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Vomiting in Dogs

Is your dog vomiting?  Should you be concerned?

From time to time all dogs vomit. It’s what dog’s do.

The important thing is to recognize the red flag which signals your dog should see the vet right away. If you’ve ever been in a quandary about what to do when your dog vomits, then this article is for you.


Why Worry about Vomiting?

Rover yacks up on the carpet and looks a little sheepish but is otherwise OK. Should you be worried?

That depends on many things, such as:

  • How old is Rover?
  • Have any of his toys gone missing?
  • Does he also have diarrhea?
  • Has he been thirstier recently?
  • Has he lost weight?

In order to answer the first question means asking a stack more because vomiting isn’t a diagnosis in its own rite, but a symptom. However, even when the original cause is not serious, vomiting has the potential to cause dehydration, especially in puppies, older dogs, or those ill with another condition.

Dehydration can trigger a dangerous downward spiral where the blood supply to organs is compromised, the dog feels worse, stops drinking, and goes into a steep decline.

In addition, vomiting, especially repeated sickness is a sign something is wrong. From the young dog with some tennis ball stuck in the gut to the older dog with kidney disease, vomiting is often the first clue that something is seriously wrong.


What Causes Vomiting?

Your dog is sick so your first instinct is to think he has a stomach problem. But this is a mistake because vomiting is not necessarily a sign of a gut problem but of many other things for example:

  • Gut related:
    • Infections such as parvovirus, distemper, or other less virulent infections
    • Stomach ulcers
    • Irritated stomach lining due to scavenging (Garbage gut)
    • A foreign body, such as a toy, stuck in the gut
    • Intestinal parasites
  • Organ related:
    • Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas
    • Liver disease
    • Kidney disease
  • Metabolic:
    • Addison’s disease
    • Diabetes
    • Disorders of calcium control
  • Toxic:
    • Pyometra (pus in the womb)
    • Drug reaction
    • Poisoning (such as antifreeze or rat bait)


And these are just the tip of the iceberg. In short, your vet is best placed to work out what’s wrong with the dog, but first you have to decide if the problem is serious enough to phone right away.


How Serious is the Vomiting?

Any vomiting dog, even bright waggy ones, should be monitored. This is because the trigger might be minor (such as eating garbage) but if the vomiting runs out of control the dog may get dehydrated.

If you are worried remember your first and best option is to contact the vet for advice. However, let’s play devil’s advocate and say you’re snowed in with the phone lines down. How seriously should you take vomiting?

Firstly, a blue light emergency (no hesitation, get straight to the vet no matter what) is a dog that retches repeatedly without bringing anything up. This is a classic sign of bloat, also known as twisted stomach or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) which is a life-threatening emergency. In the early stages this dog is liable to look miserable and seem distressed. Look at his belly. Does it seem bloated or swollen? Time is precious if you suspect a GDV so get right on the phone to the clinic and then set off. Better a false alarm than the unthinkable happening.

At the other end of the scale of worry is the dog that vomits once, but then carries on playing. A single episode of sickness, especially in a dog that’s otherwise well, probably needs nothing more than to rest his stomach for half a day. The re-introduce small amounts of bland food, such as white meats and rice, to test out his stomach.

However, most vomiting dogs fall into a category somewhere in between these two extremes. As a rule of thumb if your dog suddenly starts being sick, you should contact the vet if the dog shows any of the following signs:

  • Is unable to keep water down
  • Vomits repeatedly for more than 4 hours
  • Has vomiting and diarrhea
  • He is listless and unsettled
  • You are aware he swallowed something he shouldn’t have
  • He has a fever

If you feel it’s OK to sit tight and wait, then don’t feed him for 12 – 24 hours. Resting the stomach is often sufficient in mild cases. Allow access to clean fresh water during this time, and if anything changes (such as he gets worse) then reassess the situation.

Another group of dogs is those that are sick once but on a daily or weekly basis. For the bright and waggy dog that’s sick occasionally, make sure he’s up to speed with his parasite treatments. However, if you have an older dog, unfortunately there’s an increased chance that vomiting is a sign of a problem elsewhere in the body.

Signs to be alert for, especially in older dogs include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal stools, perhaps blood-streaked or covered in mucus
  • Drinking more
  • Loss of energy
  • Dull coat

Again a vet check is in order and if you really wanted to get ahead of the game take a sample of the dog’s urine along for analysis.


How to Check for Dehydration

One sign that trumps all the others is if your dog is dehydrated, especially with vomiting where he can’t keep fluids down.

To check for dehydration gently lift his lip and place a fingertip against his gums. Do they feel moist and slippery, or dry and tacky? The former is normal, the latter indicates dehydration.

In addition, lift the skin of his scruff up away from his shoulder blades, then let go. The skin of a well-hydrated dog springs straight back into place, but if you can see the skin sliding back down (or if it stays up in a tent) then the dog is dehydrated.

When a dog can’t keep fluids down, he must see the vet for treatment. This could range from an anti-sickness injection through to intravenous fluids.

And finally, remember vomiting is a symptom not a diagnosis. Be alert for the development of other signs, and if worried always contact the vet for advice.