When is dog vomiting an emergency?

Mar 4, 2022

It’s a fact of life: dogs occasionally throw up. While it’s never pretty, reflexively ejecting the contents of the stomach is the body sounding an alarm: something is not sitting right, and up it comes!

How To Know If Your Dog Is Vomiting or Regurgitating?

Sometimes something as innocent as a change of diet will cause your dog to suddenly regurgitate. It’s helpful to distinguish between regurgitation and more serious forms of vomiting in dogs. Regurgitation refers to quickly, suddenly ejecting whatever’s in the stomach long before digestion has had a chance to take place. When your dog regurgitates, it’s typically not painful or prolonged. Regurgitation often means a single episode, making it an “acute” situation. And what’s produced from your dog’s stomach looks much like it did when it was swallowed: kibble, for instance, may appear intact because it has not yet been broken down. The caustic stomach acids which burn sensitive throat tissues on the way up aren’t typically present in a simple regurgitation. Dogs may spontaneously regurgitate when they’re excited, so if your dog is happily prancing and wagging its tail after regurgitating, most likely there is no need for medical attention.

True vomiting in dogs has a different character. Your dog may shudder, strain, gag and retch as powerful muscular contractions push the contents of the stomach up towards the throat. What is produced from your dog’s stomach will appear to be partially digested. When true vomiting occurs more than once a day, it can mean that your dog’s condition is “chronic”, so contact Airvet for a consultation.

What Can Cause Vomiting In Dogs?

  • Eating too fast
  • Ingesting spoiled food or new foods
  • Poisoning
  • Foreign objects (often caused by splinters and plastic parts of toys, string, golf balls, shreds of fabric from clothes and furniture)
  • Infections
  • Parasites/worms
  • Kennel cough
  • Motion sickness
  • Stress
  • Cancer, kidney disease, ulcers
  • Gastritis or inflammation of the intestinal lining  (Look for vomiting that occurs in the morning. Oftentimes it will look like white or yellow bile/vomit)
  • Excessive exercise
  • Reflux
  • Gastric torsion (too much air in the stomach can cause it to twist, usually producing white foamy vomit)

Dogs Are Prone To Ingesting Strange Items

Outdoor Dangers That Can Lead to Vomiting

Dogs evolved as hunters, and hunting requires browsing, sniffing and nibbling along the surface of the ground. While this is entirely normal canine behavior, it is a way that your dog may ingest harmful substances. This includes the several types of parasitic worms which are present in the soil and animal feces, and especially in the bodies of smaller animals that your dog may consider prey. Also, digging in soil that may harbor the droppings of birds, bats and poultry can result in a (mycotic) fungal infection in your dog, nausea being a symptom.

Indoor Dangers That Can Lead to Your Dog Vomiting

Dogs also may swallow dangerous splinters which fracture off certain types of hard chew toys (pigs ears, bones) along with small metal and plastic parts of other things they play with. They also may sniff and even swallow common household chemicals, antifreeze included (which can cause lethal kidney failure).

Swallowing anything unfamiliar and potentially harmful may trigger vomiting. In a very real sense, vomiting serves a great purpose – it may save your dog’s life!

Chronic Vomiting in Dogs

Chronic or routine vomiting may also signal a critical or long-term condition requiring medical attention. If vomiting happens more than once a day, or 2 days in a row, your dog’s chronic condition may signal serious trouble, so consult with Airvet promptly to plan next steps.

When might vomiting in dogs be an emergency?

Vomiting may signal a serious condition if your dog…

  • Vomits up digested blood (vomit with blood can look like black chunks or coffee grounds)
  • Vomits multiple times a day, for more than a day or two
  • Presents other symptoms accompany the vomiting, including lethargy, diarrhea, weakness, or fever

As mentioned earlier, the actions, attitude and overall mood of your dog are significant when considering whether your dog is regurgitating or vomiting. Look for signs of distress before and after your dog throws up. If your dog is obviously in pain, or if the vomiting is frequent, see your vet immediately.

talk to an airvet veterinarian for medical care for your pet

Determine The Cause of Your Dog’s Vomiting

A veterinarian will likely run diagnostic tests to determine the root cause of your dog’s vomiting. Diagnostics can include:

  • X Rays, to show any blockage or foreign objects in your dog’s system. If found, an object in the stomach may be removed using endoscopy (a scope passed through the mouth into the stomach). If an intestinal blockage is found, sometimes surgery is needed to remove an object or even portions of damaged intestine.
  • Blood tests to check for inflammation, blood glucose, and kidney and liver status. Sometimes specialized blood tests are necessary; an example is a test for pancreatitis, a common cause of vomiting in dogs.
  • Fecal tests, to check for parasites.

How To Treat Vomiting in Dogs

Induced Vomiting and Activated Charcoal

Depending on the root cause of the vomiting, a number of treatments may be effective. Your vet may induce more vomiting in order to clear your dog’s digestive tract and also to examine the contents of your dog’s stomach. Activated charcoal is given to dogs that have ingested certain toxins since the charcoal reduces absorption of the toxin through the intestine. However, never give your dog activated charcoal yourself. The type of activated charcoal your veterinarian uses is different from what you might find available in a retail environment.

There are a variety of medications that your veterinarian might prescribe to help with the nausea and vomiting, depending on its cause. When vomiting causes a dog to become dehydrated, they can be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids. When only mild dehydration is present, these fluids are given under the skin instead.

Fasting To Help Ease Dog Vomiting

Your vet may recommend that your dog fast for 12-24 hours. During this time, be sure that your dog has a generous supply of fresh water, to avoid dehydration. One way to tell if your pet is dehydrated: gently pinch the flesh around one shoulder.  If your dog is well-hydrated, the soft pinch will immediately flow back into the surrounding fur and skin. If the “pinch-mark” remains visible, your pet may need more hydration.

Other Solutions To Help Reduce Dog Vomiting or Regurgitation

Dog Puzzle Feeders

Some fixes for chronic vomiting are simple. If your dog gulps food, “puzzle” feeders which challenge your pet to solve spatial problems in order to get to the food will slow your dog down and incorporate some learning fun in the process.

Changing Dog Foods

Finding the right food for your dog may solve the problem. It’s possible that your dog has (or has developed) a sensitivity to an ingredient in their regular food. Switching your dog’s food to a limited-ingredient variety may help. There is a significant amount of misinformation surrounding canine nutrition online, so speak with your vet for recommendations first, before switching your dog’s food.

As always, be observant. Your dog can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong, so use your eyes and ears to pick up on unusual behaviors and symptoms that may signal trouble. If you’re seeing something strange like yellow vomit, frothy or foamy vomit, etc. Airvet is only a click away (download our free app now). Our veterinary team can help you navigate the situation and determine whether you need to visit your local veterinarian immediately.