Throughout your pet's life, you will undoubtedly come across some blood. Nicks and scratches happen no matter how well cared for the animal. The question is, when is it time to get worried?
Bleeding can happen in several areas of the body. The most obvious is bleeding from the skin, through cuts or rubs. There can also be bleeding from body openings, like nose bleeds or bloody diarrhea. The most difficult to see is bleeding into the body cavities, like the chest, belly, or spaces under the skin. The larger the space that the bleeding goes into, the longer it takes for there to be back pressure that will help stop the bleeding.
Some pets are born with inherited disorders (like hemophilia in humans) that put them at higher risk of bleeding because the pathway that causes blood to clot is defective. Sometimes this is discovered when they have their first bloodwork or surgery, and the blood does not clot as quickly as would be expected, or in some cases not at all. This is one of the many reasons that pre-surgical bloodwork is recommended prior to spay and neuter procedures. If inherited disorders are suspected, further testing to diagnose and then possibly treat the disease is pursued before the surgery.
Poisons are another reason that bleeding can occur. The most common poisons that we see in this area that can cause bleeding are rat or mouse poisons. It is very important to call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect that your pet has been into rat bait (often green-coloured blocks) to get treatment, as this is a life-threatening toxicity. The bleeding does not happen immediately and often is internal, so it can be hard to see.
Cancers and other diseases (like kidney and liver disease) cause bleeding by breaking through blood vessel walls inside the body, or by affecting the pathway that stops the bleeding. Sometimes this can be seen in the urine or feces, but again the bleeding can be internal and difficult to see externally. Other, more minor problems like bladder infections or diarrhea can also result in blood. Veterinary exams and diagnostic testing can help decide the level of severity.
When to worry:
• If applying pressure for a couple of minutes does not stop the bleeding, or the blood immediately soaks through the material that you are using to apply the pressure, you should be on the phone to your veterinarian for further direction or to arrange an exam.
• If areas that would normally be a pink-coloured on your pet (like the gums, inside of the eyelids, inside of the vagina or prepuce) are white or pale, this is another time to make the call. Pets may also have colder than normal legs and/or be quieter than normal.
• If those same areas or any visible skin shows new freckles that are blood-coloured, or if you have bleeding from any body opening, it is also important to call your vet.
If you see bleeding, what can you do?
First things first -- keep yourself safe! Apply a muzzle and safely restrain the injured animal as necessary so that you can apply pressure to the wound. Ideally use a clean, absorbent material such as feminine hygiene pads, diapers, towels or face cloths but even direct pressure from a finger or a hand can work. Gloves are not as essential as when dealing with humans, but if you have some, use them!
If the bleeding comes through the material just put more material on top instead of removing the first one so that you don’t disturb any clots. Elevating the bleeding area can also help. Tourniquets should only be applied in extreme situations where blood is spraying profusely and under the direction of a veterinarian. Use of a tourniquet for more than 20 minutes continuously can result in loss of the affected area.
If you suspect bleeding in any form the best action to take is to contact your veterinarian. If it happens out of normal hours call the emergency line. It is better to be on the safe side with blood loss as even a loss of 5mL/kg (2 teaspoons/pound) can put your furry friend into shock.
Dr. Katharine North (née Moody) has been a resident and active participant in the Fort St. John community since her family immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom as a child. Her interest in medicine and animals led her back to the University of Liverpool in the U.K. to complete her Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 2000.