The color red. Red lights. Red alert! RED LIGHT WARNING!
Red means bad things. When your dog poops red, that’s a scary thing.
Many dogs will show an occasional speck or a drop of blood while defecating. This should always be checked out. But some dogs, often without a history of being sick, have very bloody diarrhea that can set people into panic mode.
Seeing bloody stools in a dog is a horrible topic to discuss. You wake up stepping in something awful or you suddenly see your dog has very bloody diarrhea while you’re on your morning walk.
That’s why you call me, your veterinarian, at any hour of the night. But the blood doesn’t mean this is the end. I often need to calm people down because they think their dog is dying.
What do you do if you find bloody diarrhea?
- Call the vet.
- Sit and worry.
- Wait several days to see what happens.
- Call the vet.
Your vet can tell you a great deal from a simple but thorough physical exam, as well as a thorough history from you. She can often determine how ill your pet is very quickly and what to do about it.
A Thorough History
Be prepared to answer a long list of questions as best you can.
You don’t always have all the answers because Mr. Eat-Garbage may have some sneaky secrets he doesn’t want to share, like what he eats when dining out, what his poop has looked like for the past 2 days and how his tummy has been feeling. These are private matters — even for garbage eaters! Nobody likes to talk about their bathroom issues in public.
Questions Your Vet Will Ask
- Has your dog been having diarrhea?
- How long has the diarrhea been going on?
- Is there any vomiting?
- How long has there been blood in the poop?
- Has he still been eating?
- Is he lethargic?
- Has this ever happened before?
- Does your dog roam free?
Your vet may want to do some blood work, a fecal exam and radiographs if indicated. Diagnostics and treatment depend on how debilitated your dog is and the level of dehydration. Many of these dogs are looking great even though their stool looks like a horror movie.
We often don’t find the reason behind an acute outburst of bloody diarrhea in a dog. If the bloody diarrhea occurred acutely and the dog has been otherwise in good shape and is not acting sick, we usually treat with supportive care.
The good news is that these dogs usually get better as fast as they have become sick.
Treatment may mean a short stay in the hospital for fluids and medications by injection, but many of these dogs can be sent home under your careful watch.
Treatment usually includes a short fast followed by small amounts of a bland diet for several days, medications to control GI signs, and monitoring of the dog’s demeanor and symptoms.
Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)
Some dogs exhibiting bloody diarrhea are also extremely sick and are suffering from a more serious form of bloody diarrhea called HGE. These pups usually exhibit:
- Profuse, foul-smelling, bloody diarrhea
- Poop that people describe as “raspberry jam” (culinary pathology is always gross but informative)
- Anorexia and vomiting
- Depression and abdominal pain
The physical exam, history and a quick blood test in the office — called a packed cell volume, or PCV — can differentiate HGE from a less serious attack of bloody diarrhea. Dogs with HGE require hospitalization, IV fluid therapy and more supportive care. They are very sick pups indeed.
Bloody diarrhea is a pretty gross topic to discuss around the holidays. Unfortunately, I actually see many of these cases at this time of year.
We believe stress can play a part in diarrhea cases. Boarding your dog can also lead to diarrhea, bloody or otherwise. Rich foods or trash eating can certainly be a factor.
Try to keep things as normal as possible in the next few weeks so that neither the Grinch nor horrible poo steals Christmas!
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Dec. 23, 2015.