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Vomiting vs regurgitation in dogs and cats - what is the difference?

All pet owners will know that vomiting is a common problem in dogs and cats. However, it is important to know the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. Regurgitation in dogs and cats has different underlying causes to vomiting. So, what is vomiting and what is regurgitation?

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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Causes of vomiting and regurgitation in dogs and cats

Gastric (stomach based) causes of vomiting include viruses, eating unsavoury items and ingestion of foreign objects such as toys. Non-gastric causes of vomiting are extensive and include disease of other organs and motion sickness.

Regurgitation can result from fewer problems and it is commonly linked to a failure of the oesophagus, the muscular tube between the mouth and the stomach, to empty its contents properly into the stomach. Causes of regurgitation include megaoesophagus, hiatal hernia, gastric reflux, foreign bodies in the upper gastro-intestinal tract and ileus.

Regurgitation can be linked with other conditions such as aspiration pneumonia, due to overspill of oesophageal contents into the windpipe. Due to these complications, and also that the causes of regurgitation can be more sinister than vomiting, it is very important you seek veterinary advice immediately if you suspect regurgitation in your pet.

Signs of vomiting and regurgitation in dogs and cats

Vomiting is an active process often accompanied by heaving or retching. Usually, digested or partially digested food is brought up, sometimes bile is present. It is also often linked to other signs of ill health such as inappetence, lethargy and shaking or trembling.

Regurgitation, on the other hand, is a passive process. The food is regurgitated without much effort, there may be some mucus present but the food is usually undigested. It’s quite common for the patient to re-eat this regurgitation and it can happen in close proximity to feeding.

Treatment of vomiting and regurgitation in dogs and cats

Both vomiting and regurgitation can be urgent problems requiring veterinary input. There are some general approaches to treatment but, ideally, these should be undertaken following discussion with your vet. For vomiting, it is often recommended that a bland diet is fed for 1-2 days, such as chicken and rice. Some cases will require anti-sickness medication or perhaps other treatments such as antacids. Smaller meals are usually easier for the patient to digest so little and often feeding is commonly proposed. Pets suffering from regurgitation problems may benefit from being fed from a small height. Again, smaller meals, more often will help.

When to see a vet

  • Vomiting more than 3-4 times

  • Vomiting has lasted for more than 12 hours

  • You suspect regurgitation

Further information

Vomiting bile (Bilious Vomiting Syndrome)

Still worried?

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