Everything You Need to Know About Vomiting in Dogs
Unfortunately, vomit happens. And while it can be scary to see your dog throw up, it’s helpful to know what might be causing the problem, and if there’s anything you can do about it without taking your dog to the vet. Here we’ll discuss causes and types of vomiting, how to know when to take your dog to the vet, and how to care for your dog at home if the vomiting is mild.
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Do you know how to recognize vomiting vs. regurgitation in dogs?
Before you do anything to help your dog, you should understand what vomiting is. First, it’s not a disease; vomiting is often a symptom of an underlying issue which could be medical, physiological, or physical. A dog can be perfectly healthy and still vomit.
Vomiting is not always serious. Some cases resolve on their own without any intervention. Other times, you need to monitor your pet to see if it worsens over time or if other symptoms develop. Other instances of vomiting require an urgent trip to see your vet.
Identifying the underlying cause can help address your dog’s vomiting and determine if there is a need to seek prompt veterinary intervention.
Vomiting vs. Regurgitation in Dogs
Vomiting is a reflex. It can be triggered by anything from a mild case of overeating to serious medical issues. Vomiting in dogs is often associated with mild, self-limiting diseases that resolve with minimal diagnostic tests and therapy. However, it can be related to debilitating conditions that have life-threatening consequences.
Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of stomach and upper intestine contents through the mouth. On the other hand, regurgitation is mostly a passive process. A dog may regurgitate its food soon after eating; there are no active contractions of the abdomen during this process. Regurgitated food is usually undigested and does not contain bile, thus your dog will almost always try to eat the food that he has regurgitated. Since vomit comes from the stomach and upper intestinal tract, it is already partially digested and often has some bile.
How can I tell if my dog is about to vomit?
A dog that is about to vomit goes through three phases - nausea, retching, and expulsion of contents from the stomach and small intestine. During the stage of nausea, your pet appears restless and anxious. There may be drooling, licking of the lips, and swallowing repeatedly. Retching or dry heaving follows before the actual act of vomiting. Forceful abdominal muscle contractions eventually cause expulsion of fluid, saliva, and/or food.
Common Reasons Why Dogs Vomit
Let’s review the most common reasons why dogs vomit:
- Eating too quickly - If your dog is eating too fast, try giving smaller amounts more often. If you have more than one dog, they may be eating too quickly because of competition. Try feeding them in separate places.
- Sudden change in diet - including human food and/or new treats, rawhide treats, and more
- Food allergy or intolerance
- Motion sickness - If you notice that your dog vomits when riding in the car it may be due to motion sickness. Most puppies will grow out of this, but some dogs experience it every time they take a car ride. Talk to your vet about medications that can help prevent nausea and vomiting due to motion sickness.
- Medication such as antibiotics or pain medication - If your dog is taking any medications call your vet to find out if the medication may be causing your dogs’ upset stomach
- Parasites - worms in the intestinal tract such as roundworms, hookworms, coccidia, or Giardia
- Obstruction - from eating an object that cannot pass through the stomach/intestines such as a chew toy, children’s toys, socks, string, tennis ball, and more. If you know your pet has eaten a toy, sock, ball, or other foreign object, call your vet right away. These objects can lead to intestinal blockage and serious complications.
Drinking Too Fast/Eating Too Fast
The overzealous puppy may ingest their food or water so rapidly that they can vomit or regurgitate their meal back up immediately. This type of vomiting in dogs often produces completely undigested food. If otherwise acting normally, this likely indicates a need to slow down when taking in water or food.
A good tool for this is a slow feeder bowl, which requires the pet to pick up each kibble slowly before swallowing.
Abrupt Food Changes
One of the most common causes of vomiting in dogs is inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Inflammation makes the GI tract move too fast, so the bile and stomach acid can’t be properly absorbed.
This inflammation is often caused by something new being introduced to your dog’s GI tract that isn’t digesting properly. The “new” thing could be human food, treats, a change in diet that was introduced too quickly, or even something your dog found outside and decided to eat.
Since dogs can have very sensitive stomachs, and often will vomit if their diet is changed too quickly, any change in diet should be performed slowly over 1-2 weeks. Gradually add in the new diet until the old food has been completely replaced. Too abrupt of a change can also cause diarrhea in dogs.
Just like most children, puppies often are susceptible to many types of diseases, especially during the time frame when they aren’t yet considered protected from their vaccines. Diseases like parvovirus, and intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, giardia, and coccidia are very common in young puppies, and can all cause vomiting as well as diarrhea.
If your puppy is vomiting, your vet will likely recommend a fecal test, and often more specific testing for parvovirus or giardia. Depending on the root cause, this may be easily treatable with a dewormer, or could also be more serious and require hospitalization and supportive care for something like parvovirus. You can read more about parvovirus here!
Foreign Body Ingestion
The nature of puppies (and some older dogs) to put all sorts of things in their mouths can lead to more serious conditions like foreign body obstructions. Things like sticks, toys, stuffing, and hard chews can get stuck in their gastrointestinal tract, which most often causes vomiting as a symptom. Sometimes the object can be felt by a vet during an abdominal exam, but likely requires x-rays or an abdominal ultrasound to diagnose. In many cases, this may require surgical removal and can even be life-threatening if not treated quickly.
If your puppy has been throwing up and has likely eaten non-food items, seek out a vet to help you determine the next steps.
Similar to how puppies can swallow non-digestible items, young dogs are at an increased risk for eating things that may be toxic to them, including mushrooms, medications, toads, certain plants, and food like grapes, onions, and garlic. Depending on the item ingested, a variety of symptoms can be seen, including kidney failure causing vomiting with grapes, to the toxin from certain toad species causing profuse nausea.
If you know your pet has ingested something potentially toxic, contact the PET POISON CONTROL HOTLINE for assistance in evaluating safety and next recommended steps for treatment.
Although pups can vomit for many different reasons, it’s important to seek veterinary care if your pet is having more than one episode of vomiting in 24 hours, or throwing up consecutively for more than 1 day. As discussed above, the treatments for each cause vary greatly, so when in doubt, seek out your vet for advice on how to get your puppy feeling better!
Why does my dog throw up bile?
Bile vs. Stomach Acid
Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver. It normally resides in the small intestine. Bile helps the body break down fats so that they can be absorbed.
Stomach acid is a digestive fluid formed in the stomach lining that aids in the digestion of proteins.
When your dog vomits but there isn’t any food in the stomach to bring up, bile from the small intestine refluxes into the stomach, resulting in a pile of slimy yellow vomit. Bile itself isn’t acidic, but it can mix with stomach acid when there is reflux. This bile-acid mix can be irritating to your dog’s throat. It isn’t necessary to differentiate between bile and stomach acid when your dog throws up that yellow substance because they both have similar causes and treatments.
A common cause of vomiting bile is going too long in between meals, especially in older dogs. This condition is often called Bilious Vomiting Syndrome (BVS). It’s easy to determine if this is the cause because your dog’s vomiting will occur at roughly the same time every day. Bile vomiting occurs most frequently in the morning because, when your dog’s stomach is empty for too long, the acid sitting in his stomach with no food to digest can cause inflammation. This inflammation leads to increased intestinal movement, which leads to vomiting bile.
BVS can often be resolved by changing to more frequent meal feedings. Divide the amount of daily food into 3 or 4 meals and try not to go more than 8 hours between feedings.
Should you take your dog to the vet if she’s vomiting bile?
If your dog’s vomiting lasts for more than 48 hours, you should seek veterinary help. Additionally, if your dog will not eat the bland diet or vomits while on the bland diet, go immediately to your vet because this could be an indication of a more serious problem.
Why is my dog throwing up white foam?
All dogs vomit white foam occasionally. Fortunately, this typically resolves within a short time. Dogs of all ages investigate using their sense of smell and taste. They use their noses to detect odors and often taste what they find. Your dog may vomit because of eating something that upsets their stomach, motion sickness, or nausea from medication.
If your pet experiences mild vomiting but otherwise appears normal you can try supportive care at home. If your dog continues vomiting for over 24 hours, behaves abnormally, or has any other symptoms, your pet needs to be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
Other causes of vomiting white foam include:
- Kennel Cough
- Bloat or GDV (this is a medical emergency - if you think your dog has GDV contact a vet or emergency clinic immediately!)
- Rabies (rare)
Why does my dog throw up undigested food?
There are several causes of a dog vomiting undigested food. The medical term for this is called “regurgitation.” Regurgitation can oftentimes occur as a result of eating too fast and the food just comes right back up soon after or while eating. A quick remedy for this, as discussed above, is a food puzzle. There are many you can purchase at pet supply stores or online, or you can also search for “DIY dog food puzzles” on YouTube for some great inexpensive ideas.
When a puppy begins regurgitating, there could actually be an issue with the esophagus. This warrants an appointment with your vet for an exam and possibly further testing such as x-rays or bloodwork. Left untreated, this type of regurgitating could lead to an infection in the lungs if the puppy aspirates or inhales some of the food.
Vomiting undigested food while not passing any stool can indicate a possible blockage somewhere in the intestinal tract. This can be a life threatening situation which may be treated medically but more often than not, surgery will be needed.
Why does my dog keep throwing up? Chronic vs. Acute Vomiting
Acute vomiting refers to vomiting which is sudden in onset or severe episodes of vomiting. It can be a red flag signifying several important health issues such as:
- Ingestion of toxic substances, like chocolate, xylitol, insecticides, etc.
- Eating garbage or decaying organic matter
- Kidney failure
- Sudden change in diet
- Liver failure
- Heavy infestation of intestinal parasites
- Adverse reaction to certain medications
- Infection - bacterial, viral, fungal
- Heat Stroke
On the other hand, chronic vomiting refers to long-term or frequent vomiting. It’s an important cause for concern especially if it’s accompanied by abdominal pain, blood in the vomit, dehydration, weakness, fever, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, etc. Some common underlying conditions in which chronic vomiting is one of the symptoms include:
- Canine parvovirus infection
- Intestinal obstruction
- Inflammation of the colon (colitis)
- Systemic illness
- Liver disease or liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Infection of the uterus (pyometra)
Home Remedies for Vomiting in Dogs
If your dog has vomited but otherwise seems healthy, happy, and active you can generally start with these steps:
1. Take away food for several hours to give the stomach and intestines a rest (not more than 12 hours for adult dogs and not more than 6 hours for puppies). If, after 12 hours, your dog hasn’t vomited, begin the following supportive care:
2. Offer a small amount of balanced electrolyte oral rehydration solution. Small dogs (weighing less than 30 lb.’s) can be given 5 ml (1 teaspoon) of liquid, and large dogs (weighing over 30 lb.’s) can have 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of liquid.
If your dog keeps that amount of liquid down for 15-30 minutes, offer the same amount again. If your dog vomits, discontinue offering fluids and call your vet.
Please note: Electrolyte solutions are helpful to encourage your dog to drink, but if the vomiting is severe enough to cause electrolyte imbalances, it's time to see the vet!
3. If your dog doesn’t vomit, increase the amount of liquid by ½ or 50% every hour. (i.e. 1 teaspoon increased to 1.5 teaspoons and 1 tablespoon increased to 1.5 tablespoons)
4. If your dog doesn’t vomit for 12 hours after drinking the fluids you offered, try giving a small amount of a bland diet:
A bland diet consists of boiled meat and rice, with ground beef or chicken being the most common. The meat should be boiled, and then rinsed/strained to remove any excess oils and fats.
The boiled meat should then be mixed with cooked white rice in a ratio of 1-part meat to 3-parts rice. Feed this bland diet in small frequent meals over 24-48 hours. The entire 48-hour amount can be cooked at one time, and then refrigerated and reheated as needed.
Continue reading here for recipes and feeding instructions:
5. If your dog keeps the food down, you can offer them twice the amount every 1 to 2 hours as long as they continue to eat and not vomit.
Continue this bland diet for up to 4 days before introducing your dog’s normal food.
6. If your dog vomits at any time during the supportive care or has started to refuse the food, call your vet right away. This may suggest a more serious illness requiring examination, testing, and treatment in the hospital.
Please note: Practice good hygiene by washing your hands well after cleaning up your dogs’ vomit to prevent transmission of any parasites or other infectious diseases.
When should I be concerned about my dog’s vomiting?
If your dog experiences more than one vomiting episode or has recurrent bouts of vomiting, you should call your vet immediately. Ignoring your pet’s vomiting and any accompanying symptoms may have serious or even fatal consequences.
You should seek prompt veterinary attention if your pet is showing any of the following:
- Frequent vomiting
- Chronic (long-term) vomiting
- Vomiting of blood
- Vomiting is accompanied by fever, weight loss, lethargy, etc.
- Unproductive vomiting (gagging and retching without bringing anything up)
- Vomiting a lot at a single episode
- Vomiting is accompanied by blood or diarrhea
- Ingestion of a foreign body
- Vomiting dog is also experiencing seizures
Diagnosing Vomiting in Dogs
In addition to a thorough medical exam, your dog’s history is an important factor to take into consideration when making a diagnosis. Your vet may feel it necessary to run certain laboratory tests and procedures (blood tests, ultrasound, x-rays, urinalysis, biopsy, etc.) to confirm the initial diagnosis.
Most of the underlying causes are treatable, especially if early medical attention and treatment are given. Many causes of chronic vomiting won’t resolve on their own and will require veterinary intervention.
How Vomiting in Dogs is Treated
The treatment plan that will be created by your vet will depend to a large extent on the cause of your dog’s vomiting and his present condition.
Medications are given to address specific symptoms. Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy may be necessary to correct issues like fluid and electrolyte imbalance. In some cases, anti-nausea medications may be needed.
Tips to Prevent Vomiting in Dogs
While there are causes of vomiting that cannot be prevented, there are also those that can be prevented with these simple tips:
When introducing a new diet, do it gradually within a span of 7-10 days. The transition period involves reducing the old pet food by at least 10% each day and mixing in the new pet food in increasing amounts until such time that your pet’s meal is 100% composed of the new pet food. Observing the proper transition period will give time for your dog’s system to get used to the new diet, without which, digestive upsets can occur.
Don’t offer toys that can easily be swallowed or chewed by your dog. Any non-food item that is swallowed can irritate the gastrointestinal tract or get lodged in any part of the digestive tract and cause an obstruction.
Avoid giving bones that can be swallowed whole or broken into sharp shards.
Table scraps are a no-no. Some human foods contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs. Some may be too high in fat or sugar, both of which can lead to health issues in dogs.
Measures should be taken to prevent your dog’s access to garbage bins. Dogs are known for their indiscriminate eating habits. Scavenging exposes them to rotten food, toxins, and items that could be harmful when ingested.
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