Is bloody diarrhea in dogs an emergency?

At our Sharpsburg veterinary hospital, our team of specialists and vets know that it can be surprising, or even scary, when your dog develops diarrhea, especially when it contains blood. Here, we explain some of the causes of diarrhea in dogs, when you should seek professional help and what treatments and tests may be provided.

While it might be annoying, or even worrying, when our dogs have loose stool or diarrhea, it isn't that uncommon. There are a number of reasons why this condition might arise in your dog. Diarrhea is the result of faster-than-normal movement of digested food and other fecal material through your dog's gastrointestinal tract, and can be a symptom of any number of common or serious conditions. 

What's causing my dog's diarrhea?

Dogs can develop diarrhea for a number of reasons, including stress associated with travel, significant changes in their routine, or staying at a boarding facility. In these instances, your dog's diarrhea should clear up after a day or two. This condition, however, can also be a sign of infection or illness affecting your dog's gastrointestinal tract. This can include food allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, intestinal parasites, internal injuries, and more. 

When should I be worried?

If you notice your dog has diarrhea, keep an eye on their behavior and the consistency of their stool over the next day or two. If their stool don't return to normal, or if they seem lethargic, skittish or otherwise "off," then it's time to bring them to your Sharpsburg vet's office. One of the most worrying signs that something is wrong is if you notice blood in their stool while they have diarrhea. 

There's blood in my dog's diarrhea, what should I do?

Regardless of the cause, bloody diarrhea or vomiting is an emergency that could potentially be fatal if left untreated, so immediate veterinary care is called for.

At East Coweta Veterinary Hospital, our veterinarians are here to offer advanced care for pets with internal health conditions.

How can I tell if it's actually blood?

Before calling your emergency vet, you may find yourself wondering if it is actually blood you are seeing in your dog's stool. Blood in the stool of our canine companions looks different depending on its place of origin.

If your dog's poop is streaked with distinctive fresh blood, this can be a sign that it’s from either the upper part of your dog's small intestine or from your dog's stomach. If the blood is partially digested, it will look a bit like coffee grounds and may have an origin from lower in your dog's intestines.

If the blood is fresh it may be from your pet's colon, but if it’s dark, tarry or sticky, it's likely from your pup's stomach or upper intestinal tract.

What are some of the causes of blood in my dog’s diarrhea?

If you’ve spotted blood in your dog’s stool, it's obviously a cause for concern, but what could be at the root of this worrying symptom?

Some of the most common causes for bloody diarrhea in dogs include:

  • Parasites
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Severe vomiting
  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Trauma to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from eating bones or other materials.
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) (severe bloody diarrhea and bloody vomiting, caused by infectious agents)
  • Foreign body ingestion (toys, rocks, fabric etc)
  • Sudden dietary changes that cause irritation or impact the immune system
  • Stomach or esophagus tumors
  • Poisoning from toxins such as plants

Other symptoms that may become obvious if your dog is has continuous diarrhea include weight loss, fluid loss, dehydration, lethargy, electrolyte imbalances, hypovolemic shock, and hemoconcentration.

What will the veterinarian do if I bring my dog in?

The underlying cause of your dog's bloody diarrhea can be challenging for veterinarians to diagnose. If routine diagnostic procedures aren't successful in pinpointing the cause, more invasive diagnostic testing may be needed to address the issue.

When you take your dog to your veterinarian or the emergency veterinarian due to bloody diarrhea or vomiting this is what you can expect:

  • Our vets will make note of your dog's medical history such as predisposition for gastrointestinal disorders, previous ulcers and how severe their diarrhea has been thus far.
  • A comprehensive physical exam including observation of samples of your dog's stool, feeling their abdomen, testing their skin and examining their mucus membrane.
  • Running an array of tests like bloodwork, urinalysis, endoscopies, radiographs and fecal exams.

What is the treatment for severe or bloody diarrhea in dogs?

The course of treatment prescribed for your pooch will depend on the underlying cause of your pup's worrisome stool, but may include:

  • Electrolyte and fluid therapies for hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
  • Medications to soothe intestines
  • Surgical remedies for tumors, ulcers or physical obstructions
  • Antibiotic therapy for certain types of infections
  • Anthelmintics for parasitic infections
  • Corticosteroid therapy for cases of hypovolemic shock

Will my dog be ok?

In most cases, with proper treatment, dogs respond very well and recover quickly. The main priority after treating your dog’s underlying issue should be healing time. The inflamed intestines will need time to recover, after all. In some cases, a modified diet can help reduce gastrointestinal disorders and intestinal infections.

Your veterinarian may recommend withholding food and/or water for 24 hours to give your dog's intestine a chance to rest. A bland diet for 3 to 7 days following the 24-hour rest period, then a gradual return to your dog’s normal diet, should help.

It's important to stay vigilant as your dog recovers since certain proteins or other elements may result in the problem recurring. In these cases, your dog may need a specialized hypoallergenic medical diet.

Is there a way to prevent severe or bloody diarrhea from recurring?

After infections, some vets recommend restoring intestinal microflora by introducing food additives (such as synbiotics, probiotics and probiotics) to improve gut function and prevent infection from coming back.

If you feed your dog a homemade diet, the formula should focus on ideal nutrient profiles along with energy density, depending on your dog's issue. It's possible these diets can be less fatty and have more highly digestible nutrients. Always consult with your veterinarian on any dietary changes, especially if your dog has had problems with bloody diarrhea in the past.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed your dog developing persistent diarrhea? Have you noticed blood in their stool? Contact our Sharpsburg veterinarians for more information and to book an appointment as soon as possible.