Vomiting is defined as a forcible emptying of the stomach. It is seen as an active process with contraction of the stomach muscles and often with associated noise and retching. This helps to distinguish vomiting from regurgitation, which is generally a passive process involving ejection of contents of the oesophagus and is usually more quiet. It is important to distinguish vomiting from regurgitation, as these conditions can sometimes appear to be the same but will have different underlying causes.
Vomiting in dogs is very common, especially due to their scavenging nature. It can be a symptom of many disease processes and is a very common reason for a trip to the vets. Many cases of vomiting will be simple and self-limiting, however it could also be an indicator of something more serious.
Causes, treatment and related symptoms
There are hundreds of causes of vomiting, but those most frequently encountered include diet-related causes such as: eating too much food, eating too fast, eating spoiled food, ingesting non-food items (e.g. plastic/fabric/wood), ingesting a toxin or poison, drinking salt water (e.g. during a visit to the beach), an infectious disease process of the digestive tract (including bacterial/viral/parasites), underlying disease processes (including kidney failure, liver disease, hormonal imbalances, diabetes), a systemic infection (e.g. pyometra (womb infection)), pancreatitis, bloat, heatstroke, car sickness and even some cancers.
Other symptoms to watch out for include diarrhoea, increase or decrease in normal thirst and urination, lethargy, pain, unproductive vomiting, weight loss or blood in the vomit. If your dog is vomiting but no longer passing poop or only passing small amounts of diarrhoea, this may give rise to an increased suspicion of an intestinal blockage requiring urgent veterinary attention.
Any signs of retching or trying to be sick that is unproductive should be classed as an emergency and immediate veterinary help sought. This could indicate your dog has bloat, which is potentially life-threatening.
Treatments will be aimed at the underlying cause and will vary from medical treatments (including diet changes, fluids, antacids and anti-sickness drugs) to surgical correction of bloat or retrieval of foreign bodies.
Some cases of vomiting will need to be hospitalised for a few days, but many will be able to be treated at home with advice and a prescription from your vet.
My dog's vomit is yellow
Vomit can take on different coloured forms. Yellow or yellowy green vomit is fairly common, especially if your dog has been sick a few times in a row. More often it is due to digestive bile acids from the start of the small intestine being brought up along with the stomach contents. Yellow vomit could also occur if your dog has recently eaten something yellow in colour.
If you notice any fresh blood or brown coffee ground appearance in the vomit, always seek veterinary attention. The brown colour could be due to digested blood, which can be due to stomach ulcers or eating raw meat.
My dog keeps being sick
If your dog keeps being sick, seek urgent veterinary advice. It may be the case that he needs some drugs prescribing to help settle his stomach. However, after a full physical examination your vet may recommend further tests, including blood tests and x-rays or ultrasound scans. If it is known that your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t have, always tell your vet exactly what had been eaten, in what quantity and at what time. Antidotes may then be prescribed in cases of toxins, or foreign body surgery may be required.
Sudden onset of lots of vomiting is usually caused by something your dog has eaten that he shouldn’t have, an infection, acute diseases (e.g. pancreatitis/kidney failure/liver) and gall bladder problems.
Vomiting lots but spread out over a number of days or weeks could still be caused by the above, but may also have an underlying cause of a disease process of another organ system, or be an intolerance or delayed allergic reaction to food, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines), irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and some cancers.
Sickness and diarrhoea in dogs
Sickness and diarrhoea in dogs are often linked together as they are symptoms of disease processes within the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Vomiting often occurs as a protective mechanism to rid the stomach of something that could be toxic, harmful or irritant. Diarrhoea occurs if the intestines are affected to expel noxious waste products. Disease conditions that affect the working of the digestive tract will often have vomiting and diarrhoea as symptoms. In cases of gastrointestinal infections or eating something harmful, the stomach will be affected before the intestines and so vomiting usually occurs first, followed by diarrhoea 12 to 24 hours later.
What are the causes of a dog vomiting?
There are many reasons for a dog to vomit. The most common, although not a complete list, would be due to eating something he shouldn’t: too much food, food too high in fat content, the wrong type of food, spoiled food, items that aren’t food (including foreign objects or toxins). Infections within the gastrointestinal tract can cause vomiting e.g. bacterial/viral/parasites (including worms). Infections and diseases outside the gastrointestinal tract e.g. pyometra, liver disease, kidney failure, diabetes, pancreatitis and some drugs or other medications. Heatstroke, travel sickness and some cancers will also cause vomiting. Bloat may cause vomiting or more likely a dog trying to vomit but not producing anything.
As you can see from this list, most causes of vomiting will require treatment from your veterinary surgeon. It is important to get prompt advice and treatment if you are worried about your dog.
My dog's vomit is white
White vomit can be seen with what your dog has just eaten or drunk, certain medications and often if there is a lot of stomach contraction before the vomit is produced then white foamy bubbles may form in the vomit.
When should you be concerned about a dog throwing up?
If your dog vomits more than once or for more than one day, it is worth having a check up at the vet. If any other symptoms are coinciding with the vomit or you have seen the dog eaten something foreign or toxic, then prompt veterinary advice is needed.
How do you settle a dog's upset stomach?
A bland diet, such as white meat or fish, and a simple carbohydrate sauce, such as rice or boiled potato, fed little and often should help settle your dog’s stomach. Little and often sipping of water will also help. Anything else should be given under the direction of your veterinary surgeon.
What should you do after your dog has thrown up?
Make sure your dog is comfortable and calm. If he is very unwell or in pain, phone a veterinary surgeon and have a consultation as soon as possible. Clean up the vomit with paper towel and a disinfectant spray. Ensure good hygiene methods are followed and wash your hands well, to prevent the spread of disease to other animals or yourself, as the underlying cause of the vomiting may be contagious to other animals or yourself.
When to call a vet
Generally speaking if a dog has only vomited once or twice, if still eating and drinking well and bright and active in himself you may not need to see your vet. If, however, the vomiting is frequent (multiple times per day) or protracted (continuing for more than a day even if only once or twice a day), if your dog is not able to keep down food or fluids or if he is unwell, lethargic or in pain then seeking veterinary attention and advice would be recommended as soon as possible.
Any blood or brown coffee grounds in the vomit mean urgent veterinary advice should be sought and with unproductive retching you should also seek immediate veterinary attention.
If you know your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t have e.g. a foreign body/toxin or medication not prescribed to him or in a higher quantity than prescribed, always phone your vet immediately with the time of ingestion (or rough estimate if unknown), what has been eaten (take medication or other toxin packets into the consultation) and how much. This will help ensure appropriate and prompt correct, potentially life-saving treatment can be given.