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Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE) Looms Large over Small Dogs

Posted August 12, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, often abbreviated HGE, is a fancy way of describing inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that results in bloody diarrhea. Despite its fancy name, know that HGE can result in severe clinical signs. Untreated, HGE can quickly be life threatening as it progresses to hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar), electrolyte imbalances, severe dehydration, hypovolemic shock, and even sepsis.

Gastroenteritis in dogs
Yorkshire TerrierThe term “gastroenteritis” typically means that there is an acute inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (e.g., stomach, small intestines, and large intestines). There are numerous causes for gastroenteritis, including infections (e.g., bacterial, viral, parasitic), dietary changes, metabolic problems (e.g., pancreas, liver or kidney disease), immune-mediated causes (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease), obstructions (e.g., foreign bodies), stress, etc. Some of these conditions can even result in bloody diarrhea.

However, gastroenteritis is clinically different from the diagnosis of HGE.

The difference between HGE and gastroenteritis
With HGE, there are a few unique clinical features that make it different from gastroenteritis alone. These include:

  • An elevated packed cell volume (see the diagnostic section below)
  • An acute nature (signs occurring within just a few hours)
  • Bloody diarrhea

Another way to confirm HGE is to rule out any underlying causes. With HGE, there is no underlying cause (i.e., parasitic infections, metabolic problems, etc., must be ruled out).

What dogs are at risk for HGE?
HGE is more often seen with certain breeds including small dogs1 such as:

Symptoms of HGE
Clinical signs of HGE can occur very quickly, within just a few hours. Symptoms include:

  • Malaise
  • Not eating
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • “Raspberry jam” appearance to the feces
  • Drippings of blood-tinged fluid on the rear legs, feathers, or perineal area
  • Painful abdomen
  • Not moving
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Collapse
  • Fever

Diagnosing HGE
The diagnosis of HGE is typically based on ruling out other medical causes. Blood work should be performed to rule out underlying problems and to monitor for the severity of dehydration. With HGE, the packed cell volume (PCV) – the number that represents the amount of red blood cells in the body - is typically very elevated. Normal PCV ranges from 35-45%, and for patients with HGE, the PCV is typically > 60%;1 This finding is classic for HGE.

Other tests that may need to be assessed include:

  • A complete blood count to evaluate the red and white blood cell count, along
Related symptoms: 

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.