At some point, every dog owner has to deal with a dog that vomits and/or has diarrhea. Dogs are anatomically and physiologically built to deal with the occasional dietary indiscretion. Because dogs evolved from omnivorous canines that often scavenged for food, their gastrointestinal systems are ready to clean themselves out whenever the feeling arises that the last meal might have been a mistake.
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
- 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