Occasional vomiting can be perfectly normal dog behavior, but sometimes vomiting can signal a serious health problem or veterinary emergency. Understanding vomiting’s potential causes and knowing when to call our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services team can ensure your dog receives the care they need to calm their upset stomach.
Is my dog vomiting or regurgitating?
Vomiting and regurgitation are two different physiologic events that have similar presentations. While both actions are cause for concern, recognizing the difference can help you clearly describe your dog’s signs to your veterinarian, potentially helping them diagnose your pooch’s condition.
Vomiting is an active effort to expel the stomach and upper small intestine contents. You can identify vomiting when you observe your dog’s visible attempts to empty their stomach—contracting the stomach muscles, lowering the head, and retching. Alternatively, regurgitation is a passive process that occurs without warning or pronouncement. As fluid reaches a dog’s esophagus, they reflexively expel the contents. Regurgitation frequently occurs not long after a dog has eaten or has drank some water. Vomiting may occur at any time.
When should I call the veterinarian?
If your dog randomly vomits once or twice in a 24-hour period—but is otherwise behaving normally—they are likely fine. However, your dog should receive prompt veterinary care if they vomit more frequently or persistently, or fulfill any of the following criteria:
- Puppies and unvaccinated dogs
- Bloody vomit (e.g., red, black, or resembling coffee grounds)
- Unproductive vomiting or dry heaving
- Vomiting more than once or twice in a 24-hour period, or persisting longer than a day
- Additional clinical signs such as diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite
What are the most common causes for vomiting in dogs?
Depending on the cause, dogs’ vomiting can be acute (i.e., sudden and frequent) or chronic (i.e., on-and-off). Because both types can lead to serious health issues, we recommend talking with your veterinarian about the following:
- Acid reflux — Stomach acid underproduction or overproduction typically causes dogs’ acid reflux. While acid reflux can involve regurgitation, mildly affected dogs may vomit bile when their stomach is empty. If your dog only vomits occasionally and before meals, acid reflux may be to blame.
- Gastritis — Stomach inflammation and irritation can have numerous causes, including sudden diet change or dietary indiscretion (e.g., dumpster diving, counter surfing, drinking pond water, eating feces). Dogs with gastritis may recover without treatment, but veterinary care—including anti-nausea medication, bland diet, and gastrointestinal protectants—can speed recovery.
- Foreign object ingestion — Some dogs tend to consume nonfood items such as indigestible chews, bones, toys, sticks, and rocks. These items can become lodged anywhere along a dog’s upper or lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract—from the esophagus to the colon. Dogs may vomit in an attempt to dislodge the item or to expel food trapped in the stomach. Foreign object ingestion can be life-threatening, and may require surgical removal.
- Infectious viruses — Unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated puppies and young dogs are vulnerable to dangerous viruses, including parvovirus and canine distemper. These highly transmissible viruses attack the intestinal tract and the bone marrow, causing life-threatening illness and rapid deterioration. Early diagnosis and hospitalized treatment are essential for survival.
- Pancreatitis — High-fat foods or those containing excessive salt or sugar can trigger pancreatitis—a severely painful condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and releases digestive enzymes on the nearby liver and kidneys. Dogs with pancreatitis experience frequent vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Hospitalization is necessary, because this condition can be fatal.
- Gastric dilatation volvulus — Gastric dilatation volvulus (i.e., [GDV] bloat) is an emergency condition in which the dog’s stomach spontaneously fills with gas (i.e., dilates) and flips on its axis, cutting off normal motility and blood flow to the stomach and spleen. Classic GDV signs include unproductive vomiting or dry heaving, restlessness, and a severely distended and taut abdomen. If you suspect your dog is bloating, immediately contact our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services team or your nearest veterinary emergency facility.
- Toxin ingestion — Many common household items are toxic to dogs. Even minor toxin exposure can cause serious or life-threatening harm. Depending on the food or item ingested, your dog may begin vomiting within minutes or hours. If you know your pet consumed something toxic, do not wait for clinical signs to appear—immediately contact our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services team or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
- Progressive disease — Sometimes vomiting is an early progressive disease sign indicating cancer, renal insufficiency (i.e., kidney failure), tick-borne illnesses, or metabolic disease. Vomiting can also be a disease management side effect, caused by medications or treatment (e.g., chemotherapy). At your pet’s routine wellness visits, your veterinarian can detect disease in its earliest stages and—in many cases—avoid a late-stage diagnosis heartbreak.
If you are uncertain whether your dog’s vomiting merits a call to Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services, contact our client services team. Our knowledgeable and compassionate staff can triage your pet’s condition over the phone and let you know whether veterinary attention is necessary.
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