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Nutrition Nuggets
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

What to Do When Your Dog Vomits or Has Diarrhea

March 16, 2012 / (1) comments

Not every episode of vomiting or diarrhea warrants an immediate trip to the veterinarian. If the episode is mild, not progressing rapidly and your dog is an otherwise healthy adult, it is reasonable to try some at-home remedies first. Of course, if your dog’s condition fails to improve over the course of 24 to 48 hours or worsens at any point, call your veterinarian. Here are some tips for home-treatment:

  • For vomiting, withhold food but not water for 12 to 24 hours, and then gradually reintroduce your dog’s regular diet.
  • For diarrhea, do not withhold food or water, but switch to a bland, easily digested diet for a couple of days. White rice mixed with boiled white meat chicken (no bones or skin) is a good, temporary option. Once stools return to normal, gradually switch back to your dog’s regular, nutritionally balanced food. Anti-diarrheal medications that contain kaolin and pectin can be used to absorb excess fluid within the intestinal tract and reduce intestinal movement. Probiotic supplements also help to normalize bacterial populations within the intestinal tract.

Home-treatment is not appropriate under all circumstances, however. If your puppy starts to vomit or have diarrhea, you should call a veterinarian. The same is true for elderly dogs and those suffering from serious, chronic diseases. These individuals often don’t have the reserves necessary to maintain normal body functions in the face of even a mild bout of vomiting or diarrhea. Other warning signs that you should call your veterinarian immediately include:

  • abdominal pain
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • blood in the stool or vomit
  • profuse, watery diarrhea
  • frequent attempts to vomit, whether anything is brought up or not

To diagnose the cause of severe or prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea, veterinarians will perform a thorough history and physical exam and, in some cases, may also need the results of blood work, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, specialized laboratory tests, and even exploratory surgery or endoscopy with tissue biopsies.

Treatment should be aimed at the underlying cause of a dog’s gastrointestinal symptoms whenever possible, but anti-emetics, anti-diarrheal medications and supportive care (e.g., fluid therapy) all have important therapeutic roles as well.

When vomiting or diarrhea continues for more than just a few days, meeting a dog’s nutritional needs becomes very important. Your veterinarian might prescribe a therapeutic diet or recommend alternative feeding methods to address your dog’s needs. Depending on the diagnosis, your dog may eventually be able to go back to eating a nutritionally complete, well-balanced over-the-counter food, or you may need to continue with a therapeutic diet as part of a disease management plan.


Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: WilleeCole / via Shutterstock

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Comments  1

Leave Comment
  • When In Doubt
    03/20/2012 07:56am

    Rule of Thumb: when in doubt call the veterinarian.

    If I have a vomiting critter, I have a hard time withholding food and waiting 24 hours unless instructed by the doctor.

    My vet is so gracious and patient. He pulls the critter's chart to be sure that is the appropriate course of treatment ... and it usually is.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.