Vomiting in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Vomiting is the involuntary expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth and nose. It involves abdominal contractions and may produce bile. These characteristics differentiate it from regurgitation, which is passive and associated with different underlying causes. 

• Vomiting ranges in severity and many cases are mild and resolve on their own within 24 hours

• Even if no other symptoms are present, vomiting that lasts for more than 24 hours warrants veterinary attention

Vomiting accompanied by serious symptoms like lethargy or pale gums indicates an emergency

• Vomiting is a broad symptom with a number of potential causes ranging from typical dog behaviors (eating grass) to life threatening conditions (kidney failure, toxic ingestions)

• Diagnostic imaging, blood/urine/fecal testing, endoscopy, and biopsies are all useful for identifying the underlying cause of vomiting

• Treatment is equally as broad, but immediate treatment involves replenishing fluids and nutrients as well as symptom management

A Closer Look: What is Vomiting in Dogs?

The severity of vomiting varies depending on the root cause. Most cases of vomiting in young and otherwise healthy dogs are due to consumption of an unusual or poorly tolerated substance. In this case, there are often no other symptoms and the dog recovers spontaneously within 24 hours. Vomiting for more than 24 hours warrants veterinary attention even when no other symptoms are present. Vomiting accompanied by pale gums, lethargy, collapse, or labored breathing is an emergency regardless of how recently it began. Blood in the vomit doesn’t always indicate an emergency. Small drops or flecks of red blood are usually caused by the act of vomiting itself and do not indicate a more serious underlying disease. Digested blood looks like coffee grounds, so the appearance of a large amount of dark, granular debris in vomited material indicates bleeding from within the stomach. This is not common, but it is an emergency.

Possible Causes

Vomiting is associated with every category of disease. Some common examples include:

Autoimmune/immune mediated disease: • Food allergy

Inflammatory disease: • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Idiopathic (spontaneous) disease: • Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis • Pancreatitis

Metabolic disease: • Hyperparathyroidism • Kidney disease • Liver disease

Endocrine disease: • Hyperthyroidism • Diabetes mellitus

Nutritional disease: • Food intolerance  Cancers: • Stomach cancer • Lymphoma

Infectious disease: • Canine Parvovirus Parasitic disease: • Physaloptera • Giardia

Toxicosis: • Rodenticide toxicosisAntifreeze poisoning

Injuries: • GI Obstructions from foreign objects • Intussusception (hernias)

Normal Behavior: • Overeating/drinking • Ingestion of grass • Overstimulation (excitement) • Motion sickness

Dietary indiscretion

Risk Factors

The severity of vomiting ranges widely.  It may be acute or chronic, mild or severe, or appear as a single finding or along with other symptoms. All dogs have bouts of vomiting from time to time, and most dogs will develop conditions which are associated with vomiting as they age. The seriousness of vomiting depends on the presence of other symptoms and whether the vomiting resolves quickly on its own.

Testing and Diagnosis

In cases where investigation of vomiting is warranted, a physical examination and pet history is taken first followed by a number of tests to determine the cause of the vomiting, including:

• Blood work • Imaging (x rays, CT scan, MRI, ultrasounds) • Urine/fecal analysis • Endoscopic evaluation • Biopsies (stomach, intestines)

Treatment varies widely based on the diagnosis. Mild, acute vomiting is generally treated by addressing the symptoms with anti-nausea medications, IV fluids, and nutritional therapy. Specific therapy targets the underlying cause. Some conditions that cause vomiting are fatal, so palliative care may be part of the plan.

Similar symptoms

Vomiting may be mistaken for:

• Regurgitation: a passive act which does not produce any bile and doesn’t involve heaving/retching

Coughing/gagging

• Unproductive retching, or “dry heaves:” most commonly associated with gastric dilatation/volvulus (GDV).  GDV is rapidly fatal and a very serious emergency requiring quick treatment.

Associated Symptoms

Vomiting is associated with all disease categories, and is commonly observed alongside:

Diarrhea • Abdominal pain • Lethargy • Dry or sticky gums (dehydration) • Weakness • Appetite loss

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