If you’re like me, then the sight of your dog vomiting is a cause for immediate concern. I want to know why my dog is vomiting, and what I should do about it. The problem with trying to figure that out, of course, is that vomiting is listed as a possible symptom for a huge range of canine conditions, and sorting through pages and pages of Google articles is almost as bad as using WebMD's symptom checker—I end up convinced that the worst case scenario is the most likely.
Sorting through all of that information is tricky, which is why we came up with this list of possible causes for dog vomiting, along with the steps you need to take to get your dog help.
Vomiting vs. Regurgitating
Before we get to the causes of vomiting, we need to distinguish between vomiting and regurgitation. When dogs vomit, they are forcefully ejecting the contents of their stomach and upper small intestine, bringing food, fluid, and debris onto your carpet. Prior to this unpleasant display, they usually exhibit signs of nausea, such as excessive drooling, retching, and contractions of the abdomen—rather like we do.
Regurgitation is different. Instead of ejecting the stomach contents by force, regurgitation is a passive motion that expels undigested food and fluids. Unlike vomiting, the signs of regurgitation are difficulty breathing and coughing. One way to tell if your dog has regurgitated instead of vomited is to look at what the dog has thrown up. Regurgitated substances are undigested and may keep the cylindrical shape of the esophagus.
When Is Dog Vomiting Normal?
Long-term dog owners know that vomiting is not uncommon. Occasionally, healthy dogs will get sick for no apparent reason and then continue with their day as if nothing happened. Your dog could have eaten too quickly, swallowed something disagreeable, or merely snacked on too much grass. This type of vomiting is usually nothing to worry about. So how do you tell when vomiting is a cause for concern?
Your dog is most likely fine if he vomits once without any other symptoms, according to veterinarians. If your dog's vomiting can be described as any of the following, then it is time to start getting concerned:
- Continuous vomiting
- Chronic vomiting
- Vomiting a lot at one time
- Vomiting with other symptoms, like fever, weight loss, lethargy, anemia, etc.
- Vomiting blood
- Vomiting with nothing coming up
- Bloody diarrhea
- Suspected foreign body ingestion
It never hurts to play it safe when it comes to dog health. The best way to find out if your dog’s vomiting is normal or not is to call your vet.
What Causes Acute Vomiting in Dogs?
Acute vomiting, which can be defined as sudden or severe bouts of vomiting, is a serious symptom of quite a few diseases, disorders, and complications.
- Ingestion of irritating substances (i.e., garbage, chocolate)
- Toxins or poisons
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Diet change
- Intestinal parasites
- Viral infection
- Medication reaction
- Bacterial infection
- Heat stroke
It is up to owners to help veterinarians narrow down the cause. For instance, if your dog vomits after being outside in the hot sun or trapped in a hot car, then heat stroke is a prime suspect. If your trash can displays evidence of canine exploration, then garbage, toxins, or a foreign body are more likely.
You know your dog's behavior best, which is why it is up to you to fill your veterinarian in on anything that could have contributed to your dog's condition, like access to human medications, toxins, a change in diet, and other possible causes.
If your dog is vomiting with diarrhea or vomiting and has a poor appetite, call your veterinarian.
Chronic Dog Vomiting
Chronic, frequent, or long-term vomiting is also a cause for concern, especially if it is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Other unusual symptoms
As with acute vomiting, there are a number of conditions that can cause frequent or chronic vomiting:
- Intestinal obstruction
- Liver disease
- Kidney or liver failure
- Systemic illness
- Intestinal inflammation
- Uterine infection
Most of these conditions are very treatable, especially if they are addressed as soon as possible. The majority of the issues caused by chronic or frequent vomiting will not go away on their own and require the intervention of a veterinarian.
Vomiting in Puppies
A dog vomiting is potentially serious, but puppy vomiting should always be treated as a potential emergency. After six weeks, puppies lose the immunity given to them by their mothers. Since young puppies only just begin receiving vaccinations, they are at an increased risk of contracting serious diseases like parvo or parasites. If your puppy is vomiting, don’t wait to see if it resolves on its own -- call your vet.
Diagnosing Vomiting in Dogs
Determining the cause of a dog’s vomiting usually requires several steps. Your vet will ask you questions about your dog’s access to garbage, poisons, and toxins, about any recent dietary changes, and if your dog is exhibiting any other symptoms.
She or he will then perform a physical examination. If your vet feels it is necessary, she will run any additional tests, such as blood work, ultrasounds, x-rays, endoscopic evaluations, biopsies, and urine tests.
Treating Vomiting in Dogs
Once your vet determines the cause of your dog’s vomiting, she will tailor a treatment plan based on the cause and your dog’s condition. Vomiting itself can create issues like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and acid-based disorders. Your vet will address these problems by treating the symptoms and in some cases prescribing anti-nausea medications.
When Should You Call a Vet About a Vomiting Dog?
As humans, most of us don’t call the doctor over an isolated bout of vomiting. If your dog vomits once and then resumes his normal activities and eats and poops normally, chances are it was a minor incident, although it never hurts to play it safe.
If your dog vomits more than once, or has recurring bouts of vomiting, you need to call your vet immediately. Vomiting is a symptom of many serious diseases, illnesses, and complications, and as owners we owe it to our dogs to take it seriously. Ignoring your dog's vomiting could have serious, even fatal consequences.