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Ask the Vet: When Should You Be Concerned About Your Dog Throwing Up?

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Concerned About Your Dog Throwing Up

When should you be concerned about your dog throwing up? When it happens just one time? When your dog throws up multiple times? When your dog is vomiting and not eating? When he's vomiting and acting lethargic? Let's face it: determining when you should be concerned about your dog throwing up is a delicate issue often requiring important judgement calls. Often, it's just best to play it safe and see the vet. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec shares some important information.

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When Should You Be Concerned About Your Dog Throwing Up?

Dogs are notorious for eating non-edible items and then well…eliminating them by throwing up. Dogs are also notorious for overeating, and then, once again…throwing up. In a nutshell, it is safe to say that dogs are notorious for their throwing up habits.

Generally speaking, a single episode of vomiting, in the absence of further vomiting or other clinical signs, it is usually of little to no medical significance. But what if there is more to your dog’s vomiting? This is when things get more complicated.

Dietary Indiscretion or Health Hazard?

It goes without saying that the act of vomiting is unpleasant for both your dog and you (since you are the one who needs to clean up the mess!). However, vomiting is often the dog’s way of curing itself from its dietary indiscretions. In fact, the most common reason for a single vomiting episode is to rid the stomach of something that should not be there in the first place.

In most cases, that something is a non-edible item that found its way into the dog’s stomach due to the canine poor judgment when it comes to deciding what to eat and what not to eat.

Although rarely, dogs can sometimes vomit to get rid of intestinal worms which, when present in high numbers, may migrate into the stomach. Ultimately, eating too much of something is also considered a dietary indiscretion and can be followed by throwing up.

However, in some instances the vomiting is a red flag that indicates something more serious is going on. Simply put, you need to seek veterinary attention in several different situations:

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  • If your dog vomits several times during the day
  • If the vomiting continues for multiple days in a row
  • If there are other accompanying symptoms such as altered appetite, altered thirst, changed frequency of urination, presence of blood in the vomit, presence of blood in the stool, diarrhea, significant weight loss, your dog has pale or white gums, unusually severe lethargy, fever, abdominal pain, dehydration and collapse.

Common Causes of Vomiting in Dogs

The most common cause of vomiting in dogs is scavenging, a situation that is politely called a "dietary indiscretion".

If food is vomited undigested, the cause of the vomiting is likely to be located in the stomach. If the vomit contains yellow bile, the problem may be located in the small intestines. Blood in the vomit may indicate ulcers or erosions of the lining of the digestive tract.

In a nutshell, the causes of vomiting can be categorized in several groups.

Dietary causes: scavenging, overeating, food intolerance and true allergies.

Non-dietary causes: inflammation of the stomach, parasites, ulcers, foreign bodies, tumors, bloat, motility problems.

Intestinal disorders: inflammation of the intestines, inflammatory bowel disease, parasites foreign bodies, tumors, infections (such as parvovirus and distemper), bacterial overgrowth, telescoping of intestines (intussusception), constipation.

Other abdominal disorders: inflamed pancreas, inflamed peritoneum and abdominal tumors.

Other non-abdominal disorders: kidney failure, liver disease, diabetes, underactive adrenal gland, overactive thyroid gland, septicemia or poisoning of the blood, electrolyte and acid-base upset and anxiety, fears and phobias

Certain types of poisoning: ingestion of lead, antifreeze, strychnine, heart medications, NSAIDs, chemotherapy drugs and some antibiotics..

Different Types of Vomiting in Dogs

Dietary indiscretion is a common cause of acute vomiting.

Dietary indiscretion is a common cause of acute vomiting.

Before dealing with your dog’s vomiting, you need to determine whether your dog is really vomiting. In most cases, it only regurgitates. Differentiating between these two conditions can be tricky especially for first time dog parents.

Namely, regurgitation is the passive act of expelling food from the esophagus through the mouth. It occurs almost effortlessly and is not accompanied by retching. Regurgitation occurs almost immediately after eating. Therefore, the regurgitated content is tube-shaped, undigested food.

Vomiting instead is an active act in which the food that is already in the stomach is being forcefully brought up the esophagus via muscular contractions and eventually eliminated through the mouth.

As an active act, vomiting is accompanied by retching, excessive drooling, increased swallowing and listlessness. Vomiting occurs some time after eating and based on how long it has been since the dog ate, the vomited content can be undigested or digested food.

Acute Vomiting in Dogs

Acute vomiting is considered normal when the dog tries to get rid of non-edible, foreign items, too much food or intestinal worms. Acute vomiting may also occur as a result of motion sickness. With an otherwise healthy dog, all you need to do is withhold food and water for several hours after a single vomiting episode.

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Intermittent and Persistent Vomiting

Intermittent vomiting can be caused by something as simple as food allergy, but also by something as serious as a metabolic disease, ulcer or tumor. If your dog has been vomiting intermittently over a period of several days, it is highly recommended to see your trusted vet.

In the best case scenario, repeated and persistent vomiting may be caused by a simple stomach irritation. In the worst case scenario, it can be caused by a life-threatening obstruction inside the digestive tract. Therefore, every case of persistent vomiting warrants an immediate trip to the vet’s office.

Projectile Vomiting in Dogs

As a forceful type of vomiting, projectile vomiting occurs when an obstruction prevents the food from leaving the stomach. Rarely, projectile vomiting can be caused by a brain condition.

Vomiting Bile in Dogs

If your dog vomits bile, a condition called gastric reflux, the cause may be a mild food allergy. Affected dogs vomit (usually at the same time each day) but do not show other signs of trouble. The vomiting can be successfully managed with an anti-nausea drug such as metoclopramide.

Vomiting Blood in Dogs

Vomiting blood suggests an ulcer in the stomach or the small intestine. Vomiting blood may also indicate poisoning (think rat poison), a foreign object, a tumor or a serious infection.

Conclusion

Vomiting can be triggered by a problem that occurs inside or outside the gastrointestinal system. The different ways in which a dog vomits can give clues to the cause of the underlying condition.

The more you observe your dog, and the more information you have about its vomiting habits and characteristics, the more helpful you will be in the diagnostic process and consequently the treatment.

For further reading:

Vomiting versus regurgitation in dogs

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. 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.

ivana crnec

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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