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Dog Vomiting - Why is My Dog Throwing Up?

Dogs sometimes vomit for a variety of relatively benign reasons – to expel something they shouldn't have eaten from their stomach, for example. But sometimes vomiting can be a sign of a serious condition: anything from head trauma or toxin exposure to pancreatic cancer or gastrointestinal obstruction. Read on to learn why dogs vomit, when you should be concerned, and what you can do to treat dog vomiting.

What To Watch For

First of all, it is important to distinguish between vomiting and regurgitation. The latter happens passively, with undigested food coming up out of the esophagus with no abdominal effort. Usually, regurgitation is a sign of esophageal disorders. Regurgitation must be differentiated from vomiting because the causes and treatments for the two conditions are very different.

Vomiting in dogs is usually preceded by signs of nausea such as drooling, licking lips, and swallowing excessively. Some dogs may eat grass, possibly to protect the esophagus when the dog vomits, because the grass can wrap around and cover sharp objects like bone shards. Vomiting is an active process. It involves obvious contractions of the abdominal wall… “heaving” for lack of a better word.

Why Do Dogs Throw Up?

Vomiting serves a vital function in dogs, many of whom have a well-deserved reputation for a willingness to eat almost anything. It is the body’s way of correcting a potential mistake. Most owners have witnessed their dogs eating something unsavory, only to see it come back up a few minutes later. Other relatively benign causes of dog vomiting are motion sickness and bilious vomiting syndrome. Of course, vomiting is also a symptom of many potentially serious diseases such as:

  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract)
  • Intestinal obstruction caused by foreign material, tumors, displacement, etc.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Parasites
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Some types of cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Infections (bacterial, viral, or fungal)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Addison’s disease
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Head trauma
  • Drug side effects
  • Food allergies or intolerance

What to Do When Your Dog Throws Up

There are times when a vomiting dog requires immediate treatment. If your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms, call a veterinarian.

  • Frequent vomiting – dogs who vomit frequently can quickly become debilitated. This is especially true for puppies,       elderly dogs, or individuals who have other health problems.
  • Projectile vomiting – potentially a sign of an obstructed gastrointestinal tract
  • Lethargy and depression – indications that the dog’s whole body is being adversely affected
  • Severe diarrhea – the combination of severe vomiting and diarrhea can quickly result in dehydration
  • Decreased urination – decreased urine production is seen with dehydration
  • Abdominal pain and/or enlargement – these symptoms are generally seen with the more serious causes of vomiting in dogs
  • Repeated attempts at vomiting but nothing is produced – this is a classic symptom of gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV or bloat), a potentially life-threatening condition. 
  • The presence of red blood or material that looks like coffee grounds in the vomit – fresh blood appears red while partially digested blood resembles coffee grounds. Some causes of gastrointestinal bleeding in dogs are true emergencies.
  • The vomit is bright green– some types of rodenticides (poisons used to kill mice and rats) are died a bright green color. These poisons can also kill dogs.

On the other hand, if your dog has only vomited once or twice and seems to feel pretty good, the following home treatment is a reasonable option:

  1. Take away all sources of food and water for six to eight hours.
  2. If your dog does not vomit during that time, offer a small amount of water.  If your dog can hold that down, gradually reintroduce larger amounts of water.
  3. If after 12 hours of being allowed to drink, your dog is still not vomiting, offer a small meal of boiled white meat chicken (no bones and no skin) mixed with white rice.  If your dog can eat this without vomiting, increase the size and decrease the frequency of his meals over a day or two and then start mixing in his regular food.  

This whole process should take around three days.  If at any point your dog starts to vomit again, see your veterinarian.

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Diagnosis for Vomiting in Dogs

Continued, repetitive, or severe vomiting should be investigated fully. A veterinarian will more than likely be able to diagnose the underlying condition by asking you questions about your dog’s health history and lifestyle, performing a physical examination, and possibly running some combination of X-rays, bloodwork, fecal analysis, urinalysis, ultrasound imaging, biopsies, and other, specialized diagnostic tests. If you can bring a sample of the dog’s vomitus and stool with you, it may also help in the diagnostic process.

Prevention of Vomiting in Dogs

Many causes of dog vomiting cannot be prevented, but for those that can, observe the following rules:

  1. Don’t change your dog’s diet suddenly. Always use a gradual approach. Sudden dietary changes are a common cause of intestinal upset in dogs.
  2. Don’t give your dog toys that can be swallowed or chewed into pieces, thereby causing gastrointestinal irritation or blockage.
  3. Don’t give your dog bones. These, too, are routinely implicated in vomiting episodes. If you must give your dog bones, large, uncooked varieties (such as femurs or knuckles) are less likely to break into sharp shards.
  4. Avoid table scraps. Some human foods are downright dangerous for dogs (e.g., grapes, raisins, chocolate, xylitol, onions, garlic, chives, macadamia nuts, and high fat items) but individuals with sensitive stomachs may not even be able to eat “safe” foods without vomiting.
  5. Don’t let your dog scavenge. “Garbage gut” is what veterinarians commonly call the gastroenteritis caused by consuming scavenged items. Scavenging also increases the risk of foreign-body ingestion and toxin exposure.
  6. Watch overly-inquisitive dogs carefully when out and about. A basket muzzle to keep them from eating non-edible items may be in order.

Read 5 Foods That Can Be Toxic For Your Dog to learn more. 

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