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Veterinarian Explains Vomiting Versus Regurgitation in Dogs

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Dog Vomiting Versus Regurgitation

Vomiting versus regurgitation in dogs is something dog owners should become aware about. According to data collected by Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), upset stomach and vomiting ranked as one of the top conditions dogs see the vet for, ranking 6th place out of 10 especially when it comes to diagnostic purposes. When bringing dogs to the vet, descriptions of the symptoms affected dogs are showing are important. Being as precise as possible, can make a difference. Following is information about vomiting versus regurgitation in dogs provided by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.

Delayed Gastric Emptying in Dogs

A Dog's Esophagus Versus Stomach

The dog's esophagus is a highly elastic, muscular tube that allows water and chunks of food to be transported to the stomach. The swallowed mouthfuls are not passively transported through the esophagus. Instead, they are actively pushed and squeezed along by rhythmical contractions. These contractions are called peristalsis and are not under conscious control.

The dog’s stomach is an elastic bag with a considerable expanding capacity. The stomach can be defined as a reservoir for mixed and predigested food – a holding tank where hydrochloric acid and certain enzymes are excreted. The stomach lining is protected from its own acid by a layer of mucus and chemicals called prostaglandins.

Sadly, a variety of problems can develop in the esophagus and stomach. More sadly, most of them are either painful or at least unpleasant. The most common signs of esophageal or stomach problems are regurgitation and vomiting.

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Other clinical signs include difficulty with swallowing and an unusually altered appetite. It is of paramount importance to distinguish vomiting from regurgitation. You also need to know whether vomiting comes on suddenly or slowly, and whether it is persistent or intermittent.

In most cases, it is wise to contact your vet the same day so that the cause of the vomiting or regurgitation can be diagnosed and treated.

Vomiting Versus Regurgitation in Dogs 

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Vomiting Versus Regurgitation in Dogs

When a dog vomits, the stuff it brings up originates from its stomach and less frequently from the upper portions of the small intestines. Usually vomitus contains bile and it is therefore yellow or orange in color.

On the other hand, when a dog regurgitates, the stuff it brings up originates from either the esophagus or the throat. The regurgitus is a mixture of food, saliva and eventually mucus but not bile.

When discussing contents that come out of our beloved canine’s mouths, a third option should be mentioned. The third option is expectorate.

Expectoration is often confused with vomiting and regurgitation. Expectorates consist of blobs of mucus and are always associated with coughing. Therefore, if there is no coughing, expectoration can be ruled out but how to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation?

The simplest way of differentiating between vomiting and regurgitation is to define the vomiting as an active process and the regurgitation as a passive one. Vomiting is preceded by a plethora of warning signs which serve as an announcement. On the other hand, regurgitations occur suddenly and without any warning signs.

In a nutshell, vomiting is when the food that has passed through the esophagus into the stomach is forcefully brought up by muscular contractions. Regurgitation is when the food in the esophagus is almost effortlessly and without retching expelled through the mouth.

Dietary indiscretion is a common cause of acute vomiting.

Dietary indiscretion is a common cause of vomiting in dogs.

A Closer Insight into Vomiting in Dogs 

Vomiting may be triggered by problems inside or outside the gastrointestinal system. The most common cause of vomiting is scavenging – a situation that is politely called "dietary indiscretion." 

Generally speaking, the causes of vomiting can be classified as dietary, scavenging, overeating, food intolerance, true allergies, non-dietary, gastritis, parasites, ulcers, foreign bodies, tumors, bloat, motility problems, intestinal disorders, inflammation, parasites, foreign bodies, tumors, infections, bacteria overgrowth, telescoping of intestines, constipation, other abdominal disorders, pancreatitis, peritonitis, abdominal tumors, other disorders,, kidney diseases, liver diseases, diabetes, anxiety, fears, phobias, forms of poisoning (lead, antifreeze etc.).

There are three stages to vomiting. Nausea is the first stage and its signs include listlessness, shivering, hiding, yawning, lip-smacking, increased salivation and frequent swallowing. Nausea is often followed by retching, during which muscular contractions occur in the stomach but nothing is produced. During the final stage – vomiting, the contents of the stomach are expelled through the mouth and sometimes through the nose.

The different ways in which a dog vomits can reveal the underlying cause.

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Acute vomiting – dogs tend to "cure" themselves by vomiting back foods and foreign bodies. Worms can also be removed in this way. Motion sickness is another cause of acute vomiting.

Intermittent and persistent vomiting – intermittent vomiting may be caused by a food allergy, metabolic diseases, ulcers or tumors. Repeated and persistent vomiting may be caused by a simple stomach irritation or by a life-threatening obstruction.

Projectile vomiting – this forceful type of vomiting is often caused by an obstruction that prevents food from leaving the stomach.

Vomiting blood or bile – vomiting blood suggests ulcers in the stomach or small intestine, but also poisoning, a foreign object, a tumor or a serious infection. If the dog vomits bile, the condition is called reflux gastritis and it can be caused by a mild allergy.

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A Closer Insight into Regurgitation in Dogs 

Although in most cases regurgitation occurs suddenly and without any warning signs, depending on the cause, it can be associated with excessive drooling.

The most common cause of sudden regurgitation in dogs is a foreign body lodged in the esophagus. Excessive drooling occurs because the obstruction prevents saliva form being swallowed.

In cases in which regurgitation is chronic, with a slow onset, the most common cause is enlargement of the esophagus. Other causes include: lead poisoning, myasthenia gravis, botulism, underactive thyroid, underactive adrenal gland, immune-mediated disorders (lupus erythematosus).

Importance of Differentiating Dog Vomiting from Regurgitation

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See your vet if your dog is vomiting persistently.

Why it is important to differentiate vomiting from regurgitation? From the above stated, it is easy to understand that vomiting and regurgitation are quite different problems. Logically, different problems require different treatment approaches.

Although wide-ranging, the reasons why a dog vomits are much different than the reasons why it regurgitates. Knowing the difference will help your vet set a diagnosis and hopefully save you money that would otherwise be spent in diagnostic purposes.

All in all, a single episode of vomiting or regurgitation may be unpleasant for you to clean up and unpleasant for your dog to experience. However in the absence of further vomiting/regurgitation or other clinical signs, it is usually of little medical significance.

The most common reason for a single vomiting or regurgitation episode is to rid the stomach or esophagus of something that should not have been there in the first place.

It is recommended to check the contents whenever possible. This will give you good clues about what your dog has been doing. For example, if there are any foreign objects in the vomit, such as plastic bottle caps, it tells you that your dog is a scavenger and needs to be watched more carefully in the future.

For further reading:

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Dog Throwing Up?

Why is my dog eating grass and vomiting?

Dehydration in the vomiting dog

Bland diet for dog with an upset stomach

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.

ivana crnec

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