Q I came home one evening to find a pool of blood on the floor of my kitchen. My three-year-old Lhasa Apso had passed this from his bowels, seemed very weak and had been sick a little too. I took him straight to my vet and he’s now better, but I’m worried it might recur. What happened and how can I prevent it?
James Farrell advises…
I‘m glad your little boy is better now; it sounds as if he had a bout of haemorrhagic gastroenteritis. This is very common in small dogs, as they seem to have quite sensitive guts. It can be very alarming and severe, and quite distressing for both dog and owner.
Haemorrhagic gastroenteritis can often be set off by rogue scavenging, infection from overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines, or even stress (for example, from a sudden change in a nervous dog’s routine). Fortunately, although they get poorly quickly, they usually get better quickly too.
At the vet’s, blood samples will often be taken to see how much blood has been lost and to check if the kidneys and liver are functioning normally. We usually put dogs on fluids directly into the vein, to make up for the fluid lost in the diarrhoea. In most cases, although blood is seen in a pool, not much has actually been lost and tests show that the dog is very dehydrated and this is why they are weak, rather than from actual blood loss.
Overnight hospitalization and intravenous fluids will get them back to bouncing fitness within 24 hours in most cases. If infection is suspected or seen on blood tests, then vets will start antibiotics also. Gastroprotectant drugs, equivalent to human Gaviscon, may be given to help settle the stomach and prevent further vomiting. Probiotics may be given to reabsorb water from the bowels to reduce diarrhoea. A bland diet of chicken and rice is then often recommended for a few days to help the dog’s digestive system get back on track.
Dogs that have not been vaccinated may also display these signs and this could be parvovirus, which is an altogether different matter. Dogs usually end up in hospital for days and sometimes do not get better, unfortunately. It is therefore important that puppies are vaccinated and kept up to date to limit the impact of this disease. Older dogs with kidney or liver failure may also develop similar signs and different treatment is required, so it is important to get them checked out by your vet if they seem unwell.
Preventing the episode you describe can be tricky. If occurring frequently, then more detailed tests can be done to look into allergic causes and sometimes biopsy samples from the lining of the stomach and intestines are required. However, just ensuring that your dog keeps to a normal good-quality diet and keeping an eye on him on walks (on a lead if necessary) to prevent unwanted scavenging can help. Also, if your dog is a nervous type, try to limit changes to routine and avoid anxiety.