Several of the e-mails I got involved vomiting puppies. This apparently is an issue on a lot of new puppy owner’s minds. First a little background on the topic of vomiting in general. There are three basic things that make you vomit:
1. Things in the GI tract that directly irritate/obstruct or otherwise damage it.
2. Anything going on in the body that stimulates the area in your brain known as the chemoreceptor trigger zone (yay me for remembering that bad boy), AKA the "vomit center." This can be instigated by poisons, drugs (chemotherapy drugs are big triggers), toxins in the body, etc.
3. Things that affect your vestibular system (sea/car sickness, vertigo, etc.)
4. There are probably other vomiting triggers, I just can’t think of them at this moment.
Vomiting is a common symptom of many, many pet maladies that result in vet visits. Nobody likes to clean the stuff up and their pets look pretty pitiful when they do it. I see it so much that I have this cool shorthand for the word vomit that is a "V" with a circle around it. (Diarrhea is a "D" with a circle around it, but we’re not talking about that right now.)
Most puppies vomit because of reason 1. We all know that puppies love to explore the world with their mouths. They consume any and all things that come into their paths. Sometimes these objects are irritating, like mulch and sticks, for example (or cell phones, or whatever). These items scritch and scratch their way down the pup’s GI tract, causing inflammation and subsequent vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes these things cause an obstruction, then you end up with a really sick puppy who may need surgery to save his life.
Sometimes they eat something "bad," like a dead bird in the back yard, the wrong pile of random poop while out on their walk, a piece of rotten food some construction guys maybe tossed in your yard or out on the street (My dog Mia once engulfed a squashed sandwich off the middle of the street before I even realized what she was doing). This stuff could actually cause a bacterial overgrowth or just a buildup of toxins that can cause the pups GI upset (usually due to a mix of vomit triggers 1 and 2).
Parasites and viral infections, Parvo being the big one, can also manifest with varying degrees of vomiting.
Very rarely, but it does happen, the puppy has some kind of congenital organ dysfunction or infectious disease that affects organ function, like Infectious Hepatitis, AKA Adenovirus. One of the saddest cases I ever saw was a puppy born with a bad set of kidneys. A pup that keeps vomiting despite adequate symptomatic care will need some blood work just to check things.
So, as a GENERAL RULE OF THUMB (for God’s sake, call your vet if you ever have a concern, don’t take my word for it) … if your puppy vomits once but is eating, drinking, happy and acting totally normal, it’s PROBABLY OK to watch it for a day. Maybe don’t feed him or her for a couple hours. Maybe keep the next meal bland; just some white rice. It’s always better to err on the side of caution though and run it by your vet.
If that’s the end of it, then that’s OK; bullet dodged.
If the puppy continues to vomit, has vomiting and diarrhea (especially if it’s bloody, which is very consistent with Parvo), feels bad (lethargic, off food, etc.) then absolutely contact your vet and get your puppy checked out. Puppies dehydrate quickly, especially when the output (via vomiting/diarrhea) is more than the intake (via water consumption). They need medical intervention — fluids, blood work, x-rays — to keep them stable and comfortable while your vet figures out what’s happening.
I hope this little puking primer helps.
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll