Dog vomiting (also known as throwing up, emesis, barfing, puking) describes the forceful and involuntary act of expelling the stomach contents through the mouth and seldom the nose.
Vomiting is scary for pet owners and extremely unpleasant for dogs. While the occasional puking episode in dogs is relatively normal, constant and persistent throwing up is a cause for concern. In this article, we will talk about dog vomiting. Keep reading, to learn everything you need to know about vomiting in dogs.
Why is My Dog Vomiting?
Vomiting in dogs is not a disease, but rather a symptom, and it can occur as an isolated incident or due to a more serious illness.
If your dog is vomiting and you are wondering why, try answering the following questions listed below:
- To the best of your knowledge, has your dog eaten anything that it shouldn’t have? Look around for spills, open packets, vermin traps, garbage, or anything else your pet could have gotten into.
- Have you recently changed dog food or started giving your dog different treats? Has anyone been feeding the dog table scraps or other human foods?
- What does the vomit look like? Does it contain bile, mucus, or chunks of undigested food? Is there blood in it? If there is blood, is it bright red or dark?
- How many times has your dog thrown up, and with what regularity? Did it eat or drink anything between the vomiting episodes?
- Is your dog showing any other illness signs and symptoms, such as diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, fever, abdominal pain, or anything else out of the ordinary?
Answering these questions will give helpful clues about why your dog is vomiting. If you rush to the vet’s office immediately after your dog throws up, the veterinarian will want to know the answers.
When is Dog Vomiting Normal?
Not every dog vomiting episode is a reason to call the vet. Dogs are prone to vomiting because of their voracious appetites. Namely, a dog that gulped down on its food instead of chewing it is likely to vomit soon after finishing the meal.
Plus, dogs have low standards when it comes to choosing food and often eat things that do not agree with their stomachs. In such cases, the vomiting is not just normal but actually beneficial as it helps eliminate the irritant.
Causes of Acute Vomiting in Dogs
Acute vomiting is when dogs vomit repeatedly, to the point where there is nothing left in their stomachs but bile. The most common causes of acute vomiting in dogs are:
- Sudden diet changes
- Dietary indiscretions (eating garbage, table scraps)
- Infectious diseases (bacterial, fungal, viral, parasites)
- Ingestion of toxic human foods (chocolate, avocado)
- Ingestion of chemicals (pesticides, antifreeze)
- Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) or bloat
- Foreign objects (toys, tennis balls, wood sticks)
- Intestinal obstruction due to foreign bodies
- Adverse reactions to certain medications
- Motion sickness (car rides, bus travels)
- Heat exhaustion and heatstrokes
Causes of Chronic Vomiting in Dogs
Chronic vomiting occurs sporadically and it is possible for the dog to experience longer non-vomiting periods between two vomiting episodes. Common causes of chronic vomiting are:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Chronic gastroenteritis
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Infectious diseases (usually tick-borne)
- Metabolic conditions (liver disease, kidney failure, diabetes)
- Endocrine abnormalities (Addison’s disease)
- Certain types of cancer.
Causes of Vomiting in Puppies
Vomiting in puppies is a much more serious issue than vomiting in adult dogs. This is because they have sensitive tummies and underdeveloped immune systems. Simple vomiting episodes in puppies can quickly result in severe dehydration.
The most common causes of vomiting in puppies are:
- Infectious diseases. Infections like parvovirus and distemper are particularly common in unvaccinated puppies. Such diseases can also occur in vaccinated puppies if they get infected before the vaccines take full efficacy.
- Intestinal parasites. Puppies are born with worms that they inherit from their mothers. After birth, puppies can get worms through the milk. This is the reason why puppies need frequent de-worming.
Dog Vomiting vs. Regurgitating: Know the Difference
It is very important to know the difference between dog vomiting and regurgitation, as they are different processes and with different implications on your pet’s health.
Vomiting or throwing up is an active process, often accompanied by retching or coughing sounds and visible contraction of the abdominal muscles. On the other hand, regurgitation is a passive process, often associated with a change in position (such as lowering the head), where food just appears to fall out of the dog’s mouth.
Another way to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation is the material that your dog brings up.
Vomit comes from the stomach or small intestine. The vomit may contain bile (a digestive fluid that is usually yellow, green, or orange in color). However, if your dog has recently eaten or has liver disease, the vomitus will not include bile.
Regurgitated material comes from the esophagus or pharynx and travels backward out of the mouth or nose. As a result, the regurgitus comes out in a tube-like shape and may contain food, mucus, and saliva, but it cannot ever contain bile.
Finally, we should note that when a dog is retching, coughing, or expectorating, it will expel a glob of mucus or snot. This is not the same as vomitus or regurgitus.
If you are in doubt about whether your pet is vomiting, regurgitating, or simply expectorating, it can be helpful to video your dog in the act and show it to your veterinarian. This may seem weird, but it will simplify the vet’s diagnosis.
What can I Give My Dog for Vomiting?
The first aid for a vomiting dog is a bland diet. Luckily, the bland diet does not taste as plain as it sounds because it is made of boiled chicken meat and white rice. The meal is usually offered frequently but in small servings. You should also make sure your dog stays hydrated by giving small amounts of water.
One of the most popular OTC remedies for vomiting is Pepto Bismol. Luckily, Pepto Bismol is safe for dogs. Its active ingredient, bismuth subsalicylate, is a strong antiemetic, antacid, and anti-inflammatoric and is fast-acting. Plus, Pepto Bismol is easy to give to dogs as it is available in the form of tablets and liquid.
Dog Vomiting Treatment Options
Since vomiting is a symptom rather than a condition, the treatment your veterinarian suggests will depend on the underlying cause. However, managing the vomiting itself usually requires one or more of the following approaches.
Fluid Therapy. A vomiting dog can easily become dehydrated, experience acid-base imbalance or electrolyte abnormalities, especially if it has diarrhea too. Fluid therapy, either through an oral rehydration solution or an intravenous drip, will help to correct these imbalances and get your pup back to normal quicker. Your veterinarian will assess your dog’s condition and tailor the fluid therapy to its needs.
Antiemetics for Dogs. Antiemetics is the fancy name for medications that can block the signals from a dog’s brain that stimulate the need to vomit. Usually, such drugs are only available via a prescription. They are given once the underlying cause of vomiting has been identified or in cases of motion sickness (anti-nausea medications). Popular antiemetics for dogs include:
Never give your dog an antiemetic formulated for humans unless the veterinarian instructs you to do so. Human meds can have adverse effects on dogs.
Histamine Blocking Medications. Histamine blocking drugs, or simply antihistamines, will be prescribed if your dog is vomiting as a result of allergic reactions, food allergies, and food intolerances. Antihistamines work by stopping the body’s immune system from overreacting to misidentified threats.
Antacids for Dogs. The vet will recommend giving your dog antacids if suffering from issues like stomach ulcers, acid reflux, or inflammation of the stomach (gastritis). Usually, these meds are given in combination with other drugs that can damage the stomach lining or intestines. The most commonly used antacid for dogs is famotidine, but it requires a prescription.
Oral Protectants for Dogs. The dog’s vomit is highly acidic and can easily cause severe damage to its mouth and throat, especially in cases of chronic vomiting. In such cases, the veterinarian will recommend an oral protectant, usually in the form of a mouth spray or special toothpaste, to protect the delicate oral structures from damage.
Antibiotics for Dogs. Dog vomiting can often be a symptom of an underlying infection. In such cases, to stop the vomiting, the vet will have to treat the underlying infection using appropriate antibiotics. Common antibiotics for dogs include:
Remember, antibiotics do not work for viral infections. However, they can be helpful to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Therefore, it is imperative that you give your dog antibiotics as directed by the veterinarian.
How Long can a Dog Vomit Before Going to the Vet?
If your dog throws up just once, this may be an isolated issue. However, if it vomits more than once in a 24-hour period or shows additional signs of illness (diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, dehydration, fever, lethargy), you should seek medical attention from a veterinarian.
Vomiting in dogs is quite common and usually benign in nature as it stems from dietary indiscretions. However, it can also be the symptom of severe conditions, some of which are even life-threatening. Just to be on the safe side, when in doubt, take your dog to the vet.
If the vet cannot determine the underlying cause of vomiting in your dog, they will run further tests. Such tests include blood works (complete blood counts and biochemistry panels), abdominal x-rays and ultrasound. In more severe cases, the veterinarian may suggest endoscopic examination or exploratory laparotomy.
Our Final Thoughts on Dog Vomiting
If your dog is vomiting, consulting your vet should be your first option. Based on the situation, the veterinarian will either recommend the “wait and see” approach or suggest making a visit.
In the second scenario, try to arrive prepared with as much information as you have, including when your dog first got sick, how long it has been vomiting for, any changes in diet, foods or substances it may have ingested, medication it is on, what the vomitus looks like, and so on.
The more information you can give your vet, the easier it will be for them to make a diagnosis. And the sooner you get to the bottom of the problem, the sooner your dog will stop vomiting.