Vets warning after surge in cases of potentially deadly condition

September 30, 2019

Dog owners have been warned to be alert after a surge in cases of a potentially deadly condition.

Vets Now has seen a 35% increase in the number of dogs treated for the illness HGE, haemorrhagic gastroenteritis, since the beginning of the year.

Cases treated at the pet emergency service’s nationwide network of clinics and hospitals leapt from 167 in January to 225 in July and are continuing to run at around 50 a week.

Owners are being asked to keep a close eye on their pets for signs of the condition, which causes severe vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, after one family had to spend almost £10,000 to save their beloved pet.

Owners are being asked to keep a close eye on their pets for signs of the condition, which causes severe vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, after one gravely-ill pet spent 11 days in hospital receiving treatment.

While no one knows the exact cause of HGE, it’s believed a proportion of the most serious cases are caused by a bacteria called clostridium perfringens, which is commonly found on raw meat and poultry.

Amanda Lawson, from Blantyre, was so fearful of losing 18-month-old Great Dane Freya that she said an emotional farewell as the dog faced a gruelling survival battle.

“It was so frightening how quickly it happened,” said 41-year-old Amanda.

“She’s a great big playful dog but almost overnight everything changed and we honestly thought she wasn’t going to make it. It was awful to watch.”

Freya regularly plays with other dogs in a field near the family home and Amanda and husband Rob, who also have two French bulldogs, think she may have come into contact with a bacteria there.

“She started having diarrhoea and became really quiet and went off her food,” said mum-of-three Amanda, who works as a receptionist in Cathkin vets.

“But it was when she started having bloody vomit and diarrhoea that I became really worried and took her to my own vet.

“Her health never picked up so I took her to Vets Now’s pet emergency hospital in Glasgow. She was referred there fully for treatment as my vet just isn’t equipped to look after such a big dog for a lengthy period of time.

“It was the start of 11 days there and I was so worried as she just wasn’t interested in anything, and when she had diarrhoea it was like a bloodbath.

“They describe it as being like raspberry jam, but it was as if someone’s jugular vein had been severed. It was absolutely horrendous.”

HGE occurs when fluid, protein and red blood cells leak into the gut. Left untreated it can quickly lead to life-threatening dehydration, and in some cases septic shock, as a consequence of a dramatic drop in blood volume and the immune system being overwhelmed.

The team at Vets Now in Glasgow, one of more than 60 Vets Now clinics and hospitals open through the night, seven days a week, faced a lengthy battle to try to pull Freya back from the brink.

She was given round-the-clock treatment and had a battery of tests, X-rays and scans but the prognosis still wasn’t good and Amanda feared the worst.

“She was in isolation so I wasn’t allowed to see her but I’d already said my goodbyes when I handed her in as I knew things were so serious,” said Amanda.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her but the staff were brilliant in keeping me informed about what was happening, no matter when I called.

“She was continuing to pass large amounts of diarrhoea and nothing seemed to be working. She was really in the last chance saloon and it was only when they gave her plasma that she finally turned a corner and became brighter.”

Vets Now clinics across the country have seen scores of cases of HGE, also referred to as AHDS, or Acute Haemorrhagic Diarrhoea Syndrome, since the turn of the year.

In July alone, emergency vets in Southampton treated 14 cases, while their colleagues in Farnham treated 12, in Tunbridge Wells it was 11, in Stoke it was 10, Colchester 10 and Milton Keynes 10.

Clinical staff have also reported big increases in cases in recent weeks in Bristol, Colwyn Bay, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kilmarnock and Reading.

“We've seen loads over last month in Edinburgh. I think there must be a nasty bug doing the rounds,” said one emergency vet on an online forum for Vets Now staff to discuss cases and valuable research they have come across.

Another vet added: “We’ve had four deaths in young dogs in Colwyn Bay. These were very severe cases. They all seem to present with vomiting and no diarrhoea for 12 hours or so, then have severe haemorrhagic diarrhoea”.

Emergency vet Neus Elias-Santo Domingo was part of the Vets Now team in Glasgow who treated Freya. She said: “Freya’s condition was particularly severe and she needed several days of intensive treatment to get through it.

“No one is 100% certain what causes HGE and theories have ranged from allergic reactions to food, parasites and toxins to dietary indiscretion.

“However, the most reasonable explanation is it’s the result of infection with or hypersensitivity to clostridium perfringens.”

Neus added: “Common signs of HGE are vomiting followed by the onset of bloody diarrhoea as well as anorexia, lethargy, and abdominal pain.

“The good news is the prognosis for dogs with HGE is generally positive as long as they’re treated quickly. Owners worried about the condition should contact their vet straight away as it can be fatal.”

Freya was in the Glasgow hospital for 11 days before she was finally allowed home to a hugely relieved Amanda.  The lengthy and intensive treatment saw Amanda and her family rack up a £9500 bill, only £2000 of which was covered by insurance.

But Amanda says the bill for treatment was a price worth paying to have their beloved pet back home, where she’s slowly recovering her appetite and putting on the weight she lost.

“It was a lot of money but Vets Now were brilliant,” adds Amanda. “We still don’t know why it happened but I’d urge any owners to get their dogs to a vet early if they have any concerns, especially if there is blood in the vomit or diarrhoea.”

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