Why Is My Dog Vomiting? Helpful Information For Pet Parents
Written by Katie Dalhausen, PhD, Dawn Kingsbury, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, and Holly Ganz, PhD
Published on May 3, 2022
We totally get that your dog vomiting on the floor (or worse!) is one of the yuckier parts of being a dog parent. We also understand that it can be confusing for you to know if and when you should be concerned about such a common event. We’re here to help with the information you need to best care for your dog. In this article, we cover the common causes of vomiting for dogs, when you should see a veterinarian (DVM), and how you can help your pup feel better.
While your dog can’t tell you how they are feeling, they can still give you a lot of clues as to why they got sick. Have they been low on energy lately? How did they act after they vomited? Do they have diarrhea or other symptoms? Have they been vomiting a lot more frequently than usual? What was in their vomit? What color was their vomit? Are they actually vomiting?
First Off, Is Your Dog Actually Vomiting? The Difference Between Vomiting, Regurgitation, And Retching.
Vomiting: a forceful ejection of the stomach contents that is accompanied by abdominal heaving.
Regurgitation: the contents of the esophagus come back up passively, usually occurring soon after eating.
Retching: also known as dry heaving; the same abdominal heaving as vomiting, but nothing comes up.
Common Causes of Dog Vomiting
They Ate Something They Shouldn’t Have
Some dogs have quite the talent for getting into things they aren’t supposed to. Vomiting is a normal reaction for a dog to purge contents that their stomach is having a hard time digesting.
If your dog’s vomit contains chunks of couch cushion, a lot of plant material, trash, or undigested food, and they return to their normal energy level and appetite soon after they vomit, you probably don’t need to worry. Your dog’s stomach simply couldn’t process what they ate.
What should you do if you find a non-food item in your dog’s vomit? We recommend that you keep a close eye on your dog for the next 12 hours, just in case they weren’t able to purge everything they ate. A foreign body can get stuck anywhere along the digestive tract - from the esophagus through the large intestine. This is called an intestinal blockage.
Sometimes this happens days to even weeks after the indigestible item was eaten. An intestinal blockage can be a life-threatening emergency that requires urgent veterinary care. Signs to look out for include: abdominal tensing or bloating, excessive drooling, loss of appetite, fever (temperature greater than 103F), and/or any difficulty passing a poop following their dietary indiscretion.
If you suspect your dog ate something dangerous, such as a toxic plant or poison, the signs might look different. The vomiting is likely to occur in multiple episodes, and may be accompanied by other symptoms like agitation or lethargy.
If you suspect your dog ate a toxic substance, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
They Have An Infection
Vomiting is a common side effect to several types of infections that are common to dogs.
Intestinal parasites, such as roundworm infections, may cause your dog to have worms in their vomit or stool.
Viral infections, like parvovirus, can affect all dogs. However, young and unvaccinated dogs are especially susceptible. Other viruses like circovirus, norovirus, rotavirus and canine coronavirus have also been detected in sick dogs.
Bacterial infections can happen anywhere on your dog’s body - inside and out - and at any age. Some systemic infections, like leptospirosis, can be prevented with proper vaccinations, and others can be treated with antibiotics. Bacterial gut infections that can lead to vomiting include: E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.
If your dog has an infection, their vomit will likely be clear to yellow liquid. This means they are nauseated, and don’t have any stomach contents to throw up. Pay attention to any other symptoms your dog has. Fever, dehydration, and bloody diarrhea are all common signs that may indicate your dog has an infection. Untreated infections can lead to some serious conditions very quickly, so it’s important to seek veterinary attention at the first sign of an infection.
Medication Side Effect
Have you started your dog on a new medication or supplement recently? Similar to human medications, nausea is also one of the most common side effects of medications for dogs. Your dog may not always vomit; retching can also be a sign they aren’t coping well with their treatment.
Vomiting isn’t a fun side effect. Be concerned if it is preventing your dog from keeping important medicine down or is interfering with their quality of life. Pain-relieving medications like NSAIDs (such as carprofen/Rimadyl or meloxicam/Metacam) can lead to ulcers or GI bleeding, especially when the medication is given over long periods. Let your veterinarian know if you suspect your dog isn’t tolerating their medication well. Your veterinarian may be able to adjust the dose, brand, or medication to reduce side effects.
My Dog Was Prescribed Antibiotics
Antibiotics can be particularly hard for dogs to adjust to, especially those with sensitive stomachs. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria, including both the bad bacteria that cause an infection and the good bacteria in your dog’s gut that help them digest food. This is why your dog may have digestive-related symptoms during antibiotic treatment.
Luckily, there are several ways you can help ease the impact antibiotics have on your dog’s gut health. For example, supplements like DoggyBiome™ S. boulardii + FOS Powder can help reduce vomiting and diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii for short) is a probiotic that is beneficial for gut health. Unlike most probiotics, it is a type of yeast, so it is not affected by antibiotics. Scientific studies have shown that S. boulardii is highly effective at reducing GI side effects for dogs that require antibiotic treatment.
FOS stands for FructoOligoSaccharides, which are a good source of soluble fiber. These prebiotics are not digested by the dog and serve to feed the beneficial bacteria of the gut. A study in dogs and cats showed that soluble fiber helps prevent damage from NSAID usage.
Has your dog been playing hard or been exposed to high temperatures? And along with excessive panting and restlessness, are they now vomiting? That is a tell tale sign that your dog is dangerously overheated and possibly heading into shock. Heat stress can be fatal.
Some dogs are much more susceptible to heat stroke. Younger dogs are more likely to have heat-related illness triggered by exercise, whereas older or flat-faced dogs can develop heat-related illness just by being in an environment with temperatures over 80 F, especially in particularly humid conditions. One of the most common situations for heat stroke in dogs is being left in a car.
HEAT STROKE FIRST AID
If the conditions fit and/or your dog’s temperature is over 103.5 F, it’s important to bring them to a cool, shaded, and calm environment.
Apply wet towels or hose them with water, targeting the underside of the neck, between the legs and along the belly; combine water with good airflow around the dog to help cool their body. Provide them with small amounts of cool water or allow them to lick ice cubes. After your initial first aid, take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Frequent vomiting, especially after eating, may be a sign that something isn’t quite right with your dog’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract and/or their diet. Here are some common GI issues that may cause your dog’s vomiting:
Switching to a new dog food or treats too quickly can trigger vomiting in some dogs. This is because it takes time for your dog’s digestive system to adjust to a new diet. New diets should be transitioned in over the course of at least a week, and longer for more sensitive dogs.
Your dog may vomit soon after eating if the transition to their new diet is too quick. This isn’t to be confused with them eating their food too quickly, which can also trigger a vomiting episode. This is because they are not thoroughly chewing their food, ingesting a lot of air, and/or their stomach is overloaded by too large of a meal.
Food sensitivities are common in dogs. Vomiting can be a response to specific food ingredients that are difficult for your dog to digest. Your veterinarian may have to run strict food trials to rule out food intolerances or allergies. While giving your dog table scraps may seem harmless, ingestion of human food could be the underlying cause of your dog’s vomiting. Fatty foods can trigger inflammation in the pancreas, causing pancreatitis.
Vomiting can be a sign of a gut microbiome imbalance. The bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your dog’s intestines make up the gut microbiome. They play important roles in digestion, nutrient absorption, metabolism, protection from infection, and immune function. If your dog is missing important beneficial bacteria, their gut microbiome may not be functioning optimally - this is called a microbiome imbalance.
Inflammation in the gut is often linked with a bacterial imbalance that can be associated with a multitude of long-term health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), cancer of the bowel, and bile acid metabolism. Learn about at-home gut microbiome testing for dogs.
SOME BREEDS ARE MORE SUSCEPTABLE TO GASTROINTESTINAL ISSUES.
In short-nosed breeds, such as French and English bulldogs, sliding hiatal hernias (where the stomach slips temporarily into the chest) can produce intermittent retching.
In deep-chested breeds, such as Great Danes and Standard poodles, non-productive retching is a classic sign of bloat (otherwise known as Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, or GDV). This condition requires emergency surgery. A preventative surgical procedure can be performed at the time of routine spaying or neutering to prevent GDV.
Other Organ System Problems
Vomiting can be the first sign of a problem with your dog’s internal organs. Liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney failure, urinary blockage due to bladder stones, uterine infection or some cancers are all diseases that could cause your dog to vomit. Blood and urine testing helps your veterinarian determine if there is an issue with your dog’s organs lying outside the GI tract.
When You Should Take Your Dog To The Vet
We recommend erring on the side of caution and taking your dog to the vet if you’re concerned about their vomiting. Here are some circumstances where you should definitely take your dog in:
- If your dog is a puppy - especially if they are vomiting and have diarrhea
- If your dog is old or has a pre-existing illness
- If their vomiting is coupled with troubled breathing
- If their vomiting is coupled with blood in their vomit (it may be bright red or look like coffee grounds)
- If their vomiting is coupled with a fever
- If their vomiting is coupled with dry gums (this is a sign of dehydration)
- weight loss
- If their vomiting is coupled with bloody diarrhea
- If their vomiting is coupled with lethargy
- If they vomit a very large volume, when they have not recently had anything to eat or drink
- If they had access to anything that is toxic to dogs (e.g., chocolate, xylitol found in lots of sugar-free products, human painkillers - acetaminophen/Tylenol and ibuprofen/Advil, grapes/raisins, wild mushrooms, compost, yard chemicals/fertilizers, house plants)
- If they vomit/retch repeatedly multiple times over 15 minutes
- If they vomit once and are still acting sick and nauseated, more than 24 hours later, even if nothing comes up
If your dog’s vomiting is chronic
What Is The Difference Between Acute And Chronic Vomiting?
There is no hard and fast rule for veterinarians as to what separates acute and chronic vomiting. Typically, acute vomiting comes on quickly and generally is either a one-off episode or resolves quickly (within one to two days). The severity of the signs may be mild, though are more often severe. Acute means that the onset is recent. These signs may either resolve or persist and become chronic.
Chronic vomiting is generally mild, intermittent vomiting episodes that have occurred over at least 3 weeks duration.
Questions Your Veterinarian May Ask You
- How many times your pet has vomited in a specific time period. It’s helpful to make a note on your phone or jot it down on the wall calendar when your dog vomits to have an accurate record.
- What, when, and how much they last ate.
- The appearance of the vomit. What color was it? How digested was the food? Particle size & texture? Presence of foreign material in vomit or stool? Was there mucus? The camera on your phone can come in handy to document this! Make sure to put something of standard size in the photo to help give a more objective measure of the size of the pile of vomit.
- Any changes to your dog’s behavior or their routine
- Any other symptoms
If you take your dog to a vet that isn’t familiar with your pet (such as an emergency vet), they will also need to know their past pertinent medical history, any previous disease diagnoses, and any current medication. It is often very helpful for vets if you bring in a sample of your dog’s vomit and/or diarrhea so they can run tests on it.
Diagnosing Vomiting: Tests Your Veterinarian May Run
In addition to the information you tell your veterinarian, they may also run tests to get a better idea of how to help your vomiting dog.
Imaging studies, such as x-rays or endoscope exams, are helpful for diagnosing an intestinal blockage, ulcers, and other issues that can be visually diagnosed.
Blood work can be helpful for determining the source of a problem, whether it’s testing for systemic infection or an organ that isn’t working properly.
Stool examinations, such as a fecal float or fecal PCR tests, are the easiest way to determine if your dog has a parasite or specific, common bacterial and protozoal infections.
Biopsies can be more invasive than other tests, but are important for determining if your dog has an inflammatory condition, ulcers, cancer, or other underlying problem.
Your veterinarian may give your dog supportive care in the form of electrolytes if they are dehydrated, especially if they haven't been able to keep anything down and/or have diarrhea.
Puppies and Vomiting
It is a normal and common occurrence for puppies to vomit. Their digestive systems are still developing and are therefore more sensitive to new things. Puppies also have a knack for eating many things they shouldn’t; vomiting is a normal response for keeping foreign objects and toxins out of their bodies.
It is important to take your puppy to the vet if they are vomiting often or have any other symptoms - especially diarrhea. The combination of diarrhea and vomiting in puppies is very dangerous because it can make them dehydrated quickly. It may also be a sign of a potentially life-threatening infection.
How To Soothe and Support Your Dog After Vomiting
Make your dog comfortable. After your dog has vomited, make them comfortable and be gentle with them. Put them somewhere you can directly observe them and make sure they have access to water.
Allow your dog’s gastrointestinal tract time to recuperate. Your dog’s appetite may not be normal for one to three days after a vomiting episode. So long as they seem to be steadily recovering, it’s okay if they are not eating full meals.
Feed them a bland diet of low fat, easily digestible food, such as white rice and boiled chicken. There is no need to limit their access to water, but you can give them ice cubes if they are having trouble keeping water down.
Re-introduce food slowly. When you re-introduce food to them after their vomiting episode, start by offering a small portion of their normal meal size. Keep feeding them small meals every 2-3 hours. You can increase the meal size over the next couple of days until they are back to their normal routine.
Potential Treatments for Chronic Vomiting
There are many treatments available to help dogs with chronic vomiting. Some are relatively easy solutions, such as a prescription for antibiotics to treat an infection, whereas some are a bit more complex.
Microbiome testing is a good option for pet parents to test for gut imbalances and get customized recommendations for the best diet for their dog. A Gut Health Test is a helpful tool for addressing many gastrointestinal symptoms and determining if supplements can help your dog.
In some cases, fecal transplants (FMTs) can help reduce the symptoms of many different conditions connected to vomiting episodes, such as cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The easiest way to give your dog an FMT is via oral capsules, such as the DoggyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplements.
Treating the root causes of chronic vomiting can take time and some trial and error. In addition to talking with your veterinarian, please get in touch with us to learn about all the ways we can help you support your dog’s health.
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