Dogs may vomit for a variety of relatively benign reasons—to expel something they shouldn't have eaten from their stomach, for example. But sometimes vomiting is a sign of a serious health problem. Read on to learn why dogs vomit, when you should be concerned, and what you can do to help dogs who are 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 an esophageal disorder. 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 because the grass can cover sharp objects like bone shards when the dog vomits. 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 eating just about anything. Throwing up can be the body’s way of correcting a 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, organ displacement, etc.
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- 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
Types of Dog Vomit
As unpleasant as it may sound, it is worthwhile to take a moment and poke through your dog’s vomit before you clean it up. Sometimes your investigation won’t be too revealing. For instance, foamy throw up that may be tinged yellow simply indicates that your dog’s stomach is empty (the foam comes from mucus that is normally present in the stomach and the yellow is bile from the intestines).
But at other times, what you find may point to a cause for your dog’s vomiting or indicate its severity. For example, watery throw up shows that your dog is thirsty and trying to drink, but can’t hold down water, putting him at risk for dehydration. If you find red blood or material that looks like coffee grounds (partially digested blood), your dog is bleeding into his gastrointestinal tract. Bright green vomit can indicate that your dog ate a type of poison used to kill mice and rats, which is also very dangerous to dogs.
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 elderly dogs or individuals who have 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 anything abnormal within the vomit, including foreign objects, blood, evidence of poisoning, etc.
Vomiting in Puppies
All of the causes and recommendations for vomiting in adult dogs also apply to puppies, with one important caveat. Puppies cannot withstand the effects of vomiting (dehydration, poor nutrition, electrolyte imbalances, etc.) as well as adults. Puppies may quickly become weak or even die from relatively benign causes of vomiting if they do not receive prompt treatment. Always have a vomiting puppy evaluated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
What to Feed a Dog After Vomiting
On the other hand, if your adult dog has only vomited once or twice and seems to feel pretty good, veterinarians will sometimes recommend the following home treatment:
- Take away all sources of food and water for six to eight hours.
- 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.
- 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 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.
Diagnosis for Vomiting in Dogs
Continued, repetitive, or severe vomiting should be investigated fully. A veterinarian will more than likely be able to identify 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 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:
- 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.
- Don’t give your dog toys that can be swallowed or chewed into pieces, thereby causing gastrointestinal irritation or blockage.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Watch overly-inquisitive dogs carefully when out and about. A basket muzzle to keep them from eating anything they find may be in order.
Read 5 Foods That Can Be Toxic For Your Dog to learn more.