Vomiting in Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

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.

In This Article

What is vomiting in dogs?

Vomiting in dogs is when they forcefully eject or throw up the contents of their stomach and/or upper intestines. Vomiting is an active reaction that causes the muscles to contract and their body to become tense and can often appear violent as you’ll likely hear them retching.

When a dog vomits, the contents of their stomach is mostly digested food and/or bile.

What is the difference between vomiting and regurgitating in dogs?

Dog owners should be familiar with the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. When a dog vomits, they are 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, they 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. The odd episode of regurgitation may occur due to your dog eating too fast or being active straight after their meal; repeated episodes should be investigated by your veterinarian.

Types of dog vomit

Dogs vomit for many reasons, which can make it difficult to know if it’s serious or not. Fortunately, there are different types of dog vomit that can help you know when to be concerned or not. 

Yellow vomit

Yellow vomit is probably the most common and is a result of bile secretions that often happens when your dog experiences nausea from an empty stomach, acid build up or reflux. If it only occurs once and your dog is otherwise alert and well, this is generally not cause for concern.

White, foamy vomit

Similar to yellow vomit, if your dog is experiencing white, foamy vomit this might be due to an acid buildup in their stomach. Typically the white foamy appearance is caused by the vomit coming into contact with air or the contents of their stomach mix. 

Clear, liquid vomit

Clear, liquid vomit can be from the water your dog drank. In some cases, dogs may drink water when they feel nauseous, which they then vomit up. If your dog is nauseous and repeatedly vomiting without anything in their stomach, this suggests that there may be an underlying issue that requires your veterinarian’s attention. 

Mucus or slimy vomit

If your dog’s vomit is slimy or mucus-like it might be because they’ve been drooling excessively and the drool has then pooled in their stomach. Typically this will look clear in appearance. This can be indicative of a major irritation, so if the slimy vomit persists, you should consult a veterinarian.

Bloody vomit

Bloody vomit is a major health concern and warrants an immediate trip to the veterinarian. Blood in your dog’s vomit could be indicative of several things such as an ulcer, tumor, or even your dog ingesting something poisonous — requiring immediate veterinary attention. Blood in vomit can also have a clumpy, coffee-ground-like appearance.

Green vomit

Green vomit is usually a sign that your dog ate grass and has thrown it up. If this is the case, you’ll also likely notice some undigested pieces of grass. Green vomit can also be caused by a contraction of the gallbladder, which turns into bile in your dog’s stomach.

Signs & symptoms of vomiting in dogs

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:

Why is my dog throwing up?

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 they 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 they 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)

However, vomiting can also be caused by more serious underlying health issues:

How serious is vomiting in dogs?

Just like humans, dogs can get sick for no reason, vomit and then go about their day, so if your dog’s vomiting is an isolated incident and they aren't showing other symptoms, it shouldn’t be cause for concern. However, there are instances when your dog vomiting should be taken seriously, such as:

  • If vomiting is continuous or chronic

  • If they’re vomiting in large amounts

  • If they’re repeatedly retching and not bringing anything up

  • If vomiting is accompanied by symptoms like fever or lethargy

  • If they’re vomiting blood

  • If vomiting is accompanied by bloody diarrhea

  • If you suspect they’ve ingested a foreign object

  • If vomiting is accompanied by seizures

If your dog experiences any of the items above then call your veterinarian immediately as they may need immediate attention.

While one-off instances of vomiting in adult dogs shouldn't be cause for concern, you know your dog best. If in doubt, it’s always safe to call or visit your vet if you’re concerned about your dog vomiting.    

Vomiting in puppies

Vomiting in puppies should always be taken seriously since their immune systems are weaker than adult dogs. Even puppies that are vaccinated according to schedule are at risk for parasites, parvo, and other serious diseases, so if your puppy is vomiting you should seek veterinary attention immediately.

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:

  • Bloodwork

  • X-rays

  • Fecal analysis

  • Urinalysis

  • Ultrasound

  • Biopsies

  • Endoscope evaluation

Dog vomiting treatment

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:

  • Give ice chips. When a dog vomits, there’s a good chance they’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 in dogs contagious for humans or 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 their 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:

  1. 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 their old diet. (You may want to ask your veterinarian for more detailed instructions before changing your dog’s diet.)

  2. Don’t give your dog toys that can be chewed into pieces and swallowed. This can cause intestinal upset and blockage.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. If your dog is very inquisitive, keep a close eye on them when you’re out on walks so they don’t eat things they shouldn’t. You may want to use a basket muzzle when going out on walks.

Is there a vaccine for vomiting in dogs?

There is no vaccine that prevents vomiting.

Summary of vomiting in dogs

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.

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