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Dog Vomit — A Guide To The Yucky Stuff

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Causes of Dog Vomiting

Your dog is vomiting. 

Pause. Deep breath. 

No need to get all sick and worried yourself. There’s a million (or so) reasons your dog might lose its lunch, and the vast majority aren’t any serious cause for concern.

“Dogs tend to bounce back from vomiting more quickly than humans,” says Dr. Justin Shmalberg, DVM and Nom Nom’s veterinary nutritionist. 

Still, any vet will tell you that dog vomit can be a symptom of issues ranging from the mild to the severe. Especially if you’re not already familiar with the ins and outs of your dog’s microbiome. So before you dismiss it as a case of indigestion, take a look through our guide to all things puppy upchuck.

Pupchuck.

(Sorry.)

First, a key distinction:

Dog Vomiting vs. Regurgitation

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, dog regurgitation and dog vomiting have very different definitions, and often very different causes.

Vomiting typically involves active abdominal contractions. You might hear your dog make a retching noise, see his abs working, or notice that he’s hunched over, drooling or licking his lips. It typically comes up with yellow bile.

Regurgitation starts in the esophagus or pharynx, usually without any warning — and without abdominal contractions. The regurgitated material may be coated with saliva and mucus, and typically appears completely undigested.

If your dog is in fact vomiting (and not just regurgitating), you’ll want to work with your vet to find out the cause as quickly as possible. We break it down into three categories for the likely candidates:

  1. Diet-Related Causes
  2. Environmental Causes
  3. Health-Related Causes

Diet-Related Causes of Vomiting in Dogs

Gastroenteritis


Gastroenteritis in dogs is one of the most common causes of vomiting. It’s a common inflammation of the stomach and intestines due to a sudden change in diet or ingestion of a foreign object. A dog with gastroenteritis will usually experience vomiting, diarrhea, or both, and may show temporary shifts in intestinal bacteria or the
dog's microbiome.

What to Do: Gastroenteritis usually resolves itself without any treatment, but fasting may be helpful. Make slow, attainable adjustments to their diet rather than big leaps. 

Dog Food Allergies


Food allergies tend to show up in the form of skin or gastrointestinal problems, though they’re far less common in dogs as they are people. If your dog’s immune system responds to something they’ve eaten, they may begin to vomit and develop skin irritations. Watch out for excessive scratching.

What to Do: Determining which food or foods are causing the reaction can be tricky, and usually requires a food trial. Read more about how to conduct one right here.

Dog Food Intolerance


Unlike a food allergy, food intolerance has nothing to do with the immune system — similar as the symptoms may appear. No one
quite knows the reasoning behind food intolerances in dogs, but it may be due to sensitivity to specific nutrients or compounds in foods. (Fat, for example, could slow down the stomach’s digestion process.)

What to Do: Either way, detecting a food intolerance requires a bit of trial and error. Once you’ve identified the culprit, start eliminating it gradually from your dog’s diet.

Bilious Vomiting Syndrome (BVS)


Bilious Vomiting Syndrome is a sensitivity to the bile present in the dog’s own stomach. Dogs that suffer from BVS will typically expel green-and-yellow vomit intermittently, usually starting 6 or more hours after their last meal.

What to Do: Feeding your dog more frequently, especially late at night, can help manage the symptoms.

Pancreatitis


Pancreatitis is characterized by inflammation in the pancreas, presenting in acute or chronic episodes. Usually associated with the quick introduction of a high-fat diet, the predispositions that cause some dogs to develop this condition are unclear and somewhat unpredictable.

What to Do: If your dog is vomiting repeatedly, hunching or running a fever, your vet can run a blood test to test for pancreatitis. In dogs, both acute and chronic pancreatitis may solve themselves after you wean them back onto their normal — or if necessary — low-fat diet.

(P.S. Some foods people eat regularly are toxic to and can cause vomiting in dogs, as well as some of the above conditions. Find a brief list of the most common ones here.)

Environmental Causes of Vomiting in Dogs

Foreign Object Ingestion


Keep an extra close eye on your dog if they’re known to gobble up anything in sight. "Many dogs don’t discriminate. Toys, rocks, underwear— you name it, and dogs will swallow it," says Shmalberg. "These things can get stuck in the outflow of the stomach or in the intestine, which causes a backup—and vomiting follows."

Parasites


While the word "parasite" usually makes us think of worms, there are many vomit-inducing parasites completely invisible to the human eye. 

What to Do: Be preventative. The best course of action is always routine deworming and fecal examinations.

Toxins


Chemicals, cleaners, fertilizers, antifreeze, topical flea and tick medications and even certain plants consist of serious toxic materials that can pose serious danger for your dog. For instance,
sago palm toxicity — most prevalent in the south — can even be deadly. 

What to Do: If your dog has had exposure to any of these directly before vomiting, call your vet or contact ASPCA poison control for more information.

Medicines or Supplements


While any sensitive dog may throw up their pills or medications, some are more likely to be rejected than others. Watch out for:

What to Do: Your dog’s condition should improve shortly after vomiting their medication. If not, call your vet or local pet emergency facility.

Infections


Fungal infections that affect the gastrointestinal tract are rare in dogs, but do still occur. Certain types of viruses or bacteria, like salmonella, may cause your dog to vomit, as well. 

What to Do: Your dog’s condition should improve shortly after vomiting their medication. If not, call your vet or local pet emergency facility.

Health-Related Causes of Vomiting

Gastric dilatation or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV)


Gastric dilatation (in dogs) is a fast-progressing and potentially life-threatening condition. It's
an issue usually in large breed, deep-chested dogs, and the exact cause is unknown — likely it's a mix of factors including the dog's genetics, anatomy, and environment. With GDV, a dog will often act like they want to vomit but can't. 

What to do: If your dog is dry-heaving, seems extremely uncomfortable and fits the big dog profile, call the vet ASAP.

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE)


Unlike common gastroenteritis, HGE is a life-threatening form of the condition. Strangely enough, most cases occur suddenly without warning in otherwise healthy dogs; it's more common in smaller breeds.

What to do: Fortunately, the condition seems to resolve itself over the course of a few days with proper supportive care. Dogs can become dehydrated rapidly, so contact your vet.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)


IBD usually happens when abnormal amounts of immune cells mount in the dog's intestines and/or stomach. Chronic vomiting may occur — alone or alongside diarrhea.

What to do: Medication, diet changes or B12 supplementation may be necessary. Speak with your vet about the options.

Cancer


Sadly, cancer can cause just about any symptom in dogs. And dogs with cancer may experience vomiting related to tumors or related complications. 

What to do: Develop a care plan with your vet if you haven’t already. Many counseling services, like CancerCare can help you find free resources and financial assistance along the way.

Kidney Disease


Chronic kidney disease generally shows itself with excessive drinking and urination. However, if toxins that the kidneys would normally filter begin building in a dog's system, vomiting can occur.

What to do: Again, develop a care plan with your vet if you haven’t already.

Liver and/or Gallbladder Disease


Infections and inflammation in the liver and gallbladder can certainly cause vomiting. And in a condition known as a gallbladder mucocele, more common in certain breeds like Shelties, vomiting may be the sole symptom.

What to do: Your dog may need further supplementation, diet alterations or more serious examination. Speak with your vet before you do anything.

Dog Diabetes


As in humans, diabetes in dogs directly correlates to metabolism. Diabetic dogs often vomit, drink and urinate more often than usual before they’re diagnosed.

What to do: Like in people, diabetes in dogs can’t be cured, but can be successfully managed. Talk to your vet about diet adjustments and insulin injections to help them avoid further vomiting episodes. 

Infections in Dogs


Infections of the stomach and intestines are certainly possible, but they're not as often a cause of chronic vomiting. 

What to do: Typically, dogs will clear harmful bacteria or require acute treatment for infections like salmonella. It all depends on the type of infection and its diagnosis. Leave that to a professional.

Adrenal dysfunction


Every dog's body produces stress hormones, and their levels can vary over time. However, if your dog is chronically producing too few (Addison’s disease) or too many (Cushing’s disease), either condition can cause vomiting.

What to do: Addison’s and Cushing’s diseases require persistent management and a long-term care plan developed between you and your vet.

Dog Vomit Color Guide

Yellow dog vomit, red dog vomit, green dog vomit. What’s it matter if it’s all… dog vomit? Unseemly as they all may seem, the color is often the fastest way of narrowing down the cause of your dog’s vomit. But before you go searching for a color wheel and a magnifying glass, feel free to refer to our handy chart and some common sense: 

dog vomit color guide

How to Treat Vomiting In Dogs

Once you’ve spoken to a professional about the underlying cause of your dog’s vomiting, you can expect to hear plenty about a few common treatments. Here’s most of them:

Fasting


The presence of food in an irritated stomach often causes more vomiting. That means you can try fasting your dog for 24 hours, while offering plenty of access to water.

Adjusting Your Dog's Diet


After consistent vomiting, your dog may need to take their time getting back up to speed. That means reintroducing food slowly in smaller, more frequent meals.

When treating vomiting in dogs, your vet may recommend a highly digestible diet, like a fresh or home-prepared diet made with lean meats like poultry and rice or potato. More digestible foods may help to prevent excess material from reaching the large intestine and stimulating the process all over again.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that fresh dog food can also help a dog with a sensitive stomach. Check out success stories from happy Nom Nom pups like Jordy and Harold.

Over-the-counter Remedies


While certain antacids like famotidine (Pepcid)
do not appear to be very effective in dogs, others like omeprazole (Prilosec) and its prescription cousins may work. Ginger, too, has natural anti-nausea properties and may help to relieve vomiting in dogs in some cases; see dosing information here.

Probiotics


Probiotics for dogs, aka “good bacteria,” may help some cases of vomiting, especially those related to infection or inflammation in the dog’s stomach and intestines.

Prescription Medications


Maropitant (Cerenia) has more recently become a common anti-nausea medication for dogs — your vet may prescribe it to help relieve symptoms. Ondansetron and metoclopramide are some other names you might see when the topic comes up.

Vomiting in Puppies

Puppies, as you probably know, are particularly vomit-prone. Their knack for adventure can lead them to chewing, gnawing or even swallowing what seems like everything but food. 

Puppies frequently develop gastroenteritis from ingesting plant material or off-limits human food. But as with adult dogs, isolated vomit isn’t much to worry about. Repeat or regular vomiting, however, is worth your attention. Certain infections like Parvovirus (or “Parvo” as the vets call it) can cause rapid dehydration and consistent vomiting, and occur more frequently in puppies than adult dogs.

When is Dog Vomiting an Emergency?

Fortunately, like we mentioned waaaay back at the beginning of this guide, most causes of dog vomiting aren’t emergencies. Here’s a handy explainer to help you decide when to see a vet, and when to simply let time heal.

Give it Time

See the Vet

vomiting decision tree

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