Bloody diarrhea is a sign that something is seriously wrong. Find out if it could be hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE)—which can be deadly if left untreated.
close up of a black dog with hge
Credit: Alvaro Lavin / Getty

Is your pup having major diarrhea? A number of conditions cause diarrhea and vomiting, including hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) in dogs. It's also referred to as acute hemorrhagic diarrhea syndrome (AHDS). The condition isn't contagious, but it can be life-threatening if left untreated. Even scarier? It often springs up in perfectly healthy dogs. Carling Matejka, DVM, a spokesperson for pet food company Solid Gold, explains what we know about the condition and its treatment.

What Is HGE in Dogs?

If your pooch has HGE, it means that your dog's stomach and intestines are inflamed (swollen and irritated) and bleeding. HGE usually comes on suddenly and the main symptom is bloody diarrhea, which often resembles raspberry jelly, Matejka says.

According to Veterinary Partners, a publication for veterinary professionals, 80 percent of dogs with HGE also have vomiting. That symptom typically starts about 10 hours before diarrhea and sometimes contains blood.

Dogs with HGE are also tired, don't eat, and can quickly become dehydrated, which if left untreated can lead to shock and even death. The good news: The Merck Veterinary Manual says that dogs with HGE usually make a full recovery with veterinary treatment.

Causes of HGE in Dogs

The exact cause of canine HGE is unclear. But it may be due to a hypersensitivity to or overgrowth (infection) of Clostridium perfringens, a type of bacteria in the digestive tract. The bacteria release toxins that create ulcers (open sores) on the intestinal walls. This allows fluid, proteins, and blood to leak into the intestines, which is why you see profuse bloody diarrhea, says Matejka.

Other possible causes of HGE in dogs include:

  •  Eating foods outside the normal diet
  •  Ingesting toxins or foreign objects
  •  Having pancreatitis, a coagulation disorder, or an immune-mediated disease

Risk Factors for HGE in Dogs

Any dog can develop HGE, but toy breeds like miniature poodles, miniature schnauzers, and Yorkshire terriers are more prone to the condition. Dogs with a past history of HGE and pups under five years old are at a higher risk, too. Canine stress and anxiety may also contribute to the likelihood of getting HGE.

How to Treat HGE in Dogs

If your dog has signs of HGE, seek immediate veterinary care. Severe diarrhea and vomiting caused by HGE lead to extreme dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, says Matejka. So, the primary treatment is to restore fluid loss with intravenous (IV) fluids.

Veterinarians often prescribe antibiotics as well to prevent infections and treat bacterial overgrowth; metronidazole is sometimes used in these cases. Your dog may also need blood transfusions to counteract significant blood loss. Other drugs your veterinarian may prescribe during your pet's recovery include those that address nausea, stomach acid, pain, and repopulating the gut with good bacteria (probiotics).

Canine HGE doesn't last very long if dogs receive immediate veterinary care. They tend to bounce back quickly, with rapid improvement within the first 24 hours of receiving treatment. Most pups are discharged from the hospital in about three days.

Home Remedies for HGE in Dogs

While it would be nice if there was a cure for HGE in dogs you could do at home, Matejaka says: "There are no at-home remedies for HGE in dogs. If your pet has bloody diarrhea and is vomiting, it's crucial that you have a veterinarian assess your dog. Otherwise, HGE can lead to life-threatening conditions including low blood pressure, sepsis (widespread internal inflammation), and organ failure."

How to Prevent HGE in Dogs

It's difficult to say how to prevent canine HGE since we don't know for sure what causes it. But poor gut health may make your pet more susceptible. Feeding your pooch a well-balanced, high-quality commercial diet is always a good idea. You might also consider giving your dog a probiotic supplement to boost friendly bacteria in the gut, which keeps bad bacteria in check. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations and if probiotics are right for your dog.

Stress and anxiety can affect gut health, too. If your dog has anxiety, there are steps you can take to create a relaxing home environment and products that may help your pooch stay calm. You can also work with an animal behaviorist and talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications.

The bottom line: HGE in dogs is a serious but treatable condition. If you're worried your dog might have it, seek immediate veterinary attention. Early treatment provides better outcomes and will help your furry pal feel better fast.