At lunchtime she was fine, but before sunset my little Jack Russell mix, Marshmallow, was a smelly, bloody mess being carried into the back of the emergency clinic in the arms of a kind vet tech. As my girl passed through a door marked “staff only,” she looked back at me, her brown eyes wide. Her tan ears were flat against her head. Her long white tail was tucked between her legs and just soaked in blood. The front line staff at the clinic suspected hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. I guess that’s the medical term for an otherwise healthy dog suddenly puking and pooping a ton of blood. So much blood that I honestly thought my dog was dying (Spoiler: She lives!).
As a mom to creatures of both the four- and two-legged varieties, I’m not unfamiliar with blood at bathroom time. Before Marshy got sick that horrible Sunday afternoon, I’d seen a tiny bit in my human baby’s diaper, a larger blob in my feline baby’s litter box, and even a few bright red drops from my first dog GhostBuster’s stool after another kitty litter-related incident (he ate some). My point is, it takes more than a dribble of blood to freak me out these days, and I was plenty freaked that chilly Sunday afternoon.
I’d spent the morning at the dog park with GhostBuster, our winter-loving Lab–Golden mix, while cold-adverse Marshmallow stayed warm at home with my husband and our toddler son. When I got back, Marshy and I settled on the couch to read a book together, but were only a few pages in when she asked to go outside. She didn’t pee, but threw up under her favorite tree. It was odd, but a single episode of dog vomit didn’t seem like something to panic over.
Fast-forward two hours and we were full-on panicking. Marshy was getting violently sick from both ends. She couldn’t stop, and the piles of puke and poop had gone from brown to red. My house looked like a horror movie and smelled like a sewer.
We dropped my son at my sister’s place and drove to Animal Emergency Hospital, the same place we’d taken GhostBuster when he pooped a couple drops of blood back in 2014. That had been a quick visit. In and out. That time we were given a diagnosis of gastroenteritis and a bottle of sulcrate suspension, a white liquid medicine that made him better almost instantly.
When we’d gone there with GhostBuster, we’d accompanied our dog into the exam room, just like at the regular vet. With Marshmallow, they took her away from us right away to do blood work. This was bad, and my panicked internet searches confirmed it. Apparently hemorrhagic gastroenteritis can cause life-threatening dehydration, but thankfully we got Marshmallow to the hospital in time.
I don’t know how long we waited in the waiting room, but it seemed like forever. The sun set, my husband went to get coffee (any excuse to get away from my sobbing), and a kind vet tech offered to sanitize our fetid travel crate before we got to see Marshmallow.
We were reunited in an exam room. They’d wrapped a towel around her bottom half because she was still bleeding from the bum. I think I was in shock. I just couldn’t believe we’d gone from chilling on the couch to checking her into a hospital in such a short amount of time. I told her I loved her.
When the vet came in, she assured me Marshmallow would likely be coming home eventually — just not that night. She needed intravenous fluids, lots of medication, and probably two days in the hospital.
“With that, most dogs make it through this,” the doc told us.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell us why this happened, or if it would happen again. Some dogs get hemorrhagic gastroenteritis from stress (maybe the extreme cold weather that was preventing her from going for long walks?). The vet said others get it from eating something gross, but the grossest thing Marshmallow had eaten that weekend was a rice cake.
Just as quickly as she got sick, Marshmallow got better. Twenty-four hours after checking her in, we were checking her out, about a day earlier than predicted. It’s been a month since our horrible experience with hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. I fear it will return, but cherish every healthy day Marshmallow shares with me.