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Vomiting bile in dogs and cats - causes, signs and treatment

Dogs and cats vomit bile when they have no other food content in the stomach. This could be because there has been previous vomiting, or it may be that they have not eaten recently. Bile and gastric acid can look clear, light brown, white or yellow and can sometimes be foamy. It is also known as Bilious Vomiting Syndrome (BVS). Read our vet's advice in this article.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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Causes of vomiting bile

Gastric acid and bile can be irritating to the stomach lining and cause vomiting. Therefore, one of the most common causes of vomiting bile is when a pet, in particular dogs, goes for an extended period of time without eating. This is most often seen as vomiting in the morning and is known as Bilious Vomiting Syndrome (BVS). Other causes include:

  • Viruses or other infectious causes

  • Toxin ingestion

  • Gastrointestinal obstruction or foreign body

  • Pancreatitis

  • Parasites (protozoal parasites, for example)

  • Disease of other organs

Signs of vomiting bile

Vomiting may be chronic (happens over a period of more than a week) or may be intermittent or happen repeatedly in a short period of time. Count how many times your pet has vomited and estimate how much liquid was present each time as this helps your vet to understand the possible causes and formulate a treatment plan. Vomiting may be accompanied by lethargy, inappetence, pain and diarrhoea and these are important things to tell your vet.

Treatment of vomiting bile

If you suspect your dog is suffering from bilious vomiting syndrome then feeding smaller meals more frequently should address this. Try to feed as early in the morning and as late at night as you can. However, for other causes of vomiting, it may be necessary to provide treatments such as anti-sickness drugs, antacids, medication to protect the stomach and special bland diets. It may also be necessary to investigate the cause further with blood sample(s), ultrasound, x-ray or endoscopy.

When to see your vet?

  • Your puppy or kitten is vomiting as they are more prone to becoming dehydrated

  • Your pet has vomited more than four times

  • There is blood in the vomit, either red, pink, black or very dark brown

  • There is a suspicion that your pet has swallowed an object such as a toy or a piece of string that may be causing an obstruction

  • You are concerned about abdominal pain, inappetence, lethargy or diarrhoea

When to see your vet?

Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our FirstVet vets for advice, treatment, and if necessary, referral to your local vet

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