Dogs vomit occasionally for a variety of relatively benign reasons – to expel something unwanted from their stomach, as a result of gastric irritation or in response to colonic stimulus, for example. Prolonged, unrelenting vomiting or regurgitation, however, can be the sign of a serious condition, anything from head trauma or toxin exposure to pancreatic cancer or gastrointestinal obstruction.
What To Watch For
Dogs drool, lick their lips, and swallow excessively just before vomiting or when they feel nauseous. Some may eat grass, possibly to relieve gastric irritation or serve as self-induced emetic.
It is important to distinguish between vomiting and regurgitation -- the latter happens spontaneously, raising undigested food with no abdominal effort. Usually, this is a sign of esophageal issues or other problems occurring early on in the digestive process. Regurgitation should not be classified with vomiting as a different range of possible causes are associated with regurgitation.
Vomiting usually empties the stomach of unwanted or indigestible material. It also accompanies a wide range of more serious problems triggered by nausea or gastric inflammation/irritation. Anything from infections and ulcers to cancer and drug reactions can lead to vomiting.
For severe, unrelenting vomiting:
- Remove all food made available to your dog.
- Check for shock. If your pet is in shock from vomiting, pale skin/gums, an abnormal attitude and/or collapse/coma may result, which requires immediate veterinary attention.
- Check for dehydration. If the dog is dehydrated, immediate veterinary assistance is also needed.
For occasional or infrequent vomiting (and if the dog is not in shock or dehydrated):
- Do not give the dog food for 12 hours.
- Instead, provide the dog with ice cubes to lick or two to three tablespoons of water every half hour. This will help keep the mouth moist.
- After 12 hours, reintroduce clean, fresh water.
- Reintroduce bland food between 12 and 24 hours after the initial vomiting incident. A mixture of rice and chicken is best (one part lean meat to five parts starch is ideal), but do not overdo it. Two to three teaspoons is enough to test if the dog is able to partake of the food.
- If the dog does not vomit, continue with a little more bland food every hour or two.
- If vomiting stops, your pet can return to a normal diet the next day.
Continued, repetitive, or serious vomiting should be investigated more fully. A vet will more than likely be able to help diagnose the underlying condition with X-rays, bloodwork, fecal analysis, urinalysis, ultrasound imaging and/or a barium study, among other things. If you can bring a sample of the dog’s vomitus with you, it may also help in the diagnostic process.
Many causes of vomiting cannot be prevented, but for those that can, observe the following rules:
- Don’t change your dog’s diet suddenly. Always use a gradual approach in case gastric irritation or intestinal upset should result (a common occurrence as the result of sudden dietary changes).
- Don’t give the dog toys that can be swallowed or chewed into pieces, thereby causing gastric and/or intestinal irritation.
- Don’t give your dog bones. These, too, are routinely implicated in vomiting episodes.
- Don’t let your dog scavenge. “Garbage gut” is what veterinarians commonly call the gastroenteritis caused by consuming scavenged items from the garbage.
- Watch inquisitive dogs carefully when out and about. A basket muzzle to keep dogs from non-edible items they’d unwisely elect to consume may be in order.