If your dog is vomiting white foam, you may be wondering what may be the cause. Vomiting in dogs can be caused by a very long list of problems ranging from digestive issues to systemic diseases involving distant organs.
A dog vomiting white foam can be a symptom that may point to several specific medical issues, but only your vet can truly determine the underlying cause of your dog's vomiting as there are many differentials.
While it's possible to list some common causes, if your dog is vomiting white foam, your best bet is to see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment, especially if the vomiting doesn't resolve and persists.
Why a Dog is Vomiting White Foam
First of all, it helps to understand why a dog is vomiting white foam in the first place. Normally, when dogs vomit, the vomited material may appear as yellow, slimy fluid as seen when a dog is vomiting bile from being on an empty stomach, or the vomit may appear brown (the color of kibble) or some other color reflecting what the dog recently ingested.
In many cases, when a dog is vomiting white foam, what you are usually seeing instead is not specifically vomit, but saliva and mucus coming up from the throat, explains veterinarian Dr. Pete.
In this case, the dog is therefore, technically speaking, not really vomiting, considering that vomiting is the expulsion of contents from the stomach.
However, it is still possible for a dog to bring up mucus and saliva from the throat, then swallow it, and then vomit it back up when it reaches the stomach.
If your dog is vomiting white foam, there are therefore chances that he is not truly vomiting but coughing some phlegm up, which may be considered good news considering that vomiting can be sometimes a troublesome issue especially when it takes place repeatedly and persists.
Following are ways to differentiate dog vomiting from a dog coughing up white foam up.
Vomiting Versus Coughing
How can a dog owner differentiate vomiting versus coughing? While the sounds produced can appear quite similar, there are a few helpful ways to differentiate the two. A little bit of investigative work can therefore turn out helpful.
First off, consider the color and consistency of the material brought up. As mentioned, appearance of the material can provide some pointers.
Dog vomit is typically yellow if the dog vomits on an empty stomach, or if vomiting on a full stomach, the color should reflect the color of the food the dog ingested in the past hours. On top of that, consider smell, dog vomit, just as people vomit, often has a typical unpleasant smell.
Vomiting is also often preceded by several signs suggestive of nausea. When your dog is about to vomit, you will likely notice him become restless, he may swallow frequently, drool and smack his lips. Soon, you will notice strong, almost rhythmic, stomach contractions followed by retching.
When a dog coughs up white foam instead, it often happens without much warning. There are no signs of nausea preceding the episode, no stomach contractions ( the chest area may move instead), but rather a noisy hacking episode that ends up with a gagging sound that may sound similar to when a human is vomiting (something like "blaaargh") followed by expulsion of the white foam from the dog's mouth.
Also, consider how the dog is overall feeling. When dogs are prone to vomiting it's because they have digestive issues, they may feel nauseous and won't feel much like eating anything. The affected dog may also have diarrhea. A dog who is coughing instead, will act energetic, retain a good appetite and may act playful unless he is also running a fever or is seriously ill.
A Problem With the Throat
If your dog is coughing up white foam, there are chances that your dog is suffering from some issue that is affecting his throat. Your dog may have some inflammation of the throat which is causing the throat to produce excessive saliva and mucus. Such mucus production is there for a good reason: to form a protective layer over the membranes lining the dog's upper airway. On top of that, as it is sticky, phlegm helps trap any foreign particles such as allergens, pollution, and dust, filtering them out before they have a chance to reach the lungs.
What problems may affect the dog's throat? Pharyngitis is the inflammation of pharynx, which is located in the back of the throat. Other parts of the dog's airways that are prone to becoming inflamed include the tonsils (tonsillitis) and the larynx (laringitis).
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Inflammation of these airway parts may be due to various reasons including swallowing something sharp that scrapes against the throat (such as bone, a stick or toys), allergies or infection from bacteria (often occurring secondary to allergies).
For accurate diagnosis, see your vet. Your vet may have to scope your dog's throat with some sedatives so to directly visualize this region. Based on the underlying cause, your vet may prescribe allergy medication or a course of antibiotics.
A Case of Kennel Cough
Sometimes, dogs may cough as if they have something caught in their throat and the coughing episode ends up with the dog bringing up white foam. A common cause of coughing in dogs is kennel cough, also known as bordetella, or by the medical term, infectious tracheobronchitis.
Kennel cough is a high contagious respiratory disease that is transmitted by saliva and coughing. It is commonly found in areas where dogs congregate such as in kennels (hence its name), grooming salons and veterinary hospitals. Typically, the incubation time (time from exposure to onset of symptoms) is 3 to 10 days and the course of the disease lasts about 2 to 4 weeks.
Dogs suffering from kennel often cough several times in a row and then end with what is known as a terminal gag with successful or unsuccessful bringing up of phlegm. The phlegm may appear as a small puddle of clear, whitish foam. Sometimes, if dogs are not successful in bringing up phlegm, you may see them swallowing it.
Most cases resolve on their own without need for medication, but sometimes dogs may be put on a course of antibiotics (when there is risk for secondary pneumonia) and/or cough suppressants when the cough is severe. However, for dogs suffering from kennel cough, it is best if the dog coughs up the phlegm rather than leaving it in the lungs by suppressing the cough, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona.
If your dog is coughing, always best to see your vet. Coughing on top of kennel cough can be caused by heart problems and heartworm disease.
A Medical Emergency Known as Bloat
If a dog is vomiting white foam and acting very uncomfortable, pacing and panting and his stomach appears to be distended, consider that this can be a case of bloat, which is a medical emergency.
In a case of bloat, the dog's stomach starts filling up with air and risks eventually twisting on itself, a complication known as gastric volvulus.
When the dog's stomach twists on itself, blood supply is cut off and digestion is stopped. Usually affected dogs may try to vomit to relieve the distension but are unable to because of the twist.
The difficulty in bringing up food from the twisted stomach may lead to dogs retching repeatedly with no success or retching up only some white foam and mucus, explains veterinarian Dr. Gabby.
As the stomach twists, blood supply is cut off and this can cause the dog to go into shock. The dog's gums may turn pale or gray. Death can occur if the bloat is not treated in a timely manner. Dogs with bloat require emergency surgery to untwist the stomach. While the surgeon is at it, he or she may also decide to tack the stomach so to prevent future episodes.
Bloat is common in dogs breeds who are deep chested such as Great Danes, Weimaraners, Saint Bernards, Akitas, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds, Doberman Pinschers, and Old English Sheepdogs. The deep chest allows extra room for the stomach to distend and twist on itself.
Help, My Dog is Vomiting White Foam
As mentioned, in many cases, what is perceived as "vomiting" white foam is actually a dog coughing and bringing up phlegm, but what if your dog is vomiting foam actually? In those cases, there may be digestive disorders at play that may require investigation by a veterinarian. However, consider as well that dogs sometimes may be coughing to the point of vomiting to further complicate things.
In cases where a dog is actually vomiting foam, the foam is simply a mixture of air and stomach/esophageal mucus that is produced when the dog retches, explains veterinarian Dr. Kara.
Vomiting in dogs can be caused by a long list of potential causes ranging from eating something that the dog shouldn't eat, to viral or bacterial infections, intestinal blockages, dietary allergies or sensitivities, exposure to toxins, or even kidney or liver disease (more likely in older dogs) just to name a few.
If your dog is vomiting white foam after drinking, please read why is my dog vomiting after drinking?
While dietary indiscretions may resolve on their own with the help of dog vomiting home remedies, should your dog's vomiting persist or your dog appears lethargic and other symptoms arise, it is best to see the vet so to find the underlying cause and address it properly.