Aspen has blood coming out of her butt. I had just come out of a Starbucks about thirty-five minutes from home when my husband called to deliver this alarming news. Trying to remain calm, I told him that I would be there as quickly as possible and to have Aspen ready to go the emergency veterinarian hospital. It was Sunday, of course, and our regular vet was closed. The drive home seemed endless and I tried to avoid imagining worst case scenarios which proved to be a difficult task.

When I arrived home Aspen was no longer bleeding and seemed fine which slightly eased my worries. The hour-long drive to the hospital appeared to be a carefree ride in the car for Aspen as she showed no signs of being ill.

At the hospital Aspen was examined by a vet and a blood sample was taken. In a short amount of time our eighteen month old dog was diagnosed with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, also known as HGE, is an acute illness that can become life threatening in a short time if not treated immediately. The chief symptom of HGE is bloody diarrhea, ranging from bright red drops to a “raspberry jam” consistency. Dogs suffering from HGE may also exhibit vomiting, with or without blood, and lethargy.

Although HGE has been diagnosed in large dogs, it is more commonly seen in toy and small breed dogs. Veterinarians are not sure what causes this illness, but theories include bacterial infections, parasites, food allergies, and/or stress.

Fortunately, Aspen’s HGE was caught in a very early stage. Since that first episode, both Aspen and Malibu have had multiple bouts of HGE, with some cases being mild and others more serious. Several cases have required overnight hospitalization, but usually an IV fluid treatment and medication is all that is necessary. Metronidazole is prescribed and given for a week or two.

At some point in time, it was recommended that we change Aspen’s diet to Hill’s Prescription i/d.  This particular food is given to “promote gastrointestinal health”. A couple of years later, after another HGE episode, Aspen was switched to a different Hill’s formula. Believing that her HGE may be caused by a food allergy, Aspen’s vet prescribed z/d, which is hypoallergenic. We gave it a try even though I did not feel that the HGE was caused by Aspen’s diet. If the food Aspen was eating was causing the issue, she would have had symptoms more than a few times a year. Finally, we returned Aspen to her original diet, Wellness.

Despite the clinical symptoms of HGE lasting only a few days, a couple of Aspen’s bouts led to significant weight loss over the months following her illness. The reason for this is unknown.

The last HGE episode that required a visit to the vet for Aspen was about a year ago. The vet recommended that Aspen remain on the Metronidazole indefinitely, but I was not in agreement.

Seeking a second opinion I scheduled an appointment with a veterinarian gastroenterologist. The doctor provided me with additional information about HGE and stated that she does not consider it a disease, but rather a symptom of a disease.  Lab work was ordered to rule out Addison’s Disease and Maldigestion disorder. Test results were negative and Aspen was diagnosed with chronic, intermittent colitis. Like Aspen’s regular vet, the specialist  recommended that an antibiotic be given indefinitely.

Tylan was prescribed rather than Metronidazole with the goal of using the lowest dose needed to avoid symptoms.  In June of 2016 Aspen began taking two Tylan capsules a day. By December of that year she had been weaned to one capsule every third day. That did not last long because Aspen’s symptoms returned and the dosage was increased to one capsule a day. Last month I lowered the dosage to one capsule every other day.

I recently began giving my dogs probiotics with the hopes of preventing future episodes of HGE. Not everyone agrees that probiotics are worth the expense, but some tout the many benefits of giving them to our pets. “Boosting your dog’s immune system is probably the most important role of probiotics”, states Dogs Naturally Magazine. They add that, “A good balance of probiotics helps reduce inflammation throughout your dog’s body and that lowers their susceptibility to chronic disease.”

Although HGE can be a serious and life-threatening illness, I have been fortunate enough to identify its earliest symptoms in my dogs and seek treatment. Not knowing the exact cause of HGE is frustrating. Perhaps there are multiple causes, not just one. The important thing is treating it when it does happen.