How to prevent stomach upset and vomiting in dogs

How to prevent stomach upset and vomiting in dogs - a dog lying on a couch with a chew toy

Vomiting in dogs is a frequent complaint among pet owners and one of the most common reasons dogs visit the vet. It is important to note that vomiting is not always a cause for medical concern, and pet parents can help prevent their dog’s upset stomach in many ways. Read on to learn:

  • Why is my dog vomiting?
  • Can I prevent my dog from vomiting?
  • When should I talk to a vet about my dog’s vomiting?
  • What should I do when my dog is vomiting?

Most often, vomiting in dogs is caused by eating something outside their regular diet, such as tasty table scraps or scrounging through the garbage. Mild vomiting due to eating something unusual in otherwise healthy dogs often resolves quickly on its own. It is important for dog owners to be aware of when to consult with a vet and when vomiting is a sign of a medical emergency.

What are some causes of an upset stomach in dogs?

Vomiting is a common symptom seen in dogs resulting from many canine behaviors, situations, and health conditions. Some common causes of vomiting, in no particular order, include:

“Most dogs are hard-wired to consume any food they have access to, so eating something usual or irritating is by far the most common cause of vomiting in dogs,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “This behavior is often referred to as dietary indiscretion.” Examples of items and food associated with dietary indiscretion in dogs include table scraps, garbage, toys, articles of clothing, and even another pet’s food. Vomiting caused by dietary indiscretion usually resolves on its own unless the item is toxic or results in intestinal blockage.

Eating grass is a common and natural behavior in dogs that sometimes results in vomiting. Usually, this is caused when a dog gags on a particularly long strand of grass. Vomiting or gagging in these cases is harmless and nothing to worry about unless other signs of illness are also present.

Finally, certain medications can cause nausea and vomiting in dogs, although side effects and serious adverse events from medications are rare. If a dog begins vomiting after starting a new medication, it isn’t always clear if the medication is what caused it. Likewise, intestinal parasites rarely cause symptoms in healthy adult dogs but can cause vomiting in some cases.

Acute vomiting vs. chronic vomiting

Vomiting in dogs is characterized as acute or chronic based on how long the symptom has occurred. Acute vomiting has occurred for less than 24 hours, while chronic vomiting has occurred for at least two weeks. Acute vomiting can be an emergency, especially if it is severe or accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhea, lethargy, or lack of appetite. Many dogs experience multiple bouts of mild acute vomiting over their lifetime and recover quickly. These occurrences should not be confused with chronic vomiting. Long-term vomiting can lead to, or be the symptom of, a more serious health issue.

Vomiting vs. regurgitation in dogs

While both vomiting and regurgitation involve the involuntary expulsion of contents from the GI tract out of the mouth, there are key differences between the two. Vomiting involves active stomach contractions, often accompanied by retching noises. This causes contents from the upper gastrointestinal tract to come up.

Meanwhile, regurgitation is a passive process. Contents from the digestive tract are expelled without abdominal contractions and are sometimes accompanied by a small burp-like noise. Both vomiting and regurgitation in dogs can indicate a variety of different underlying medical conditions. Understanding the difference can help identify a potential emergency and help a vet with a diagnosis.

It is an emergency if a dog is experiencing unproductive vomiting or dry heaves, in which active stomach contractions and retching do not produce any vomit. This is often a sign of bloat, or gastric dilatation and volvulus, in which the stomach twists over itself, preventing food from entering or leaving the stomach and blocking blood flow to it and other organs. Bloat is a life-threatening emergency and needs medical attention as soon as possible by the nearest emergency vet.

Can vomiting be prevented in dogs?

Vomiting is very common in dogs and cannot always be prevented. However, there are steps dog owners can take to minimize the risk. Diligent maintenance of your dog’s diet and environment can help reduce dietary indiscretions that lead to vomiting. Avoid offering human foods or excessive treats. If a diet change is needed, slowly incorporate the new dog food with the old to avoid GI upset from an abrupt diet change. Keep houseplants, other pets’ food, garbage, and other tempting items out of reach. Toxic chemicals, such as cleaning supplies, human medications, and rat poison, should be locked up and out of reach. Finally, ensure all food and water is fresh and clean.

In addition to following best practices for dietary and environmental management, staying up to date with your dog’s basic health care may help catch any underlying illnesses associated with vomiting early. Follow your vet’s recommendations for vaccination and parasite control. Schedule routine wellness exams and testing to help catch developing health conditions early and receive the proper treatment. As your dog ages, they are likely to need more frequent routine care. Finally, when starting a new medication, discuss potential side effects with a vet and what to do if they occur. Some dogs simply have a more sensitive stomach than others and are more prone to bouts of vomiting.

When does canine vomiting need veterinary attention?

Most episodes of acute, mild vomiting from eating something unusual resolve on their own within 24 hours. Talk with a vet if:

  • Vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Other symptoms accompany the vomiting
  • The dog has a known underlying medical condition
  • The vomiting coincides with starting a new medication

It’s essential to contact the nearest emergency vet if:

  • The dog is retching unproductively
  • The vomit has an appearance similar to coffee grounds
  • There is a large amount of fresh blood in the vomit
  • A young puppy is experiencing severe vomiting
  • The dog has ingested something toxic
  • The vomiting is accompanied by pale gums, difficulty breathing, or collapse

What does the appearance of my dog’s vomit mean?

Undigested food in a dog’s vomit simply means they have vomited soon after eating a meal, while yellow vomit usually indicates an empty stomach. A small amount of red blood, no more than a few drops or small streaks, is normal due to throat irritation from forceful retching. However, a large amount of red blood is never normal. In addition, digested blood, which looks like coffee grounds, is a medical emergency.

How do vets treat vomiting in dogs?

Vomiting is a symptom rather than a condition or diagnosis itself. In some cases the underlying cause must be identified and properly treated to stop the vomiting. Diagnostic approaches to finding the source of the vomiting vary based on a dog’s age, medical history, and presenting symptoms.

A vet may offer symptomatic relief for nausea and vomiting based on your dog’s individual circumstances. These can include:

  • Nausea medication
  • Fluid therapy
  • Bland diet

Fasting or offering a bland diet is sometimes recommended to help the stomach rest. It is important to note fasting can be dangerous for some dogs and should not be attempted without veterinary guidance. Never give medication without a vet's approval, as your dog’s condition may worsen and many human medications are toxic to dogs.

If a food sensitivity or allergy is suspected, a consultation with a veterinarian about your dog’s diet may be beneficial. These conditions require long-term veterinary guidance and a food-elimination diet to diagnose and manage. Your veterinarian can help identify the irritating ingredients to your dog and choose the proper food for their digestive health.

What should I do if my dog is vomiting?

Canine vomiting may pass quickly if no other symptoms are present and your dog is otherwise healthy. Talk with a vet if vomiting lasts more than 24 hours, even if there are no other symptoms. A vet consultation is also needed if other symptoms are present, the vomiting worsens, or you are simply concerned about your dog’s vomiting.

Contact the nearest emergency vet if your dog’s vomit contains digested blood or a large amount of fresh blood, a young puppy is experiencing severe vomiting, it has ingested something toxic, it is retching unproductively, or if severe symptoms are present, such as collapse, difficulty breathing, or pale gums.

Do not give human medications, fast your dog, or change your dog’s diet without talking with a veterinarian first. These actions may make the situation worse, and many human medications are toxic for dogs. Even drinking water may perpetuate vomiting, so be cautious about allowing your dog to drink. If your dog cannot keep down water, veterinary attention is necessary.

If you are concerned about your dog’s stomach issues, Vetster offers virtual vet appointments with veterinarians to help answer your questions and assist in treatment.

FAQ - How to prevent stomach upset and vomiting in dogs

When should I be concerned about my dog throwing up?

Mild vomiting in an otherwise healthy dog usually resolves on its own. Contact a vet if the dog has other signs of illness, if the vomit looks like coffee grounds or contains a lot of fresh blood, if the retching does not produce vomit, or if a young puppy is experiencing severe vomiting. These are all signs of potential emergencies that need to be seen right away.

What is the best thing to do for a dog that is vomiting?

If your dog is otherwise healthy and seems bright and alert, it’s reasonable to allow some time to see if they improve on their own. Be sure to watch for other symptoms and contact a vet if they seem to be getting worse. Do not give medication, fast your dog, or change their diet unless instructed by a veterinarian, as this can worsen matters. This includes giving bland foods outside of their normal diet.

What are the most common causes of vomiting in dogs?

Eating something irritating or out of the ordinary is the most common cause of vomiting in dogs. Unless the item is toxic or indigestible and the vomiting is mild, it will likely resolve within 24 hours. Other common causes include viral or bacterial infections, a number of different non-infectious illnesses like kidney disease and pancreatitis, overeating or drinking, and becoming overstimulated.

What does concerning dog vomit look like?

Undigested food and a few streaks t of red blood are common in dog vomit. Visit a vet immediately if the vomit contains a coffee-ground-like material or contains much fresh red blood. Retching unproductively or dry heaves that do not produce vomit is also an emergency.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.
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