As unpleasant and distressing as it might be, vomiting is not uncommon for dogs. There are numerous contributing factors that can lead to this uncomfortable yet important function. If a dog throws up once and is otherwise behaving normally, this generally isn’t cause for concern. However, vomiting can be a sign of a more serious health issue, particularly if other abnormalities – such as diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite – are present. Additionally, young puppies that haven’t yet been fully vaccinated are at greater risk of contracting a serious disease or infection, so if your puppy is vomiting and you suspect a serious health issue could be the cause, contact your vet immediately.
Signs & Symptoms of Vomiting in Dogs
Dog owners should be familiar with the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. When a dog vomits, he is forcefully ejecting the contents of the stomach and small intestine, bringing food, fluid, and other contents up to the esophagus and out through the mouth. Prior to getting sick, he may show signs of nausea.
With regurgitation, a backflow of undigested food and fluids comes up through the esophagus and through the mouth. Unlike vomiting, there is no forceful ejection; instead, a more passive motion takes place. Signs of regurgitation can include coughing and difficulty breathing. Regurgitated contents are undigested.
One sign that a dog is getting ready to vomit is a series of contractions of the stomach, better known as heaving, retching, or gagging. (It’s a lot like what humans do before getting sick.)
On the other hand, when a dog regurgitates, there is no abdominal heaving. It usually takes place immediately after eating a meal, whereas vomiting can happen hours later.
Signs that indicate your dog is experiencing nausea and may vomit include:
- Excessive licking
- Excessive swallowing
- Eating grass
- Retching, gagging, heaving
Causes of Vomiting in Dogs
When a dog vomits, it’s not an automatic cause for concern if no other symptoms present themselves and the vomiting occurs only once. Dogs are notorious for scarfing down their food too quickly, or eating things they shouldn’t: maybe he snacked on a little too much grass, or managed to gobble down a mystery item on a walk. Occasionally, dogs will vomit for no apparent reason, then continue going about their day as if nothing happened.
Here are some common and less-worrisome reasons your dog might be vomiting:
- Gastritis (irritation of the stomach)
- Upset stomach from eating something he shouldn’t have eaten
- Bilious vomiting syndrome (a condition caused by bile from the small intestine leaking into the stomach)
- Motion sickness (often from riding in a car)
- Obstruction from a foreign body
- Exposure to toxins
- Kidney disease
- Certain types of cancer
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic disease
- IBS (inflammatory bowel syndrome)
However, vomiting can also be caused by more serious underlying health issues:
If your dog experiences multiple episodes of vomiting – or vomiting accompanied by diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, or other abnormal clinical signs – it’s time to call the vet.
Diagnosing the Cause of Vomiting in Dogs
To diagnose why your dog is vomiting, your veterinarian will ask questions pertaining to your dog’s activities and diet, and ask whether there may be the possibility of exposure to garbage, toxins, or poisons.
A physical examination is performed next. In some cases, these additional tests may be needed:
- Fecal analysis
- Endoscope evaluation
Treating Vomiting in Dogs
Once your vet has determined the reason your dog is vomiting, he or she will be able to prescribe a treatment plan. If dehydration has occurred as a result of vomiting, your vet may also recommend some form of fluid therapy.
If the vomiting only happened once or twice, your vet may recommend the following at-home treatment:
- Keep your dog away from food for 6 to 8 hours (water is ok).
- If there is no more vomiting during this time, you can give your dog a small amount of bland food such as boiled, unseasoned, skinless chicken breast mixed 50:50 with plain white rice. (Ask your vet how much you should be feeding your dog per meal at this point, since this will vary depending on the size of your dog.) If your dog can hold this bland food down for a day or two, you can slowly start reintroducing regular food.
Is There a Cure for Vomiting in Dogs?
Although there is no cure for vomiting per se, it can be treated with at-home remedies and/or intervention from your vet.
Here are a few at-home remedies that you can try after you’ve received approval from your veterinarian to do so:
- Withhold food for a period of 12 to 24 hours (depending on whether they’re a puppy or an adult). This allows the inflammation of the stomach lining to settle.
- Give ice chips. When a dog vomits, there’s a good chance he’ll become dehydrated. But keeping water down may be difficult, because sometimes gulping water can cause the stomach to revolt, bringing the water right back up. Ice chips are a great way to gently get some fluid back into the system.
- Provide coconut water. It contains electrolytes that will help prevent dehydration.
- Feed white rice to your dog. Once food is reintroduced, white rice is a good option because it is bland, easily digestible, and won’t be harsh on the stomach.
Is Vomiting Contagious for Humans and Other Pets?
While the act of vomiting itself is not contagious, if a dog is getting sick as the result of a virus or infection, the cause itself may be contagious to other animals.
Recovery and Management of Vomiting in Dogs
Recovery from vomiting is relatively easy if the underlying cause is not serious. For older dogs, a change in diet can be helpful. A low-fat diet containing easily digestible proteins (such as boiled chicken or cottage cheese) and carbohydrates (white rice, boiled potatoes) is gentle on the stomach. Additional management can include using slow-feeding bowls to prevent your dog from scarfing down his food too quickly; limiting exercise right before or after meals; and giving your dog smaller, more frequent meals.
Vomiting that is caused by an underlying condition can be managed by treating the condition.
Preventing Vomiting in Dogs
Preventing vomiting in dogs is not always possible. But there are a few ways you can try:
- Sudden changes in diet are a common cause of intestinal upset. So if you’re switching dog foods, don’t swap the old food out all at once for the new. Instead, add new food in gradually as you slowly wean your dog off of his old diet. (You may want to ask your veterinarian for more detailed instructions before changing your dog’s diet.)
- Don’t give your dog toys that can be chewed into pieces and swallowed. This can cause intestinal upset and blockage.
- Do not feed your dog table scraps. Some human foods are dangerous for dogs, and even foods that are considered “safe” can still affect those with sensitive stomachs.
- Avoid giving your dog bones. Cooked bones are more likely to break into sharp pieces, which can result in internal damage, so if you want to give your dog a bone, large raw bones such as femurs or knuckles are a better choice.
- If your dog is very inquisitive, keep a close eye on him when you’re out on walks so he doesn’t eat things he shouldn’t. You may want to use a basket muzzle when going out on walks.
Is There a Vaccine for Vomiting?
There is no vaccine that prevents vomiting.
Vomiting in dogs is fairly common and is not necessarily a cause for concern. If your dog has only vomited once or twice and otherwise seems bright and alert, it’s usually safe to monitor them at home. However, vomiting can be a sign of something more serious, so if you notice any diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, other concerning signs or there’s a possibility your dog may have swallowed something they shouldn’t have, you should contact your veterinarian for advice immediately. Treatment for vomiting can include a bland diet and fluids for dehydrated dogs if necessary. If it’s caused by an underlying issue, that must be treated for the vomiting to cease.