Dog Vomiting Is Often a Sign of Intestinal Obstruction

A barium series may reveal what X-rays alone missed.

Q. Up until about a month ago, my 5-year-old Labrador Retriever mix was in excellent health. Then he started vomiting. At first,  all that would come up was a clear, slimy fluid; the food would stay down. After a while, not even the food would stay down. We have been puréeing all his food and feeding him in an elevated position. Now even when he drinks, he walks a couple of steps and then vomits. We have been to our vet numerous times, and he’s been tested and X-rayed, but they can’t find out what’s wrong. Can you please help? We don’t want to lose him.

A. This sounds like a tough case. Even though your dog has been X-rayed, I would still be suspicious that something is blocking his digestive system, either in his stomach or intestines. Last week, I saw a case where a dog was vomiting for a week, X-rays were normal, and when we finally did exploratory surgery, we found a large piece of carpet in his stomach that did not show up on the X-rays. I can think of several other cases involving socks, peach pits and plastic bread bags that were similarly undetectable on X-rays.
Another test that works well is a barium study. Your dog swallows a paste that shows up on X-rays. A series of X-rays is taken every 30 to 60 minutes to track the barium all the way through the stomach and intestines to the large intestines. It’s an excellent test to diagnose, or rule out, an intestinal or stomach obstruction.
In the meantime, make sure your dog stays hydrated. Dogs can go for a long time (five to seven days) without eating, but they need fluids. You may want to ask your veterinarian about giving you supplies and brief training that will allow you to easily administer subcutaneous fluids (fluids under the skin) at home. This way, he does not need to eat or drink, and if his intestinal tract is inflamed, it will have a chance to heal.

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Dogs · Health and Care