Dogs vomit for many and varied reasons. It is a particularly important defense mechanism for a species that is sometimes inclined to ‘eat first, ask questions later’. Vomiting can be due to a mild stomach upset or gastroenteritis, but can also be a sign of more serious problems. Trying to decide when to worry is certainly important.
Part of the joy of dog ownership is having a loyal companion, but as owners, we are ultimately responsible for our dogs’ health and well-being. And on many occasions, our dogs don’t make this easy. They are often very adventurous with what they will eat and will on many occasions eat some less than savory things on their walks. The following article aims to help you to determine whether your dog needs to immediately be rushed to the vet for vomiting, or whether a ‘wait and see’ approach can be taken, at least initially.
Please note that this is not a substitute for veterinary advice, if you have any concern with your pet’s health and well being, please see your vet. There are after hour’s hospitals which can provide telephone advice if needed, or 24 hour emergency care.
What Could be Causing Your Dog to Vomit?
Vomiting in dogs can be caused by something as simple as eating something gross of the ground and vomiting it back up or can be caused by something as critical as an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract, or even worse a twist in the stomach or intestines.
Some dogs are very adept thieves and scavengers. They will eat food and non-food items with little care for the consequences of that tasty snack. Vets frequently see dogs for different types of poisonings from rat and snail bait, grapes, chocolate and plant poisons, to human medications and illicit drugs. Foreign bodies like socks, toys and balls in those dogs that chew can also mean obstructive disease, where something ends up lodging in the esophagus, stomach or part of the intestine.
Gastroenteritis and pancreatitis secondary to eating something dead and stinky or particularly rich and fatty will also cause vomiting. Food intolerances, allergies, and diet changes are other possible causes. A very important safety mechanism for foraging behavior in our canine friends is being able to vomit easily. This enthusiastic vomiting can be very scary, but in some cases, protective way of ensuring the toxin is evacuated.
Vomiting can also be caused by what we term, extra-gastrointestinal causes, or due to another process entirely. Vomiting can be due to liver disease, kidney problems, pancreatitis, neurological disease, viral diseases, parasites, uterine infections (pyometra), metabolic disease (diabetes and Addison’s disease), ear disease, cancer, septicemia and any number of other processes. Basically anything that upsets the homeostasis of the body can trigger a vomiting episode.
The first things to look for and which mean your dog needs immediate treatment, are:
- Bloated abdomen or abdominal pain
- Known toxin ingestion
- Breathing difficulty or panting
- Foreign body ingestion (look for missing bits of toys and balls)
- Vomit with fresh or partially digested blood (looks like coffee-grounds)
- Lethargy along with the vomiting
- Pale, yellow or bluish-colored gums
- Vomiting in a puppy, particularly one that is not vaccinated
- Vomiting in an elderly dog
- Vomiting with bloody diarrhea
- Vomiting that was preceded by increased thirst, weight loss, personality changes or any other signs in the days or weeks leading up to the vomiting.
Is Your Dog Well Otherwise?
If your dog is still bright and happy, has thrown up once and seems generally well, this is of less concern than if your dog is very lethargic and seems very uncomfortable. Several vomits over a short period of time particularly if your dog can’t hold water down can lead to severe dehydration, which needs to be corrected, and the sooner the better. Throwing up for more than 24 hours is also likely to lead to dehydration. If your dog has had just one or two vomits but seems bright, is as active as normal and it is very unlikely there is a larger problem occurring (like any of the above problems), a rush to the after-hours vet may not be necessary.
Is There Any Chance Your Dog Has an Obstruction?
This is particularly of concern if your dog is young, likes to chew and swallow things like toys or socks or has been vomiting for more than 24 hours without being able to hold any food down. In some dogs, the obstruction will also lead to reduced fecal formation, but this is not necessarily reliable. If there is even a slight chance that your dog has eaten something non-food related, the sooner your dog visits the vet the better and cheaper the outcome. Obstructions can be fatal if left untreated and no amount of olive oil is going to fix it, so don’t even try!
Is Your Dog Very Old or Young?
Older pets are less able to cope with the disease and are more likely to get dehydrated if they have several bouts of vomiting, particularly if they also have diarrhea or have stopped eating. An older dog is also more likely to have underlying health problems, which if treated early are more likely to be treatable without a huge vet bill. For example, if your dog has diabetes, kidney problems, pancreatitis or liver disease a simple blood test and some early fluid treatment can save your pet from significant discomfort.
Is Your Dog Desexed?
If you have a female dog who has not been desexed, vomiting can be due to a uterine infection or pyometra. This is really an emergency situation and warrants emergency treatment. A pyometra typically would occur around 6 weeks after your dog was on heat. For entire male dogs, urinary obstructions and prostatic infections can lead to vomiting.
Is Your Dog Vaccinated?
If you have a young dog or one that is not vaccinated, parvovirus is a real concern. It is highly contagious, very aggressive and can make your puppy very ill quickly. The best chance of survival is quick treatment with intravenous fluids at your vet.
There are many plants and seeds that are toxic to pets. Chocolate, onions, grapes, and garlic are some common foods that will make your pet sick. If you are renovating, have flaky paint or your pet chew doors or walls, lead-based paints in older houses taste very sweet so are often inadvertently consumed by pets. Rat bait, snail bait, and poisons used for feral animal control are also known toxins, even the so-called ‘pet safe’ ones. Dogs who eat medications, chewing gum and unidentified things at the park are also very vulnerable to poisoning. If you know what your dog has eaten, get them to the vet quickly and bring what your dog has eaten if possible.
What to do with uncomplicated vomiting
- If your dog has just had one or two vomits within 24 hours but seems bright and well otherwise, do not feed your dog anything for 24 hours. If you have a small breed puppy, ignore this advice, but we have already mentioned that puppies who are vomiting should be visiting the vet, not being treated at home. If your dog is old and debilitated, or is lethargic (or has any of the other signs mentioned above), seek veterinary attention. This advice only applies to those dogs who have had just one or two vomits and no other problems.
- After 24 hours if your dog is not vomiting, introduce a very bland diet such as boiled or steamed chicken breast and white rice (use a 50:50 ratio of white rice and lean, unflavoured cooked chicken). Feed small meals frequently. If your dog starts vomiting again, get him to the vet. If your dog is still vomiting despite fasting for 24 hours, see a vet. You may want to discuss a prescription diet food to save cooking time.
- If the bland diet takes and your dog is still bright and happy, continue this diet for around 5 days, then gradually start introducing the normal diet again. The first day just feed a few of your dog’s normal biscuits (or whatever dog food he usually eats), then a few more the next day, so that over 7 days you are back onto his normal food.
What to Give Your Dog
The short answer is nothing. Do not give any human medications to your pet. Do not try to force food or water into your pet unless your vet advises you to. Avoid any of the various substances on the internet that promise to cure your dog’s vomiting or diarrhea and in particular, if you think your dog has eaten something unusual, do not try to get him to vomit without getting advice from your vet first.
What Will My Vet Do and How Much Will It Cost?
Because vomiting causes are many and varied, your vet will do a thorough physical exam and ask lots of questions to gather a history that will help to narrow down the possible causes. For the cost of a consultation fee, your vet can then tell you what tests are needed, if any. Sometimes your vet will be able to narrow down the causes to just a few based on what information you give and from the examination. In other cases, it may be necessary to do some blood tests, or perhaps x-rays or an ultrasound. Blood tests tend to cost between $80-$300, depending on what your dog needs to be tested for.
Chronic Dog Vomiting
The above really is a discussion on what to do for acute onset vomiting. If your dog has been vomiting for more than 24 hours or has intermittent but ongoing vomiting there are many different causes and a vet’s advice is needed to work out what is going on. It could be as simple as implementing a diet change, or it could be a sign of something more serious (like all those extra-gastrointestinal causes). Be aware your vet is going to ask you lots of questions about what dog food you give and what your dog’s feces is like, so it is certainly useful to have this information to hand.
We hope this has helped you approach your vomiting dog with a critical eye, knowing what to look for and when to worry. We also hope that if your dog has eaten something icky on his walk and that is why he is vomiting, that he ultimately learns from his mistakes…but we suspect he won’t!