An adult dog — typically age 3 and older, depending on the breed — may vomit simply because he’s eaten something disagreeable or gobbled down too much food, too fast. But vomiting can also indicate something far more serious; your dog may have swallowed a toxic substance, or may be suffering from a condition that requires immediate medical attention. Vomiting can also be associated with gastrointestinal and systemic disorders that should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
As a dog owner and longtime veterinarian at Animal House of Chicago, Complete Veterinary Care, where I am chief of staff, I have seen lots of dogs vomit. Here are facts you need to know to help you figure out why your dog is throwing up and what you should do about it.
Vomiting describes the active expulsion of food from the stomach. It is not a specific disease or a diagnosis in and of itself.
If you think that dogs vomit a lot, you’re right. That’s because dogs are able to throw up much easier than most other animals. This ability is partially due to the scavenging nature of dogs. They see something and eat it to find out if it’s edible. If it’s not, their body throws it back out the same way it came in. But vomiting can also be a sign of a serious and even life-threatening illness.
There are two ways that dogs throw up. When food stays in the esophagus because it is blocked or won’t go down, it accumulates until it is overloaded and the dog regurgitates the food. Although this process may appear similar to vomiting, it is actually called regurgitation. This food often appears tubular in shape and undigested because it has not actually made it to the stomach.
But when the food reaches the stomach, it has to be forcefully expelled through vomiting. Dogs who are about to vomit usually become anxious and may seek attention or reassurance and exhibit signs of excessive drooling and swallowing.
Common causes of vomiting are eating indigestible substances, overeating or eating too fast, exercising immediately after eating, motion sickness, stress and parasites.
But, again, vomiting also can be a sign of more serious illnesses, such as ulcers, kidney or liver disease, enterocolitis, parvovirus, distemper virus, pancreatitis, cancer, peritonitis, diabetes, acute gastritis, intestinal obstruction, food allergies, poisoning or other illnesses.
If a dog vomits only a frothy, clear or yellowish fluid, it most likely has a stomach problem, such as acute gastritis, but it also could have pancreatitis, peritonitis or an intestinal obstruction.
And going through the motions of vomiting, but not bringing up any vomit could be a sign of bloat (also called gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV), a very dangerous and potentially fatal condition in which the stomach twists inside a dog; this may require surgical intervention.
Causes And Diagnosis Of Vomiting In Dogs
Conditions in adult dogs that may cause vomiting include:
- Bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract
- Diet-related causes (diet change, food intolerance, ingestion of garbage)
- Foreign bodies (i.e., toys, bones, pieces of chewies) in the gastrointestinal tract
- Intestinal parasites
- Acute kidney disease/failure
- Acute liver disease/failure
- Gallbladder inflammation
- Post-operative nausea
- Ingestion of toxic substances
- Viral infections
- Certain medications or anesthetic agents
- Car sickness
- Infected uterus (in non-spayed females)
At Animal House of Chicago, when we see vomiting in an adult dog who is not usually known to get into things he should not, we often become more concerned about the more serious systemic causes of vomiting. This often requires more diagnostic testing, especially blood work and X-rays to determine the cause(s).
Vomiting that occurs sporadically or irregularly over a longer period of time can be due to stomach or intestinal inflammation, severe constipation, cancer, kidney dysfunction, liver disease or systemic illness.
An occasional, isolated bout of vomiting may not be of great concern. However, frequent or chronic vomiting can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as colitis, intestinal obstruction or parvovirus. If your dog’s vomiting is not an isolated incident, please bring him to the vet right away for a complete examination and diagnostic testing.
The causes of vomiting can be so varied that arriving at a diagnosis may be difficult, so it’s important to give your veterinarian as much information as possible and indicate if other signs are also occurring.
What To Watch For
Specific signs to watch for include the frequency of vomiting. If your dog vomits once and proceeds to eat regularly and have a normal bowel movement, the vomiting was most likely an isolated incident.
Signs that vomiting might be due to something more serious and require a veterinary visit include:
- Blood in vomit
- Weight loss
- Changes in appetite
- Increase or decrease in thirst or urination
Your veterinarian may choose to perform various diagnostic tests (blood work, radiographs, ultrasound, fecal examination, endoscopy, biopsy or even exploratory surgery) in order to arrive at a diagnosis. What he or she chooses to do depends on your dog’s age, medical history, physical examination findings and your dog’s particular symptoms.