Longtime dog parents know that our furry friends will eat almost anything under the sun, even if it makes them throw up immediately. Other times, our pups puke for no apparent reason. While occasional vomiting may not be cause for concern, frequent or severe vomiting can be a sign of a serious condition. Here, we’ll help you figure out why your dog is vomiting, other symptoms to look out for, what you can do to help your pup and when it’s time to seek veterinarian care.
First, it helps to know the difference between vomiting and regurgitating to help you and your vet determine a more accurate diagnosis of your dog’s condition. Vomiting involves the body’s process of forcing the contents of the stomach and upper small intestine, ejecting food, fluid and other materials. Just before this, dogs usually drool, retch and have abdominal contractions.
Regurgitating, on the other hand, is a passive process, appearing as if undigested food and fluids are falling out of a dog’s mouth. Signs of regurgitation include difficulty breathing and coughing just before food is expelled. Regurgitated contents are undigested and may retain the cylindrical shape of the esophagus.
Dogs vomit for all kinds of reasons, many of which aren’t a major cause for concern. But there are certain cases when your dog throwing up may indicate a serious health problem.
Eating Too Fast
Some dogs wolf down their food like they haven’t eaten in days. If your dog is vomiting right after eating, try smaller and more frequent feedings instead of one or two big meals. See more tips for dogs who eat too fast.
Eating After Exercise
Eating immediately after exercise can also cause dog vomiting, so be sure to delay feeding for 30 minutes or longer after strenuously walking or playing with your dog.
Change In Dog Food
Sometimes a change in your brand of dog food can cause vomiting. When switching up your dog’s diet, experts recommend to take it slow. Over the course of about a week, slowly start mixing in more and more of the new food into less and less of the current food until the transition is complete. Read our article on changing dog food for more specific details.
In general, dogs don’t digest fatty foods and milk products well. These foods can cause an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence, so make sure you don’t feed your dog table scraps or high-fat dog food.
This cause is typically easy to determine — your dog’s tummy simply may not tolerate motion. If your dog suffers from motion sickness, keep his car trips to a minimum. For those times that require a car ride, ask your vet for recommended dog-friendly medications (Cerenia is a popular vet-prescribed drug). Dramamine is also generally considered safe for dogs (with your vet’s okay).
Many dogs suffer from nausea and occasional vomiting after surgery, and your vet may have already given you a medication to help ease his symptoms while he recovers. However, it’s always a good idea to talk to your vet about any symptoms your dog is experiencing after surgery.
You should consult your vet if your dog has an acute or sudden bout of intense vomiting, especially if he doesn’t otherwise vomit occasionally. These cases could be a sign of:
- Ingestion of foreign bodies (e.g., bones or pieces of chew toys) that are lodged in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
- Ingestion of toxic substances. See which foods and plants are poisonous for pets.
- Gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the intestines and stomach. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhea.
- Intestinal parasites, like roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and protozoa.
- Rotavirus, an intestinal viral infection that typically affects puppies and is rarely serious or fatal.
- Parvovirus, a severe and highly-contagious illness (especially for puppies). Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever and lethargy.
- Pancreatitis, a disease that causes inflammation in the pancreas. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, appearing hunched over, fever and diarrhea that’s greasy and yellow.
- Canine bloat, a quickly-developing, life-threatening illness that requires immediate attention. Symptoms include foamy vomit (or vomiting nothing), a distended (bloated) abdomen, pacing, inability to lie down and more.
- Heatstroke symptoms include excessive panting, drooling, diarrhea, redness in gums, the inability to move around and even loss of consciousness.
- Liver disease, which can also cause a loss of appetite, weight loss, increased thirst and yellowish eyes, tongue and gums.
- Kidney disease, which is more often seen in older dogs. Other symptoms include lethargy, diarrhea, constipation, depression, weight loss and increased thirst.
- Cancer, which you can learn more about the signs of cancer in dogs here.
If your dog is exhibiting any the following types of vomiting or related symptoms, it’s imperative to seek veterinarian attention as soon as possible.
- Suspected ingestion of a foreign body
- Vomiting with other symptoms, like fever, lethargy, weight loss, etc.
- Chronic or continuous vomiting
- Vomiting with nothing coming up
- Vomiting blood
- Bloody diarrhea
Many GI-related infections and illnesses can cause vomiting and diarrhea at the same time. This can also occur when your dog has ingested something toxic or simply not agreeing with him. If he’s suffering from both, it’s a good idea to check with your vet, as it may be a sign of a serious condition.
Dangers Of Dehydration
If your dog is vomiting with diarrhea or even if he has one or the other, the most important thing to do is to keep your dog hydrated. A dehydrated dog can quickly become seriously ill, so if you notice any of these signs of dehydration and your dog can’t keep water down, you should see your vet immediately.
- Excessive panting
- Dry nose or gums
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of skin elasticity
For more specific details on dogs suffering from diarrhea, see our article on how to diagnose and treat dog diarrhea.
In some cases, the cause of vomiting is related to what your dog is throwing up. Knowing what your dog’s vomit looks like can help you and your vet get to the root of the problem.
- Undigested food
- White foam
- Bile or yellow bile
Note: Consult your vet immediately if you notice bones or other foreign objects, e.g., pieces of his toys, in your dog’s vomit. You want to make sure he doesn’t still have these substances lodged in his GI tract, which could lead to a serious and even life-threatening condition that can require costly surgery. Read more about intestinal blockage in dogs.
Since the causes of dog vomiting are so varied, it can be challenging to diagnose if the reasons aren’t immediately obvious.
Questions To Ask Yourself
Would you know that your dog is sick if you didn’t see him vomiting? How are his attitude and appetite? How soon after eating does the vomiting occur or is it inconsistent? Can you describe what the vomit looks like? These are a few of the questions that you should be prepared to answer when speaking with your vet.
Needing A Vet’s Diagnosis
If you and your vet can’t determine an obvious reason for the vomiting, your vet will likely run some diagnostic tests. Testing may include blood chemistry analysis, urinalysis, fecal analysis and possibly an ultrasound or abdominal X-ray.
It’s always best to follow your vet’s recommendations for treatment. If your vet believes home treatment is all your dog needs after a bout of vomiting, here are some tips.
- Hydration: Make sure you keep your dog hydrated by giving him ice chips or small amounts of water. This will help him keep the water down rather than throwing it up.
- Withhold food: Some experts recommend keeping food away from your dog for at least 12 to 24 hours after he vomits, but we think it’s wise to consult your vet about fasting your dog for long amounts of time.
- Re-introduce bland food: When you re-introduce food, you might want to start with small amounts of bland food like boiled potatoes, soft white rice, chicken broth, well-cooked, skinless chicken or even baby food, before going back to dog food.
Like with humans, it’s difficult to give your dog any kind of medicine when he can’t keep anything down. But here are some common treatments you might want to consider. As with any treatment, always consult a vet before giving your pet medicine or supplements.
It can help to give your dog a little bit of Pepto-Bismol crushed and mixed with water (the amount will depend on your dog’s weight — consult your veterinarian). Be sure to ask your vet to make sure that Pepto-Bismol’s formula hasn’t changed and is still safe for dogs.
A long-term solution to ongoing digestive issues could be a dog probiotic. Probiotics for dogs work the same way as they do for humans. They’re formulas that contain living, gut-friendly bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract and other areas of the body.
The goal of ingesting probiotics is to maintain healthy levels of good bacteria, prevent gastrointestinal problems and boost the immune system after it’s been disrupted by illness, infection, antibiotic treatment or other stressors.
There are a ton of pet probiotic products available, so be sure to read our article that highlights the best probiotics for dogs and includes more information on how these products can help solve your pup’s digestive problems.
In some cases, dog vomiting can be life-threatening, requiring immediate care and even hospitalization or surgery. Here’s Nancy’s frightening account of what happened with her Lhasa Apso, Piper.
“At about 12:30 a.m. on a Sunday, our three-year-old Lhasa Apso, Piper, became very ill. I was up with her all night and made an appointment with my vet early the next morning. He diagnosed her with a bacterial infection based on lab tests (bloodwork, urinalysis), then gave her a dose of fluids, injections to help with the symptoms she was experiencing, along with three medications.
The next few days were stressful. On Monday she did not eat at all. On Tuesday we had her back at the vet for more fluids and she did not eat that day either. By Wednesday, we were back at the vet at 7:30 a.m. X-rays confirmed she had Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE) and she was admitted immediately.”
HGE is an acute disorder of dogs that occurs suddenly, without warning in young — 2 to 4 years old — healthy, small dogs. It is characterized by vomiting and bloody diarrhea, and other symptoms include a painful abdomen, decreased appetite, dehydration, depression and lethargy. HGE can affect any breed, age or size of dog, but vets see it most in small and toy breed dogs like Yorkshire Terriers, Pekingese and Lhasa Apso (Piper’s breed).
There isn’t a firm verdict on the cause of HGE. It can be dietary related, or due to ingesting a toxin; even pancreatitis can cause HGE. Stress, anxiety, ulcers, trauma, existing bacterial disease or parasites are all possible causes as well. This makes diagnosing HGE challenging, and if it’s not treated immediately and early, it can be fatal.
Dogs with HGE are severely ill, and the condition can be fatal. Dogs who experience HGE are more prone to HGE in the future as well. Because vomiting and diarrhea are extremely dehydrating, IVs with potassium and electrolytes help support the essential functions of the body. Treatments such as antibiotics, as well as anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medications, may be administered. Dogs are usually not fed during the first 24 hours of treatment.
Piper was hospitalized and given two days of IV (intravenous) fluid therapy along with medication. Her pet parents are happy to report she made a full recovery and is back to her adorable self!
Piper’s Pet Insurance Claims
- Veterinarian expense claims: $1,489
- Healthy Paws Pet Insurance reimbursement: $1,110
- (80% reimbursement rate/$200 deductible)
When Pet Insurance Makes Sense
In Piper’s case — and many other cases of severe illnesses — the cost of getting your pet life-saving care can add up quickly. If you don’t already have pet insurance, consider getting it. Pet insurance can help save you money at the vet (in addition to saving your dog’s life). You never want to be in the situation of having to decide between your dog’s life and your budget. Check out our pet insurance comparison for more information on the top 3 providers we recommend.
Watch this video to learn about the benefits of getting pet insurance and how it can help your dog and severe cases of vomiting (plus your pocketbook) in the future.
What encounters have you had with severe dog vomiting?