When confined to a single episode, vomiting is not usually a serious health condition. Dogs vomit for a variety of reasons, many of which resolve within several hours. However, you must take your dog to the veterinarian if they vomit several times or for longer than a few hours, as it can indicate a serious problem that requires veterinary care.
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Is your dog vomiting or regurgitating?
Your dog is vomiting and not regurgitating if their belly is heaving and whatever they ate comes flying out of their mouth. A dog who regurgitates basically burps up what's in their throat.
A dog who vomits:
- Brings up stomach contents
- May have retching/dry heaving
- Has belly contractions and heaving
- Brings up food that looks digested
- May act nauseous (drooling, licking lips, frequent swallowing)
- May have a decreased appetite or loss of appetite
- May have lethargy
A dog who regurgitates:
- Brings up undigested food from the esophagus, often right after eating something
- Does not have belly contractions
- Brings up food that looks similar to when it was eaten
When is dog vomiting normal?
It's normal for a dog to vomit if it's an isolated incident, such as after eating quickly. Repeated vomiting, especially three or more times, is not normal. There are two types of vomiting: acute and chronic.
Characteristics of acute vomiting are:
- It comes on suddenly.
- It often happens only once or a few times.
- It resolves within one to six days.
Characteristics of chronic vomiting are:
- It happens multiple times.
- It lasts for seven or more days (either continuously or intermittently).
- There may be weight loss.
Why is my dog throwing up?
There are many possible causes for why a dog is throwing up.
Some reasons for acute vomiting (vomiting that comes on suddenly) are:
- Eating too quickly
- Eating too much dog food
- Eating something that didn't sit right with your dog's stomach, such as table scraps
- Motion sickness
- A bacterial or viral infection
- A foreign body, such as a toy or a rock, in the digestive tract
Some reasons for chronic vomiting, which lasts seven or more days, are:
- Food allergies to things like chicken, beef, or lamb
- A foreign body that causes a blockage in the digestive tract
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Addison's disease, which usually causes imbalances in the electrolytes sodium and potassium. These dogs often have a history of a "sensitive stomach."
- Intestinal parasites
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
What causes vomiting in dogs?
Vomiting in dogs can be caused by anything from a change in diet to your dog eating a toy that causes an intestinal obstruction to a serious viral infection.
Common causes of vomiting are:
- An abrupt change in diet
- Dietary indiscretion (e.g., they got into the trash or someone shared their french fries)
- Food intolerance or food allergy
- Viral infection, such as parvovirus
- Bacterial infection, such as salmonella
- Pyometra (a life-threatening E. coli infection of the uterus)
- Intestinal parasite, like Giardia or roundworms
- Ingestion of a foreign object that got stuck in the gastrointestinal tract
- Bloat or gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV)
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Kidney disease or kidney failure
- Liver disease or liver failure
- Pancreas conditions, such as pancreatitis or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
- Ulcers, which can cause vomit to look like used coffee grounds
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Reactions to medication
- Toxic substances, like chocolate or certain plants
Should I call a veterinarian when my dog keeps throwing up?
Yes, you should call your veterinarian if your dog vomits (or has retching that doesn't produce anything) three or more times or if vomiting lasts for more than several hours. You should also seek veterinary attention if your vomiting dog is lethargic, acts painful, vomits up blood, has a fever, has diarrhea, or got into something potentially toxic.
In addition to a physical exam, your veterinarian may also do one or more of the following:
- X-rays of your dog's belly
- Stool tests, such as for parasites
- Abdominal ultrasound
- In chronic vomiting cases, some dogs may need to have special blood tests and/or intestinal biopsies to determine the underlying cause.
Treatments for dogs who keep throwing up
Treatment for vomiting depends upon the cause, but there are some common therapies that are needed in a variety of cases. They are:
- Bland diet: Easy to digest food, such as plain white rice and boiled, skinless chicken breast (no seasonings). Your veterinarian may also have a prescription dog food they recommend.
- Hydration: Always be sure that your dog has access to clean water so they can rehydrate adequately. However, if they can't hold down water, that means they need to be seen by a veterinarian right away. Some dogs need hospitalization to administer intravenous (IV) fluids and other treatments.
- Anti-nausea medication: This is available in oral form or as an injection.
- Additional medications: Your dog may need medication to treat issues like an ulcer, abdominal pain, or an infection. Bacterial infections are often treated with antibiotics, though with chronic gut issues, there is a move toward using diet as therapy and not antibiotics, which kill off both good and bad bacteria. Viral infections require supportive care while the body fights off the infection. Anti-viral medications are often not used in dogs due to limited testing and sometimes limited availability.
There are many potential causes for a dog's upset stomach. Some of them are harmless, like a sudden change in diet, but there are also serious conditions that cause vomiting, such as an object stuck in your pet's digestive tract. If your dog vomits three or more times or vomits for more than several hours, take them to a veterinarian right away. If you're unsure about whether your pet needs to be examined, call your veterinarian or a 24-hour emergency hospital for guidance.