Digestive System

There is no reason to panic at the first sign of blood. Even though it looks scary, it usually isn't serious, anymore than a bloody nose is. "If you see just a few specks of red blood, I wouldn't worry about it," says Dr. Brothers. In most cases, the problem will be minor, and the bleeding will stop in a day or two.

In fact, you can often prevent bleeding by taking simple precautions. For starters, skip the bones, says David Tayman, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Columbia, Maryland. No matter how much your pet loves them, bones generally do more harm than good. As pets crunch them into small bits, the bones often get sharp edges that can damage the intestine. As an alternative, he suggests rawhide bones for dogs. Make sure your pet is supervised while chewing on rawhide bones to see that he is not ingesting large pieces. Or you can buy nylon bones at pet supply stores.

If you enjoy sewing, be sure to keep the sewing box closed since cats love playing with yarns and threads -- and the attached needles. It is not uncommon for cats to actually swallow sewing supplies, which can cause serious bleeding, says Dr. Brothers. It's not only the needles that create problems. Thread and string can wrap around the intestines, causing serious problems.

Reducing your pets' exposure to parasites can be very helpful for preventing bleeding. One way to do this is simply to stop your pets from sniffing (or, worse, eating) other pets' stools. "Most parasites are contracted by sniffing the stool of other pets," says Howard Rothstein, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Saugerties, New York.

It is a good idea to clean the yard after every bowel movement and to scoop out the litter box every time it has been used. "That way they can't reinfect themselves," says Dr. Rothstein.

If you live in the country or go for hikes in the woods with your pet, pack enough water for the day -- for you and him -- since streams and ponds are common sources of parasites. Even stagnant water in your yard, under a rainspout, for example, may harbor parasites.

Even though blood in the stool usually indicates a minor problem, sometimes it is a serious warning sign. Don't take chances if there is a lot of blood or if the stool looks dark and tarry. Take a stool sample when you notice the problem, and make an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible, says Karen Mateyak, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Brooklyn New York. It's best if the sample is less than 24 hours old at the time of your appointment, she adds.

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Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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