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Vomiting in Dogs

Most cases of dog vomiting are mild and self-limiting. But when is it time to worry?

You're just dozing off when, through the thick veil of sleep, you hear that familiar retching noise: "Yerk, yerk, yerk..." Rover is about to vomit. Part of you hopes that it will hit the tile floor instead of the rug so you can deal with it in the morning. The other part wonders, has he gotten into the garbage can again? Is it the rawhide he was chewing? Could it be bloat?

Sooner or later, most dogs will have a bout of vomiting. Most cases are mild and self-limiting. But when is it time to worry? What signs should you watch for, and when should you call the vet?

When Does Vomiting in Dogs Require a Trip to the Veterinarian?

Your dog may vomit once or twice but then seem just fine, with normal behavior, energy, and appetite. The vomiting may be self-limiting and respond to home treatment (see below). However, prolonged vomiting may lead to dehydration or indicate a more serious problem. The following are reasons to call your veterinarian right away:

  • The vomit is bloody, looks like coffee grounds, or is accompanied by loss of appetite, lethargy, or diarrhea.
  • Vomiting persists for over 24 hours.
  • Vomiting is chronic, meaning it continues off and on for more than one or two weeks.
  • Your dog shows repeated attempts to vomit (often unproductively) along with restlessness, agitation, and apparent abdominal distress. This may be a sign of bloat, a potentially life-threatening emergency. Seek veterinary care right away.
  • Your dog is vomiting persistently and is very young, very old, or in otherwise frail health.

If there is any doubt, consult your veterinarian. Persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. It can also be a sign of a serious medical problem.

Causes of Vomiting in Dogs

There are many causes of vomiting in dogs. Here are a few of the more common ones.

  • Overeating
  • Ingestion of garbage, carrion, or spoiled food.
  • Ingestion of plants, sticks, rocks, bones, fabric, carpet, and other indigestible materials
  • Coprophagia (eating poop)
  • Abrupt diet changes
  • Poor-quality diet
  • Dietary intolerance or allergy

Causes of Canine Vomiting

The causes of vomiting in dogs are almost too numerous to list. Here are some to be aware of:

  • Diet-related vomiting is extremely common. This may result from a sudden change of diet, overly rich table scraps, or nasty unspeakables snarfed up from the woods or the trash. Keep trash can lids secured. If you share table scraps with your dog, stick to lean, cooked meats or vegetables (no onions or garlic) free of spices or sauces. Take a look at this slideshow to make sure you know which human foods are toxic to dogs.
  • Food allergies or IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) can lead to vomiting in dogs. In this case, the vomiting is chronic and is often accompanied by diarrhea, flatulence, and weight loss.
  • Certain prescribed drugs, such as antibiotics or pain medications, may irritate a dog's stomach or trigger a vomiting reflex. If you suspect this is the case, stop the medication, and consult your veterinarian promptly.
  • A blockage anywhere along the intestinal tract can lead to vomiting. Blockage may be caused by a foreign body such as partially-chewed toys, rawhide, bones, and corn cobs. It may also be caused by a tumor. Such problems can be surgical emergencies.
  • Vomiting can result from systemic diseases such as pancreatitis, kidney failure, liver disease, pyometra (infection of the uterus), prostatitis, endocrine disorders, inner ear infections, and cancer.
  • Toxins such as lead, household solvents, certain plants, or antifreeze can cause vomiting as well. If you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic, call your veterinarian right away.

Treatment of Vomiting in Dogs

When your otherwise healthy adult dog vomits but in all other respects seems fine, it's often reasonable to start with simple home treatment. First, withhold all food and water for 2 to 4 hours. If there is no further vomiting, start your dog on small sips of water or crushed ice. In another 2 hours, offer a larger drink of water. If this stays down for 2 hours, it's time to try feeding. Begin with a spoonful of something bland, such as scrambled egg or boiled hamburger and rice. Gradually increase the ration, feeding small meals every few hours, until your dog is holding down regular portions. Wait 24 hours to reintroduce your dog's normal food. If the tummy troubles resume at any time, call the veterinarian.

Never give any medications, including over-the-counter human medications, to your dog unless under strict instructions by your veterinarian. Inappropriate use of people medicine can result in severe illness or death.

Vomiting vs. Regurgitation in Dogs

Vomiting is defined as the forceful expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth. Vomiting is different from regurgitation, during which the material is ejected from the throat or esophagus. It appears chewed but undigested. With true vomiting, there will be a series of rhythmic abdominal movements before the material finally comes up. The vomitus should be partially or fully-digested stomach contents. This distinction between vomiting and regurgitation is important for the diagnosis and treatment of vomiting.

What to Expect During a Visit to the Veterinarian for Vomiting

The most important thing (besides your dog) to bring to the veterinarian is a thorough history. This will save you time and ultimately money. Your veterinarian will want to know how long the vomiting has been going on, how frequent it is, whether the vomit consists of food, clear liquid, bile, or blood, whether there have been any recent diet changes, are there any other signs of illness, and how is your dog's attitude? Is it possible your dog ate anything (rawhides, pieces of a toy, or fabric such as a sock) or got into something (household chemical, antifreeze, the garbage) that he shouldn't have? There are so many causes of vomiting in dogs that a thorough history is essential to helping your veterinarian narrow down the search.

A complete physical examination is the next step. Sometimes the history and exam yield enough information, and a treatment plan can be made. Other times, your veterinarian may need to gather more information. Tests may include:

  • Bloodwork
  • Urinalysis
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopy
  • Exploratory surgery
  • Surgical biopsy

Treatment of Vomiting in Dogs

Treatment of vomiting depends on diagnostic findings and severity of symptoms. Dogs that are bright, alert, and have normal physical findings can be treated on an outpatient basis with subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids and injectable medications. Those dogs presenting with fever, abdominal pain, or that have abnormal test results, may need hospitalization and further intervention.

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