Dog Vomit: Types, Causes, and When to Call the Vet

Jessica Remitz
Jan 06, 2017
7 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

 

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on February 19, 2020, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Why is my dog throwing up?

Dogs vomit for many reasons. Some of the reasons are nothing to worry about, but sometimes vomiting is a sign of a serious health problem. 

Learning to tell the difference can be tricky, but it’s important to know why dogs vomit, when you should be concerned, and what you can do to help.

You should seek immediate veterinary care in certain instances.

Here’s a guide for identifying the different types of vomit and knowing when you should go to the vet’s office.

Dog Vomit vs. Regurgitation

One important thing to keep in mind is that vomiting and regurgitation are not the same thing. Why do you need to know the difference? Because the causes of and treatments for the two conditions are very different. You can think of vomiting as more of an “active process” and regurgitation as more of a “passive practice.”

Dog Vomiting

“Vomiting is generally defined as the forceful ejection of stomach and upper intestinal contents,” explains Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, DVM. Dr. Hawkins is the director of Orange County (OC) Animal Care. She says that dog vomit can contain yellow bile or dog food that has been partially digested, and usually smells sour.

Vomiting may occur directly after eating or anytime thereafter. It’s usually preceded by signs of nausea, such as drooling, licking lips, and swallowing excessively. Some dogs may eat grass, possibly to protect the esophagus, because the grass can cover sharp objects like bone shards when the dog vomits.

Regurgitation in Dogs

Regurgitation, on the other hand, is a mild ejection of undigested food from the dog’s esophagus through the mouth.

“Regurgitation does not involve abdominal heaving, whereas vomiting does have an abdominal component,” Dr. Hawkins says. “Additionally, regurgitation tends to happen shortly after eating.”

Why Is My Dog Throwing Up?

While dogs vomit quite often and for many reasons, stomach issues are perhaps one of the most common reasons for vomiting, according to Dr. Hawkins.

“Gastritis is similar to an upset stomach in humans,” Dr. Hawkins says. “We may eat something that does not sit well in our stomachs, or we may eat too much.”

In the case of dogs, that usually means the ingestion of something irritating, including grass, decomposed or rotten food, paper, and bones, according to Dr. Hawkins.

Stomach Issues That Cause Dogs to Vomit

These stomach issues can include:

Vomiting as a Sign of Other Illnesses

Vomiting can also be a sign that something more serious is going on. For example, vomiting may be a secondary reaction to a physiologic problem, according to Dr. Jeff Werber, an Emmy Award winning celebrity veterinarian. And in some cases, vomiting can also indicate a neurological or psychological issue.

These health issues can cause vomiting in dogs:

Types of Dog Vomit

Granular vs. Chunky Vomiting

As unpleasant as it may sound, it’s worthwhile to take a moment and poke through your dog’s vomit for clues before you clean it up.

Both chunky and granular vomit are often (though not always) related to food or something your dog has ingested.

Chunky vomit is vomit where you can still identify food parts—an indication that the food brought up has not been in the stomach very long. “The chunks tell us that the food has not had much time to digest,” Dr. Werber says. “It could indicate that the dog ate too quickly or ran around too soon after eating.”

Granular vomit, on the other hand, suggests that there has been digestion and the food sat in the stomach for a while before being vomited, explains Dr. Werber. “If your pet is retching and heaving, and the food is partially digested and somewhat liquid, there may be granules in the vomit, which is indicative of blood being present,” Dr. Hawkins explains. “The granules may look like old coffee grounds, or there may be actual blood.”

Liquid Dog Vomit

Foamy, slimy, or clear vomit is different from vomit that includes partially digested food. In some cases, liquid vomit that is yellow or clear is a sign of a completely different medical issue that has no connection whatsoever to the food being consumed.

In fact, the main difference between liquid and semi-solid vomit is that liquid vomit can often be a sign of a serious issue lurking underneath, while chunky or granular vomiting is more likely related to something that has been ingested.

“Often, fluid means we are looking at some other reason, such as [disease of the] kidney, liver, or pancreas, or severe gastritis, where the cause is not food or an irritant,” Dr. Werber says. “It could also indicate esophageal reflux—[which is] like our heartburn.”

One thing to keep in mind, says Dr. Hawkins, is that liquid coming out of your dog's mouth isn't always vomit. “Dogs may begin a distressed state with drooling, or experience clear liquid leaving the mouth,” Dr. Hawkins explains. “If it is followed by stomach contents, then it’s vomit.” If not, it isn't.

Dr. Katie Grzyb of Skyline Veterinary Specialists in Matthews, NC, describes an instance of something that owners often mistake for vomiting, where a dog will cough so hard that they eliminate white foam from the mouth. This can be a symptom of kennel cough, she says.

Types of Dog Vomit Infographic

When Should I Worry and Go to the Vet?

“Overall, gastritis is usually harmless and can be treated at home if there is a single episode,” says Dr. Hawkins. As a general rule, your dog's behavior is the best indication of whether or not you should worry. If your dog is behaving normally except for the vomiting, you can probably wait a little longer and see what happens.

But you should visit your veterinarian as soon as possible if your dog:

  • Is a puppy (can become weak from dehydration or have hypoglycemia if they can’t keep calories down)

  • Is geriatric

  • Has projectile vomiting (potential sign of obstruction)

  • Experiences persistent or frequent vomiting

  • Keeps trying to vomit but nothing comes out (symptom of bloat, which can be life-threatening)

  • Has anything in their vomit, like blood, foreign objects, etc.

  • Is lethargic (sign that the whole body is affected)

  • Is urinating less (sign of dehydration)

  • Has a tender or enlarged abdomen (seen with more serious causes of vomiting)

  • Refuses food

  • Cannot hold down small amounts of water

  • Has pre-existing medical problems

  • Has diarrhea with the vomiting (can quickly lead to dehydration)

  • Is declining in their appearance and overall demeanor (including weight loss, muscle mass deterioration)

Your vet may prescribe medication for your dog. The biggest danger of not going to the vet right away, says Dr. Werber, is dehydration. “As the dog becomes dehydrated, essential functions start to break down. This can prevent normal processes and result in further irritation, gastric ulceration and malnutrition.”

When to Try Fasting and Bland Diets 

If there are no other symptoms, Dr. Werber recommends holding off on food and water for 12-24 hours. “That’s because after vomiting, the stomach lining can be irritated and cause further vomiting of anything ingested, so I hold off to give the stomach and lining a rest,” Dr. Werber says.

After a period of this type of controlled fasting, Dr. Werber recommends slowly introducing water and soft, bland foods such as cooked chicken with rice and low fat or nonfat cottage cheese. “If that stays down, I would gradually get the dog back onto its regular diet,” Dr. Werber adds.

Always contact your vet before you feed the bland diet. The cooked chicken should have no fat and should be boiled with no skin or spices. Do not give your dog a protein that he is allergic too just to feed a bland diet. If your dog is on a special hypoallergenic diet and is vomiting, the vet might recommend that you have them fast for a period of time, and then offer small amounts of their normal diet to avoid hypersensitivity reactions.

Prevention of Vomiting in Dogs

Many causes of dog vomiting cannot be prevented, but some can be if you follow these 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” human 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. You might even want to try to use a muzzle to keep them from eating anything they might find along your walks.

By: Diana Bocco

Featured Image: iStock.com/NicolasMcComber

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