seen in dogs, which presents with sudden onset of severe bloody diarrhea and/or vomiting. Pets become acutely ill and, if left untreated can die from dehydration, endotoxic shock and/or strokes. We do not know the exact reason for this syndrome. Often times it appears to be brought on by garbage ingestion or by emotional stress. Some pets have excessive numbers of bacteria called Clostridium in the colon which may have a toxin which leads to the development of the symptoms.

The hallmarks of this disease are the sudden onset and “raspberry Jam” appearance of the diarrhea. This syndrome is seen more often in small breed dogs, but can occur in any breed. Symptoms of Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Lethargy

Unfortunately, these symptoms can be present with many diseases and therefore, the diagnosis of Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis is often made through the elimination of other possibilities along with certain characteristic blood test results. In this disease, a large amount of fluid is lost in the gastrointestinal tract in a short period of time. This leads to severe concentration of the blood. Normally blood is about 35-50% red blood cells. During this syndrome, the blood count can rise to 60% or higher. At this level, the blood cannot flow normally through the circulatory system and tissues. This can lead to poor oxygenation and sometimes strokes.

The differential diagnoses we have to entertain when presented with a pet with vomiting and bloody diarrhea include:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney Failure
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Foreign Body ingestion
  • Blood clotting disorder, and more

Typically our veterinary team will need to run a series of blood tests as well as abdominal radiographs to eliminate these other diseases from the diagnosis. Once our veterinarians have determined that the dog is suffering from Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis, the pet will have to be hospitalize the patient and we can institute therapy to achieve the following goals:

  1. Rehydration to restore blood pressure and to dilute the blood back to normal levels
  2. Antibiotic therapy to address possible bacterial toxins which may play a role in this disease
  3. Anti-vomiting/nausea medication to stop vomiting
  4. Pain relief

If treated in a timely and aggressive manner, most of these pets will improve dramatically in 24 to 48 hours. Generally they do not have lasting side effects from the incident, however, these pets are prone to having recurring bouts of the disease over time. Sometimes, the use of anti-anxiety medication can help reduce the incidence of recurrence as can eliminating opportunities to get into garbage or unusual feeds.