Vomiting is a generally unpleasant experience, not just for your dog but also for you. As a loving parent, watching your dog retch and vomit can be hard.
The situation can be even worse if there is blood in the vomit. But, what does vomiting blood mean? And, more importantly, is vomiting blood in dogs an emergency?
In this article, we will review the most common causes of vomiting blood in dogs. We will also go through the diagnostic and treatment protocols for each cause. Finally, we will explain what to do in case you are faced with this scenario.
Is a Dog Vomiting Blood an Emergency?
Yes, a dog vomiting blood is considered an emergency. There are dozens of reasons why a dog might be vomiting blood, but most of them are classified as serious and require prompt veterinary attention.
The medical term for vomiting blood is hematemesis. Hematemesis means there is a bleeding point somewhere along the dog's gastrointestinal tract.
The Origin of the Blood
Finding with exactness the origin of a bleeding point somewhere along the dog's gastrointestinal tract isn't easy.
Considering the gastrointestinal tract is quite long and involves various organs, locating the exact bleeding point can therefore be tricky. However, these are some helpful indicators for pinpointing the locations of the problem.
Generally speaking, if the vomited blood is bright red the bleeding source is closer to the mouth and if darker it probably originates from a place farther down the digestive system – stomach or upper small intestines.
If the vomit contains both blood and mucus, the issue is either in the stomach or in the small intestine.
Finally, dark, and tarry blood resembling coffee grounds with a repulsive feces-like smell is digested blood and usually a bad prognostic sign.
Bleeding Versus Vomiting, What Came First?
Well, there is no correct answer as both issues can be initiators. Namely, a blood buildup in the stomach can trigger the vomiting reflex.
On the other hand, repetitive vomiting can damage the lining of the digestive tract and result in blood-tinged vomit.
To make things even more complicated, sometimes both problems can occur simultaneously. For example, certain viral infections cause vomiting and bleedings in the gastrointestinal tract.
Causes For Dogs Vomiting Blood
There are many reasons why a dog might be vomiting blood. Here we will briefly explain some of the most common causes.
Ingesting Foreign Objects
Dogs are notorious for their dietary indiscretions, in other words, they have a tendency to chew and eat literally anything regardless of its edibility.
Ingesting foreign objects like paper, dirt, coins, rocks, socks, tennis balls, or jewelry may initially manifest with vomiting blood – the foreign object will scrape or otherwise damage the lining of the digestive tract as it travels.
Vomiting blood can be among the first visible signs, but as the condition progresses, the clinical manifestation will include other symptoms like reluctance to eat, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
In more severe cases, if the foreign body cannot be eliminated, it can cause obstruction. The only way of dealing with obstructions is having the foreign body surgically removed.
Both bacterial and viral infections can trigger vomiting blood in dogs. Bacterial infections are usually associated with E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridia.
They also cause bloody stools, appetite loss, abdominal pain, fatigue, and fever. The vet will prescribe antibiotics based on the exact problem-causing bacteria.
Viral infections like parvovirus and corona virus can cause bloody vomiting and stools, accented lethargy, severe abdominal pain, lack of appetite, and dehydrations.
Both infections are more common in puppies, especially if not vaccinated. There is no specific treatment, only intravenous fluids and supportive therapy.
Stomach ulcers are basically deep sores in the stomach lining. Stomach ulcers result from prolonged inflammation.
The inflammation can be triggered by systemic conditions (kidney or liver disease) that increase the acidity within the stomach. It can also be a side-effect of certain medications – for example, prolonged use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs often leads to stomach ulcers.
As mentioned, a dog with stomach ulcers will produce vomit with digested blood – dark, tarry, and similar to coffee grounds. It will also have bloody stools and experience abdominal pain.
Stomach ulcers can be hard to manage because they are constantly exposed to acids. Usually, they require prolonged treatment with antacids, and of course, dealing with the underlying issue.
Heavy infestations with certain types of intestinal parasites, like for example hookworms, can result in vomiting blood.
Hookworms (Ancylostoma spp) attach to the lining of the intestinal walls and suckle blood. The attachment disrupts the lining and causes bleeding. If there are many hookworms there will consequently be many attachment points – bleeding sources.
In addition to vomiting blood, a dog with hookworm infestation will pass bloody diarrhea, have poor coat quality, and may seem malnourished. In more severe cases, it can also develop anemia.
Simple fecal examination will be enough for the vet to set the diagnosis. The treatment entails administering deworming treatments following a strict schedule.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Although called inflammatory bowel disease, the condition is actually a syndrome caused by the dog’s specific immune response to chronic irritations.
The exact pathophysiology is poorly understood but potential culprits include bacteria (Salmonella or E. coli), parasites (Giardia), and certain proteins from the diet.
The syndrome is usually recurrent and manifests in episodes which can last up to several months. During episodes, dogs manifest bloody vomiting and diarrhea, appetite fluctuations, and weight loss.
Inflammatory bowel disease cannot be treated, but if the trigger is identified, it can be managed with proper diet, medications (antibiotics), deworming preventives, and vitamin B12 supplements.
Toxic Foods and Household Poisons
Vomiting blood can develop due to ingesting human foods that are toxic to dogs or household items with poisonous features.
For example, garlic and other members of its family (onions, chives, and leek) are extremely toxic to dogs. They cause severe and life-threatening anemia but before the anemia occurs, the intoxicated dog will likely vomit blood.
In terms of poisonous household items that can trigger vomiting blood we should mention ethylene glycol (antifreeze), batteries, rodenticides, alcohol-based cleaning and personal care products.
Regardless of what caused it, poisoning is a life-threatening issue, warranting immediate veterinary attention. The promptness of the treatment affects the outcome.
Vomiting blood can be the first evident sign of cancer. Various types of tumors in different locations of the digestive system can result in a blood-tinged vomit.
The most common types of gastrointestinal tract cancers in dogs are lymphoma, leiomyosarcoma, and adenocarcinoma. While lymphomas can occur anywhere, leiomyosarcomas are usually associated with the small intestines, and adenocarcinomas with the large intestines.
The first treatment of choice for gastrointestinal tumors is surgical removal. If there is metastasis the vet will probably recommend palliative care. Sometimes radiation can be helpful.
Bilious Vomiting Syndrome
Bilious vomiting syndrome is a specific form of gastritis associated with bile overproduction. It usually occurs when a dog vomits or tries to but its stomach is empty.
When a dog has not eaten for couple of hours, bile accumulates in the stomach. Since there is no food to process, the bile will start to irritate the stomach lining and damage the local blood vessels.
A dog with bilious vomiting syndrome will produce yellow-green vomit with visible specks of blood. The vet can treat the symptoms but in the long run, you can prevent future episodes by providing several smaller meals instead of one or two larger meals.
Respiratory Tract Disorders
This may seem like an off-topic discussion. Why would respiratory issues result in vomiting blood? Well, the answer is simple – a dog with ongoing respiratory infection can develop bleeding in the airways or lungs.
If that blood is eventually swallowed it can easily end up in the dog’s vomit. In such case, the dog will also exhibit respiratory issues – the dog may be coughing up blood, develop nosebleeds, or have difficulty breathing.
If dealing with a respiratory infection, the vet will probably order x-rays and prescribe antibiotics for battling the pathogens.
Help, My Dog is Vomiting Blood!
If you saw your dog vomiting blood or came home and found few puke piles tinged with blood, stay calm and check on your dog. Try to quickly assess your dog’s status – responsive, lethargic, confused, or normal.
Once you have checked on your dog, it is time to call the vet and explain the situation. In most cases, the vet will recommend bringing your dog to its office as soon as possible.
You will probably be advised to bring a sample of your dog's vomit. It may be a bit unpleasant to scoop your dog’s vomit in an empty jar or other clean container but your vet can conclude a lot from seeing how the vomit looks like.
Alternatively, you can take a picture of the vomit, but seeing the real deal would be more helpful.
If the vet instructs you to come in a couple of hours, unless told otherwise, you should withhold food and water. Since you do not know what is causing the vomiting, offering food and water can be a trigger and aggravate your dog’s condition.
So is a Dog Vomiting Blood an Emergency?
Yes, a dog vomiting blood is considered an emergency. A dog throwing up blood, whatever the cause, is not a normal occurrence and it is necessary to identify the source of the bleeding
Seeing your dog vomit blood is a dreadful experience. The first thing you would like to do is turn into panic mode and freak out. However, it is important to stay calm and react appropriately.
Calling the vet and following his/her instructions is of paramount importance when faced with a troublesome and potentially risky situation.
The sooner your dog is thoroughly examined, the sooner the vet will be able to find the underlying reason and help your dog get back to its normal non-blood-vomiting self.