Everything you need to know about vomiting in dogs

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Everything you need to know about vomiting in dogs   - a dachshund lying on a couch

Vomiting is a common symptom in dogs, with many causes ranging from harmless to life-threatening. Owners need to understand the difference between a harmless bout of vomiting and an emergency that needs immediate treatment. If you have a dog, read on to learn:

  • How do I know if my dog is vomiting?
  • Why is my dog vomiting?
  • Are there different types of vomit in dogs?
  • When should I take my dog to the vet for vomiting?
  • How is vomiting in dogs treated?
  • Can vomiting in dogs be prevented?

Most bouts of canine vomiting are due to eating something that irritates the intestinal tract and are relatively harmless. Dogs usually recover in less than 24 hours. It is important for dog owners to learn what to watch out for and when to take their canine companions to the vet for vomiting.

What is canine vomiting?

Vomiting in dogs occurs when the dog’s gut contents are involuntarily expelled through the mouth and nose. Vomiting is an active process that involves the abdominal muscles, often accompanied by a retching sound. Vomiting is classified as a symptom rather than a diagnosis and can be caused by many different medical conditions, canine behaviors, and situations. Many cases of canine vomiting are mild and occur with no other symptoms. Mild vomiting due to eating something unusual or irritating usually resolves on its own within 24 hours. If vomiting persists longer than 24 hours, occurs with other symptoms, becomes severe, or recurs frequently, it’s time to talk with a veterinarian.

Vomiting vs. regurgitation in dogs

Regurgitation in dogs can often be confused with vomiting. While vomiting is active and involves stomach contractions, regurgitation is a passive process. The stomach does not contract, and the act is sometimes accompanied by a burp or coughing noise rather than retching. Understanding the difference between vomiting and regurgitation can assist a veterinarian in a diagnosis. Like vomiting, frequent regurgitation is also a sign of an underlying health concern that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian.

What causes a dog to vomit?

Vomiting is a common symptom associated with many canine behaviors, environmental factors, and medical conditions. These can range from relatively harmless to deadly. To help determine the cause of vomiting, a veterinarian will also consider the patient’s medical history, including their age, vaccination history, past health concerns, and environment.

Dietary indiscretion

Dietary indiscretion is overwhelmingly the most common cause of vomiting in dogs,” explains Vetster veterinarian Jo Myers. “It’s common for dogs to eat unusual or irritating items like garbage, human food, another pet’s food, houseplants, or foreign objects, such as clothing or stuffing from their toys.” Dietary indiscretion is common in dogs, especially those who explore their world through their mouths or are not picky about what they eat. Dogs can be sneaky about this behavior, so it’s possible for a dog to end up vomiting from eating something unusual without the owner’s knowledge.

A graphic of the quote above

Dogs may also gag on long strands of grass if they enjoy eating it, causing them to vomit. It is a myth that dogs eat grass to intentionally induce vomiting. Most dogs enjoy chewing on grass or licking morning dew from the greenery. This is a natural behavior for dogs and nothing to be worried about, even if it causes occasional vomiting.

Vomiting caused by medical conditions or illness

Vomiting is commonly seen in a multitude of illnesses and chronic medical conditions. These conditions can include:

Vomiting caused by an underlying illness often lasts longer than 24 hours and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite. When this occurs, it’s important to visit a veterinarian promptly to diagnose or rule out dangerous conditions and receive treatment if necessary.

Pancreatitis is common in dogs, often caused by ingesting garbage or large amounts of high-fat foods. Weight gain and subsequent pancreatitis are often associated with consumption of human food. It is often the case that dogs ingest high proportions of fat when fed table scraps or after counter surfing. There is no singular treatment for pancreatitis, though a hospital stay is commonly required.

Infectious diseases, such as parvovirus and distemper, are extremely contagious, especially for young puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Parvovirus is very common and may be lethal to approximately 10% of affected puppies even with prompt treatment. This is just one example of why routine vaccinations are so important. If a puppy begins experiencing severe vomiting, especially if accompanied by bloody diarrhea, lethargy, and appetite loss, visit a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Medications used to treat conditions outside the digestive tract, like antibiotics for a skin infection, sometimes cause stomach upset. While it can be difficult to know for sure when vomiting is related to the medication, seek veterinary guidance any time your dog develops an upset stomach while taking medication. Do not stop administering medication as prescribed unless directed to do so by a veterinarian.

Food or dietary causes of vomiting

Many dogs, especially those who gobble up anything that looks like a tasty treat, can ingest something that causes an upset stomach. Others may simply overeat their usual diet. Some dietary causes of vomiting include:

Eager eaters who eat their food or drink water too quickly can also vomit when this occurs. Smaller, more frequent meals sometimes help prevent eating too quickly. Eating an abnormally large meal quickly can result in food bloat, causing the stomach to stretch much larger than its usual size. Many cases of food bloat occur when a dog gets into a large bag of dog food and eats a huge amount. Keep the bag of your dog’s food out of reach to prevent dangerous overeating.

Vomiting can also be caused by suddenly changing a dog’s food intentionally, a food allergy or intolerance, or eating spoiled food. If a diet change is needed, slowly incorporate the new food with their old food, phasing out the original diet gradually.

Be cautious with feeding raw diets and allowing dogs to ingest prey animals. Raw diets carry a higher risk for food poisoning than canned wet dog food or dry kibble, and wildlife can carry bacteria and parasites along with bones, fur, and feathers that may cause vomiting. Always check the expiration date on food before giving it to your dog to ensure its safety and freshness.

Dogs with food sensitivities may struggle with bouts of vomiting and stomach upset due to their food. Allergies and intolerances to food ingredients can be difficult to diagnose and often involve a long process of food and ingredient trial and error. Virtual veterinary appointments on Vetster are a great fit for nutrition consultations and getting professional advice for making informed food choices. You may also opt to schedule a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist: a board certified specialist with years of additional training and experience.

Environmental causes of vomiting

Factors within a dog’s environment, such as toxins, parasites, and the weather, can cause vomiting. Examples include:

Poisons and toxins, such as rat bait and toxic human foods and medications, can be ingested and cause severe or bloody vomiting in dogs. It is common for dogs to get into human medications that are commonplace in many homes, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. These drugs, among others, are highly toxic and can lead to severe vomiting, among other symptoms.

Dogs can experience motion sickness in moving vehicles that leads to vomiting. Symptoms of motion sickness typically stop once the vehicle stops moving. If a dog continues to feel nauseated and vomits well after a car ride, another factor is likely involved. Motion sickness is harmless but can cause discomfort in dogs if a car ride or trip on a plane is necessary. If you’re planning to travel with your dog, an online veterinarian can help you decide if anti-nausea medications might be right for your pup.

High temperatures, like those that develop within a few minutes of being left in a hot car, can lead to heat stroke, causing severe vomiting and other dangerous symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea and collapse. Always practice hot weather safety by avoiding walks during the day's hottest hours. If a dog begins vomiting after being in the heat, take immediate action to cool them and contact an emergency veterinary hospital as soon as possible, even if other symptoms have not begun.

While intestinal parasites usually do not cause symptoms in healthy adult dogs, vomiting can occur. Parasites such as giardia, coccidia, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms are easily spread through contaminated soil and water, other animals, eating raw meat, and fleas. Regular fecal tests help catch gastrointestinal parasites so they can be treated and prevent spreading them to other animals and humans. Parasite prevention also helps control internal and external parasite infestations associated with other body systems, including fleas and heartworms.

What types of vomiting are there in dogs?

Vomiting in dogs can be classified based on the following factors:

Vomiting is said to be acute when it has been going on for a short period of time — no more than a few days. Chronic vomiting has been going on for longer than a few days or recurs frequently over time. Both acute and chronic vomiting can indicate a serious underlying condition.

Vomiting in dogs can also range from mild to severe, depending on the circumstances. Vomiting from a dog who is otherwise bright and energetic is an example of mild vomiting. Severe vomiting is usually accompanied by other symptoms like lethargy, appetite loss, and diarrhea. The number of times a dog has vomited in a short period of time is not a good indication of how severe the symptom is. Often, a dog will continue to retch and vomit until the stomach is empty, no matter how many times that takes.

The color of a dog’s vomit can change as well. Colors such as green, orange, or light brown vomit are typically the color of what the dog has recently eaten. It may or may not be accompanied by undigested food. White foamy vomit may indicate the stomach is empty. Yellow bile indicates vomiting from the small intestine, and is more likely to be visible when the stomach is empty.  A few spots or a small streak of red blood is usually due to throat irritation from retching and stomach acid. However, it is considered an emergency if a dog’s vomit contains large amounts of red blood, it appears very dark, or it contains contents with the appearance of coffee grounds. This indicates severe bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract that needs immediate veterinary attention.

When should I seek medical attention for my dog’s vomiting?

Dog owners need to know when to visit the veterinary clinic for their dog’s vomiting. Seek medical attention if any of the following are observed:

  • The vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Other symptoms, such as lethargy, diarrhea, appetite loss, or weight loss are also present
  • The vomiting occurs in a young puppy
  • A dog with a pre-existing medical issue begins vomiting

Vomiting is considered an emergency if:

  • The vomiting is accompanied by labored breathing, a change in gum color, weakness,or collapse
  • The vomit contains a large amount of red blood, is black, or has a coffee-ground appearance
  • The retching is unproductive or repeatedly produces only a small amount of saliva or foam
  • The dog is not keeping any food or water down
  • Dark, foul-smelling vomit, vomit that contains material with a coffee-ground appearance, or large amounts of red blood indicates bleeding into the digestive tract. This is always an emergency. Repeated unproductive retching or repeatedly vomiting a small amount of saliva or foam with no other contents can indicate bloat/GDV in dogs, which requires emergency surgery and needs to be seen right away.

Foreign body obstructions occur when a dog has ingested something that cannot be digested and it becomes lodged in the digestive tract. Common items include corn cobs, socks, and toys. When food cannot pass through the digestive system due to an intestinal blockage, it will be vomited up. Treatment involves endoscopy or abdominal surgery to remove the foreign object blocking the GI tract. However, treatments for intestinal blockages may vary depending on how long the foreign body has been in the digestive tract, what the object is made of, and where the object is located in the digestive tract.

Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), or “bloat” in dogs, occurs when the stomach twists on itself. Dogs with GDV often retch unproductively. The condition progresses rapidly as the blood supply to the twisted stomach and other organs is blocked off. Treatment involves complex and risky abdominal surgery to decompress the stomach and stabilize the patient. Large breeds are most at risk for GDV, especially those with barrel chests. The risk increases with age. However, any dog can experience bloat, so owners should never overlook unproductive retching.

How do veterinarians treat vomiting in dogs?

Vomiting is a symptom rather than a disease or diagnosis. In many cases the underlying cause must be identified and treated to stop the vomiting. This involves taking a medical history of the patient, a physical exam, and diagnostic testing, such as blood tests, fecal tests, and imaging. Testing is essential for diagnosing and ruling out more complicated causes of vomiting that do not respond to symptomatic therapy.

Symptomatic treatment can ease nausea and vomiting while the underlying cause is being treated. In some cases, fasting or offering a bland diet, such as rice and plain chicken, may be recommended by a veterinarian. A veterinarian may recommend other dietary changes. Do not attempt to fast or change a dog’s diet without veterinary guidance, as doing so is not safe for all dogs. Other symptomatic treatments from a vet may include anti-nausea medications or fluid therapy to combat dehydration and replace electrolytes. Do not give human medications or drugs not approved for your pet by a veterinarian, as many are toxic to dogs.

Can I prevent vomiting in my dog?

Vomiting is common for dogs, and it cannot always be prevented. Some dogs simply have an extra sensitive stomach and experience vomiting more often than others. However, there are steps pet parents can take to minimize the risk of vomiting in their pets. Keep table scraps and other human foods, garbage, other pet’s food and droppings, and tempting non-food items out of reach, including medications, household chemicals, and cleaners. Keeping a dog out of another pet’s food bowl, away from flavored pet medications, or litter box can be especially difficult, so pet parents may need to get creative.

Parasite prevention and vaccinations help prevent some of the most common bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections. Take your dog to the vet for regular wellness checks and testing to help catch illnesses and conditions early. Routine wellness testing is important for all dogs, but especially important for elderly dogs that are more susceptible to conditions such as kidney disease, liver failure, and types of cancer that may cause vomiting.

If a diet change is needed, slowly introduce the new food to help your dog’s digestive system adjust. This includes prescription diets that a veterinarian may prescribe. Finally, when starting a new medication, discuss potential side effects with a veterinarian and what to do if vomiting occurs. If your dog has frequent vomiting or if you have questions about your dog’s acute vomiting, you can talk to a virtual vet for expert advice.

Can I treat my dog’s vomiting naturally?

Natural remedies for vomiting do not address the underlying problem causing a dog to vomit. Without addressing the underlying cause, the vomiting is likely to continue and potentially worsen or lead to other symptoms. In addition, homeopathic or natural treats, essential oils, and other remedies have no evidence to support their use and may be toxic to dogs.

An online vet can assist you in treating mild vomiting at home. Among other options, they may recommend fasting, a bland diet, or other dietary change. Do not fast a dog or suddenly change their diet without discussing the change with a vet, as this can be dangerous for some dogs and worsen the symptoms.

FAQ - Everything you need to know about vomiting in dogs

When should you be concerned about a dog throwing up?

Vomiting often occurs when a dog eats something that upsets their stomach. Mild vomiting from eating something unusual or irritating usually resolves within a day. Visit a vet if your dog’s vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours, is accompanied by other symptoms, or contains digested blood or a large amount of fresh blood. In vomit, digested blood has a coffee-ground appearance or causes the vomit to appear very dark with a foul odor.

What are the most common causes of vomiting in dogs?

Dietary indiscretion, or eating something unusual, is the most common cause of canine vomiting. This can include table scraps, another pet’s food, foreign items, or even a new dog food that has not been slowly added to their normal diet. The new food or item irritates the intestinal tract, causing stomach upset and vomiting. Other common causes of canine vomiting include accidental ingestion of human or animal medications, pesticides, toxic plants, and ingesting poisons such as antifreeze.

What do dog vomit colors mean?

Most dog vomit colors are due to what the dog has eaten recently, such as food or grass. A dog with an empty stomach will likely have yellow vomit or throw up white foam. It is not uncommon for a dog’s vomit to have a few drops or a small streak of blood due to forceful retching. However, large amounts of red blood, vomit that looks like coffee grounds, or black vomit with a foul odor is an emergency.

What do I do if my dog throws up a foreign object?

If a dog throws up a nontoxic non-food item, observe them closely for signs of intestinal obstruction in case they ingested more than one. If the vomiting stops and no other symptoms, such as poor appetite or diarrhea, are present, they likely threw up the only foreign body. Monitor for vomiting and see a vet if the vomiting continues longer than 24 hours.

What does parvo vomit look like?

Severe vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, and appetite loss are the most common symptoms of parvovirus. Puppies with parvovirus lose their appetite, often causing yellow vomit from stomach acid or white foam.  As parvo progresses, affected puppies are often unable to keep anything down and rapidly become very weak and dehydrated.