If you’re a dog owner, chances are you’ve had to deal with your canine companion vomiting at some point. Sometimes the reason is simple, such as a “dietary indiscretion” (also known as poor canine judgment) and the condition is short-lived.
However, vomiting in dogs can also indicate a serious or even life-threatening problem that needs urgent veterinary care. Learning to tell the difference can be tricky, so it’s important to recognize why dogs vomit, when you should be concerned, and what you can do to help.
Vomiting vs. Regurgitation vs. Reverse Sneezing
Before looking at the causes of vomiting, it’s important to distinguish between vomiting, regurgitation, sometimes referred to as retching, and reverse sneezing. When dogs vomit, they forcefully eject the contents of their stomach and small intestine, bringing up food and fluid. Before this, dogs usually display signs of nausea which may include drooling, lip licking, repeated swallowing, and abdominal contractions.
Regurgitation, by contrast, is a passive action that is not accompanied by abdominal contractions and effort. Simply put, it’s more like a burp. Common signs of regurgitation are coughing and difficulty breathing, and it often occurs right after eating or drinking.
A reverse sneeze may also seem concerning if you don’t know what’s happening. Pets stand with an extended neck and then pull back to inhale dramatically through their nose, making a gagging type of noise. The reverse sneeze is a reflexive action to irritation at the back of the throat. Like regular sneezing, it’s usually nothing to be concerned about unless it occurs frequently, in which case a veterinary visit is needed to determine the cause of the irritation.
Is Vomiting in Dogs an Emergency?
So your dog has vomited. How do you know if it’s an emergency? It depends on several factors, including the underlying cause.
Prompt attention by a veterinarian should be sought if your dog vomits multiple times in one day or for more than one day in a row. In addition, you should seek veterinary attention if your dog displays the following symptoms in addition to vomiting:
- Loss of appetite
- Change in frequency of urination
- Change in thirst
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Unusual or severe lethargy
- Pale, gray, or brick red gums
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
It’s important to note that unproductive retching – where nothing comes up – in large, deep-chested breeds (including Mastiffs, Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Saint Bernards, Irish Setters, and Weimaraners) are signs of gastric dilation volvulus (GDV or bloat). This life-threatening condition must be treated within minutes to hours by a veterinarian to save the dog’s life.
Conditions Causing Vomiting in Dogs
Usually, a dog who vomits once and goes on to have normal bowel movements and a normal appetite will recover just fine without veterinary intervention. However, it is strongly recommended that your dog be evaluated by your primary veterinarian or our emergency service in cases of chronic vomiting or vomiting accompanied by other symptoms.
Chronic vomiting in dogs can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as:
- Infectious diseases
- Dietary allergies
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Metabolic disease (such as kidney or liver failure, pancreatitis, Addison’s disease, or diabetes)
Acute vomiting with additional symptoms may be caused by:
- Intestinal obstruction
- Intestinal parasites
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Ingestion of a toxic substance
- Addison’s disease
Diagnosis and Treatment for Vomiting
Treatment largely depends on the causes of the dog’s vomiting. Your primary veterinarian may conduct several simple tests, including radiographs, blood work, and fecal analysis to determine a diagnosis. An ultrasound may be ordered to evaluate internal organs more extensively.
In chronic cases of vomiting, more complex testing by an internal medicine specialist may be required, including a blood test for pancreatitis, Addison’s disease, or even an endoscopy to obtain diagnostic biopsies.
Common treatments for intestinal inflammation (gastroenteritis) include restricting food, a bland diet, and anti-nausea medication. More serious conditions often require more intensive treatment, such as hospitalization, fluids, injectable medication, and/or surgery.
Finding the right treatment for your dog’s vomiting can help your dog feel better, faster. In cases where a toxic substance has been ingested, early treatment and contact with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center could save your dog’s life.
Emergency Help for Vomiting Dogs
BEVS has emergency doctors and staff at our hospital 24/7/365. We are available if your pet has an emergency when your dog’s family veterinarian is closed. We also have specialists in internal medicine and surgery if your family veterinarian feels a referral is warranted to treat your dog’s vomiting.