If your dog threw up blood, you are right to be concerned. Throwing up is a rather unpleasant experience for both us and our loving canine babies. In dogs, the most common cause of vomiting is scavenging – a situation that is politely called"dietary indiscretion." In those cases, the vomiting is to rid the stomach of something that should not have been there in the first place. However, the presence of blood in the vomit is indicative of more serious problems and usually warrants a trip to the vet’s office.
Understanding Vomiting in Dogs
There are three main stages to vomiting in dogs.
Stage number 1 or Nausea – its signs include listlessness, shivering, hiding, yawning, lip-smacking, increased salivation and increased swallowing frequency.
Stage number 2 or Retching – during this stage the muscular contractions of the stomach are increasing in both intensity and frequency but nothing is produced.
Stage number 3 or Vomiting – the contents of the stomach are expelled though the mouth and sometimes through the nose.
There are also several types of vomiting:
Intermittent – the vomiting episodes occur from time to time (few hours apart) and in the meanwhile the dog seems fine. This type of vomiting is usually caused by gastrointestinal ulcers. It is important to see your vet within 48 hours if your dog has been vomiting intermittently over a period of several days.
Persistent – the vomiting episodes occur constantly (few minutes apart). This type of vomiting is usually caused by stomach irritations. Persistent vomiting warrants an immediate veterinary visit for treatment to inhibit vomiting and determine its cause.
Projectile – this is a forceful type of vomiting and if it occurs you need to see the vet the same day.
Help, My Dog Threw Up Blood
Generally speaking, vomiting may be triggered by a problem that occurs inside or outside the gastrointestinal system. However, vomiting blood is always triggered by a problem that occurs inside the gastrointestinal tract. Vomiting blood is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. The medical term for vomiting blood is hematemesis.
Foreign Bodies in the Esophagus
Bones, strings, fish hooks, needles, splintered wood, small toys and even whole bread knives have been found as foreign bodies in the esophagus. With dogs virtually anything is possible.
A foreign body in dogs causes sudden gagging, retching and possibly excessive drooling. Small objects, such as wood splinters cause regurgitation and difficulty swallowing for several days. There may be an accompanying fever and cough. Some dogs stand rigid, unwilling to relax.
Foreign bodies may be seen on plain x-rays. With the dog under general anesthesia, a foreign object can be located, seen and removed with an endoscope and its grasping instrument.
Esophageal and Gastric Tumors
Esophageal and gastric tumors in dogs, although rare, are usually malignant when they occur. Because of their location, they are easily irritated and tend to bleed thus causing hematemesis. If possible, they need to be surgically removed.
The most common cause of stomach ulcers in dogs is drugs – corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Other, less frequent causes of ulcers include shock, severe illness and allergies.
An unusual cause of stomach ulcers comes from the presence of mast cell tumors on the skin. These tumors release large quantities of histamine, which, in turn, triggers hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach. Any dog with several mast cell tumors should be assumed to be at risk from stomach ulcers.
Unpleasant and unethical experiments carried out over 60 years ago on a variety of animals showed that chronic stress induces stomach ulcers in many different mammals. A little stress is good for dogs, as it is for us. However, chronic stress can lead to stomach ulcers.
Dogs suffering from stomach ulcers vomit intermittently, appear unhappy and lethargic and lose weight. Fresh or old (coagulated) blood may appear in the vomit. The stools may be black (melena) due to blood passed from the stomach.
The most accurate way to diagnose the presence of ulcers in the stomach is through the use of gastroscopy. Contrast x-rays and ultrasound may also be helpful.
The cause of the ulcer needs to be eliminated. Severe anemia is treated with a blood replacer and a combination of drugs is administered to protect the mucous lining of the stomach and to promote faster tissue repair. Medication continues until gastroscopy shows that all ulcers have healed.
Please note: Dogs are more sensitive than humans to the ulcer-inducing capacity of NSAIDs. This is why some NSAIDs, such as carprofen, have been developed specifically for veterinary use. These drugs are potentially less irritating than drugs such as ibuprofen, which are licensed for human use.
Acute and Chronic Gastritis
Gastritis is usually caused by dietary indiscretions, but also by infections, parasites and poisons. Affected dogs vomit and go off their food. More often than not, the vomit contains blood. Dogs with chronic gastritis vomit sporadically over a period of time. The problem may be caused by persistently eating grass or by foreign objects, chemical irritations or even food allergies.
Diagnosis is usually based on the clinical history and a physical examination. The treatment involves removing any known or obvious cause of the gastritis and also correcting any complications.
Infections and Inflammations of the Digestive Tract
Viral infections with Parvo virus, Corona Virus and Distemper can all cause vomiting blood in dogs. Vomiting blood also occurs in dogs suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Each of the above listed conditions requires careful medical approach.
Intoxications with rat poison and anti-freeze lead to vomiting blood. The treatment includes use of specific antidotes and symptomatic and supportive therapy.
Vomiting blood suggests ulceration in the stomach or the small intestine, but also poisoning, a foreign object, a tumor, or a serious infection. If your dog threw up blood, it is of imperative importance to see your trusted vet the same day.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.