Vomiting is not a disease, but a symptom of a variety of potential problems. It is the most common, nonspecific symptom a dog can experience. It may be associated with a chronic disease, intake of unwanted substances, overeating, over-excitement, or any number of things. Pinpointing the cause of your dog’s vomiting will help your veterinarian treat them appropriately. Dogs tend to vomit more readily than most other domesticated animals because the vomiting center in their brain is very well-developed.
Vomiting is often confused with regurgitation, which is the spitting up of undigested food without effort, or retching. Actual vomiting is when the contents are expelled from the stomach along with gastric fluid. The muscles of the stomach contract while the muscles in the esophagus relax, allowing the stomach contents to be expelled.
The most common cause of dog vomiting is the ingestion of indigestible substances, such as grass and "people" food. Vomiting can quickly cause your dog to become dehydrated and lose electrolytes. In young dogs, vomiting can be an emergency situation requiring immediate attention by your veterinarian.
Vomiting that lasts multiple days with no other symptoms is usually due to a disturbance in the digestive tract. Dogs may vomit for up to three or four days and still be responsive to home treatment.
Long term vomiting or vomiting more than 1-2 times a day will need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Vomit Containing Blood
Vomiting with blood or digested blood resembling coffee grounds is a sign of bleeding somewhere along the digestive tract. This could indicate a stomach or intestinal ulcer, a foreign body, or a gastric tumor. Further examination by your veterinarian will be necessary to determine the cause. The diagnostic process will usually involve a physical exam and an x-ray or ultrasound.
In some cases where your dog may have ingested a poison, vomiting may need to be induced to remove the toxin. This should only be done on otherwise healthy dogs by your veterinarian. By inducing vomiting, your veterinarian is able to remove about 80% of your dog’s stomach contents.
Signs & Symptoms of Vomiting in Dogs
- Increased salivation
- Repeated swallowing
- Extension of neck
- Gagging or retching noises
- Attention seeking behavior
Diagnosis of Vomiting in Dogs
To determine what is causing your dog’s discomfort and vomiting, your veterinarian will likely perform some of the following tests depending on your dog’s symptoms:
- CBC/Chemistry Panel - These blood tests will evaluate various internal organ functions, including the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, metabolism, and electrolyte balance. The CBC (complete blood count) is a measure of the amount and different kinds of red and white blood cells that are present in the dog’s body.
- Radiographs - This may show abnormalities of the esophagus or stomach. It may be necessary to give barium to help identify any blockages, tumors, ulcers, foreign bodies, etc.
Treatment for Vomiting in Dogs
For acute vomiting in a healthy adult dog with no other symptoms, you may be able to treat at home. Keep in mind that if vomiting persists or worsens during treatment, you should go to your veterinarian immediately. Withholding food and water intake for a minimum of 12 hours can slow down the digestive tract and give the dog’s stomach a rest (if your dog has a kidney condition or is dehydrated from their illness, these fluids will need to be replaced by injecting them under the skin by your veterinarian).
If the vomiting stops, introduce water in the form of a few ice chips every 3-4 hours and monitor your dog. If your dog still has not vomited, you may offer very small amounts of water for them to drink. A pediatric electrolyte solution may be mixed in to replenish electrolytes. If after 24 hours no vomiting has occurred, begin offering small amounts of a bland, easily digestible food, and slowly introduce normal amounts of food.
Prevention of Vomiting in Dogs
You may prevent vomiting by:
- Keeping all potential poisons locked away from where dogs can reach them
- Feeding your dog a healthy diet not containing table scraps
- If you are traveling with your dog, do not feed them immediately beforehand
- Take your dog to the veterinarian regularly for a check-up to detect underlying conditions early
Vomiting is an emergency situation when:
- Home treatment has not slowed or stopped vomiting
- Your dog appears depressed or lethargic
- Diarrhea is present along with the vomiting
- Blood or mucous is present in the vomited material
- Your dog refuses to eat or drink
You should contact your veterinarian immediately in these cases to prevent worsening of the condition.