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Key Points
  • With vet's offices maintaining limited hours during the COVID-19 crisis, dog owners become first responders and have to make informed decisions about whether veterinary care is required.
  • AKC Family Dog columnist Dr. Jeff Grognet offers advice on how to tell when and if a vomiting dog should be seen by a veterinarian.
  • Four signs of canine illness can help you determine how serious it is.

When your dog is showing signs of illness or injury, you become a first responder, assessing your patient and determining what type of care—if any—he requires. For a vomiting dog, ask the following questions:

Does he look sick?

If your dog is—on one extreme—lying down and uninterested in the surroundings as well as vomiting, it’s likely something is wrong. On the other extreme, if your dog vomited once and is still playful and alert, it may be safe to observe him for any changes. Still, you should look for a decrease in activity level or increase in vomiting, in which case veterinary care may be needed.

How often is it happening?

One episode of vomiting is not normally a reason for an emergency veterinary visit, assuming the dog isn’t acting sick. Your regular veterinarian will determine if a visit is necessary, based on your dog.

If the vomiting continues, it could indicate a more serious problem. Also, the dog may be at risk of dehydration, especially if he is suffering from diarrhea, too. Fluid lost through vomiting is not replaced because the dog can’t keep water down.

Signs of dehydration include lethargy and loss of interest in eating or drinking. You can measure hydration in two ways:

  • First is to check the gums. Put your finger under the lip and run along the gums. It should feel wet and slippery. If the gums are tacky, your dog may be dehydrated.
  • A second method is to pull up a fold of skin over the shoulder and let it go. It should go flat immediately. The faster it snaps back to position, the better hydrated your dog is. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, you should seek immediate care.

How old is your dog?

A puppy who vomits for the first time needs watching. If he is getting weak, he could have parvovirus and will need immediate care, even if he only vomited once. Puppies are fragile and can deteriorate quickly.

Does your dog have an abnormal temperature?

To take the temperature, use a digital thermometer. Have one dedicated for the dog (so that you don’t later stick it in your mouth). Coat the end with a lubricant or liquid soap and insert it into the rectum. The temperature shows on the display. Once finished, wipe off the thermometer with gauze soaked with rubbing alcohol to sterilize it.

Normal canine body temperature is between 100° and 102° Fahrenheit (38° to 39° Celsius). If it is higher, that suggests a fever and may mean that an infection is present. If is it lower, the body may be shutting down. In either case, get emergency care immediately.

Using these techniques, you now have a guide to help you decide if you need a trip to the hospital, slow or fast. If you are in doubt, call your veterinarian or visit the nearest clinic.

Put Your Knowledge to the Test

Think about what you would do in these three cases and then read our vet’s assessment.

Case 1 – 10-week-old Beagle

puppy aloneCasey seemed fine this morning and even ate his breakfast. It’s now the afternoon, and he has already vomited twice, yellow bile each time. More importantly, he is lying down, totally uninterested in drinking or eating. His gums are a little tacky but his skin test looks normal. His temperature is 102.7°.

Assessment: It’s concerning that Casey is lethargic, especially since this issue has come on quickly and is getting worse. The fever suggests an infection. His gums suggest a little dehydration, but it is probably too soon to affect his skin. He will likely show more signs of dehydration in a few hours. Casey needs attention now, and the concern is a parvoviral infection.

Case 2 – 5-year-old Golden Retriever

Sad Golden Retriever laying in the grass.Malcolm tends to vomit twice a week. His hydration is good, his temperature is normal, and he will play ball any time you want him to.

He normally vomits yellow bile in the morning. He often wants to eat his breakfast right after.

Assessment: This is probably not an emergency. You can plan a veterinary visit as a planned appointment. He is a prime candidate for a food intolerance, and the treatment may be as simple as a diet change.

Case 3 – 7-year-old Russell Terrier

Russell Terrier hiding under the bed.Stella was fine yesterday and has no history of past vomiting. She ate breakfast but vomited it up.

She has been drinking but vomits right after, every single time. Her temperature is high normal (102.4) but not a true fever.

Assessment: The continued vomiting is a concern. This could cause dehydration, so an exam is needed. Stella may have eaten something that is now blocking the intestine. She will need tests to see if that’s the case, and if so, may need surgery.

Dr. Jeff Grognet is a practicing veterinarian and has written more than 1,000 articles for newspapers and magazines. He also teaches courses for veterinary assistants and pet sitters. His book, Professional Pet Sitting for Love and Money, and the courses are available at veterinaryassistantlearningcenter.com.

Originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of AKC Family Dog.

Have a non-urgent medical question? AKC Vetline is a live, 24/7 service staffed by licensed veterinary staff and pet professionals. Get unlimited access to answers about your pet’s health and wellness whenever and wherever you need it from a source you know you can trust.

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