Most people get queasy at the sight of blood, and for good reason. In both people and animals, bleeding is usually a sign that medical attention is required. Understandably, the sight of your beloved furry companion bleeding would be distressing for any pet owner.
In this article we will be discussing the common reasons why your pet might be bleeding, when veterinary attention is required and finally what you, as pet owners can do in an emergency to help your pet.
Causes of bleeding
There are many possible reasons for a pet to start bleeding…
Skin, or pad, wounds caused by trauma are the most common reason why you are likely to need to deal with a bleeding pet. Usually it will just be superficial skin vessels that bleed but, unfortunately, major blood vessels can be damaged in some cases. Skin wounds always need prompt veterinary attention to assess if stitches or further treatments are needed, even if the bleeding has stopped on its own.
Broken nails are also a regular occurrence and can either be just down to bad luck or if the nails have become overgrown making them more likely to catch on things and be pulled off. Nails contain a blood vessel, known as the ‘quick’, and bleeding occurs when this is damaged. This bleeding is usually self-limiting and should resolve with pressure. However, if fragments of the broken nail remain, then a vet visit is required for these to be removed.
Bleeding can also originate from other places such as the nose, known as epistaxis. Just like in people this can occur following trauma, but could also be due to infection or growths in the nasal cavities.
Bleeding from the mouth
Blood-tinged saliva can be one of the signs your pet has dental disease. Plaque builds up on the teeth, causing the gums to become inflamed and they can bleed easily. This can also happen for a few days following a dental procedure if teeth are removed.
Stomach bugs or other gastrointestinal problems can result in you noticing blood in your pets’ faeces (haematochezia) or vomit (haematemesis). Dark brown ‘coffee grounds’ in vomit can be suggestive of stomach ulcers or severe gastritis. Streaks of fresh red blood seen in faeces are often due to inflammation of the colon (colitis) however larger volumes of dark red blood can be due to viral infections.
Coughing up blood
Blood produced when coughing (haemoptysis) is not common and is usually always a sign that further investigation is required.
Blood in the urine
Urinary tract infections, cystitis, bladder stones or other disorders of the genital or urinary systems can cause urine to contain some blood (haematuria). This can also happen when a female dog is in season.
An animal with a clotting disorder will likely exhibit bleeding from more than one location and can also develop small bleeds under the skin, like bruises, or on their gums, known as petechiae or ecchymoses.
Finally, if your pet has had a surgical procedure, you may notice some post-operative bleeding.
A consultation with your vet is required
Usually including a thorough clinical examination and possibly some further testing, this is the best way to start investigating why your pet might be bleeding from any of the locations listed above.
Signs of bleeding
Now you’re probably thinking, obviously, the sight of blood is the sign of bleeding! But sometimes we can be dealing with internal rather than external bleeding and the signs of this can be a lot subtler.
The most common causes of internal bleeding include:
- Severe trauma such as a road traffic accident
- Post-surgical, for example neutering.
- A bleeding tumour, most commonly affecting the spleen
- Poisoning e.g. with rodenticides
Signs of internal bleeding include:
- Loss of energy progressing to weakness or collapse
- Pale gums
- Cold extremities
- A faster than normal heart and breathing rate
- Fast and weak pulses
- Neurological abnormalities following a head trauma
Internal bleeding is an emergency and you must contact your vet immediately if you notice any of the above signs when checking your pet.
When should I be worried?
The body is designed to automatically form clots to stop bleeding on its own. This is why superficial wounds, while they bleed initially, stop after a short time. However, if the bleeding is severe or if the animal has a clotting problem then this mechanism is either overwhelmed, or isn’t working properly, sometimes our help is required.
As vets, to assess the issue in a phone consultation, we may ask ‘can you count the drops?’ This gives the vet an idea of how worried they should be about the bleeding and if you can deliver first aid before attending the hospital.
If the bleeding is more of a steady stream, this requires immediate veterinary attention. If it is gushing or spurting, this usually means it is an emergency.
The other thing to consider is how well your pet appears. With continuous or severe bleeding your pet will start to show signs they are unwell, and in these instances, urgent veterinary care is definitely required.
Finally, an important distinction to make is the difference between the loss of whole, fresh blood that appears to be under some pressure, and the slow oozing of serosanguinous, or blood-tinged, more watery, fluid. The former is a much greater emergency and the latter more likely to be expected following a surgical procedure.
When your pet has been involved in any sort of accident it is completely natural to be worried and want to help them.
It may be easier said than done, but it is very important to stay calm. Your pet will sense if you are anxious. If you are with friends or family ask them to help hold your pet still. Even the gentlest dog or cat may react badly if they are in pain or scared. Any spare blankets or towels you have can be used to keep your pet warm and dry while you are dealing with their injury and contacting your vet.
Make sure you have the contact details for your vet handy. This can help avoid unnecessary delays. Knowing in advance what provisions they have for emergency out-of-hours care is also important.
Initially you may be asked by your vet to put some pressure on the area that is bleeding. This needs to be done for at least 5 minutes continuously, ideally using clean material.
If there is a penetrating injury and the foreign object, such as a stick, is still present in the wound then it is very important to leave it in position and not try to remove it.
If you want to learn more and feel better equipped to deal with an emergency, there are pet first aid courses you can sign up to.
In all cases where you notice your pet actively bleeding you should immediately seek advice from your registered veterinary practice and start making your way to your nearest clinic, surgery or hospital.
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