Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis isn’t something that the average dog owner has to deal with in their dog’s lifetime. When it does occur, however, it comes quickly and can be life-threatening, so it’s important to be familiar with HGE in dogs and its symptoms.

Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis in Dogs?

HGE or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a gastrointestinal disorder that comes on suddenly and quickly in dogs that have otherwise been generally healthy. It is characterized by inflammation of the dog's digestive tract which causes bloody diarrhea, and in some cases, vomiting.

“Gastroenteritis” (a condition of its own) describes the inflammation in the digestive tract and “hemorrhagic” describes the considerable amount of blood associated with HGE.

HGE vs Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is not the same as gastroenteritis in dogs.

Gastroenteritis, or inflammation in the digestive tract, can cause vomiting and diarrhea as well as lethargy and an inability to get comfortable for the dog. But it very rarely causes bloody diarrhea.

HGE, on the other hand, is characterized by bloody diarrhea. Dogs with HGE will also have an elevated packed cell volume count when a CBC blood panel is done and the onset of their symptoms is much more sudden.

While bloody diarrhea can rarely be seen in dogs with gastroenteritis, it is most often seen in hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and is a good sign that illness should not just be written off as gastroenteritis without further testing.

Symptoms of HGE in Dogs

Most common symptoms of HGE in dogs appear suddenly and include:

  • Sudden diarrhea
  • A lot of blood in the feces (feces may resemble raspberry jam)
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Collapse
  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Death

It’s imperative to seek veterinary help immediately if you see any signs of HGE in your pet as it can very quickly become life-threatening.

What Causes HGE?

The exact cause of HGE in dogs is unknown but one theory is that it’s the result of a hypersensitivity to clostridium (a bacteria that occurs naturally in the dog's intestines) that has overgrown.

Dogs More Susceptible to Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

HGE is most often seen in small breeds, although it is still sometimes seen in large dogs.

The average age for a dog to develop HGE is around 5 years old.

Some breeds of dogs also have a higher possibility of developing HGE:

  • Dachshunds
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Miniature poodles
  • Yorkshire terriers
  • Mixed breed dogs

Testing Dogs with HGE

A diagnosis of HGE is made primarily based on physical symptoms and sudden onset of symptoms.

HGE testing may include:

  • Complete blood panel. In HGE this will reveal a high volume of red blood cells in the blood.
  • Fecal sample. This is to rule out parasites as the cause of symptoms or to check for parasites that may complicate HGE.
  • Urinalysis. This checks kidney health as the kidney function can be impacted by dehydration in dogs with HGE.
  • X-ray. This may sometimes be necessary to check for any obstructions in the intestinal tract.

Depending on the findings in these tests and your veterinarian's confidence in the results, they may want to conduct more in-depth testing such as:

  • Abdominal ultrasound. This will check for any abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Specific viral testing. Testing for specific viruses can rule out other possible causes of symptoms.
  • Canine pancreas-specific lipase testing. This checks for and can rule out pancreatitis as a cause of symptoms.

How to Treat HGE in Dogs

Treatment for dogs with HGE is usually targeted at symptom relief. Dogs are given IV fluids to prevent dehydration, anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea medications.

If a bacterial infection is suspected, a course of oral antibiotics will also be necessary. In severe cases, a plasma transfusion may be needed to stabilize blood protein levels.

Dogs with HGE should remain under the observation of a vet for at least 24 hours for ongoing supportive care.

Prognosis for Dogs with Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

The prognosis for dogs with HGE depends on how soon treatment was sought as well as the size of the dog and the severity of their symptoms.

If treatment is aggressive and sought quickly, most dogs will recover from HGE well and a repeat blood panel will reflect this improvement.

Dogs are at high risk for complications or even death the longer HGE symptoms continue without treatment. This is usually a result of blood loss and dehydration.

Young dogs and elderly dogs are also at a higher risk of developing complications as a result of HGE.

Estimates tell us that less than 10% of dogs with HGE will die as a result of the illness.

Life After Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

In the short-term picture, dogs that have recovered from HGE are going to be a little off even after release from the veterinary hospital. It is not uncommon for them to refuse food for a day or two.

You can help your dog to take in nutrients during this time by feeding very small amounts of bland diet like boiled chicken and rice, and making sure that they drink plenty of water.

In the long-term picture, there is a 10% to 15% chance that a dog that has suffered from HGE will experience a second bout of HGE in the future.

Preventing Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

There is no way to prevent HGE in dogs, primarily because we’re not entirely sure what causes it. Fortunately, the condition is rare.

Our first line of defense when it comes to this illness is to act as soon as symptoms become apparent, which increases the chance of quick and successful recovery.

Does Pet Insurance Cover HGE?

Treatment of hemorrhagic hastroenteritis in dogs can be expensive but most pet insurance policies that cover illness will cover hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

Remember that most policies require that you pay upfront for services and they issue reimbursement checks later, so you are still looking at paying out of pocket for treatment.

How Much Does Treatment for HGE Cost?

Like anything else, the cost of veterinary treatment depends on many factors:

  • Where you live
  • Your particular vet
  • The severity of symptoms
  • The extent of care required
  • How long your dog needs monitoring

As an example, one customer of Embrace pet insurance, whose small terrier developed HGE, faced a veterinary bill of $1,629.93. According to Embrace, she was later reimbursed for $1,489.40 of that bill or $1,160.46 after her $200 deductible and 10% co-pay.

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Kelly works as a veterinary technician in Austin, TX as well as regular animal rescue volunteer. She's been an animal lover and dog owner since childhood, and has worked in different dog related fields over the last twenty years. Currently she lives with three dogs and a cat.