What’s the most disgusting thing your dog has eaten? On second thought, don’t answer that.
But while we’re on the subject, here’s a personal observation as both a cat and dog person. One of the biggest differences between cats and dogs is that the former leave their vomit for their human to clear up, while dogs will gobble it up in the length of time it takes to fetch cleaning stuff.
From the “garbage gut” dog to the patient with a gut blockage, often the symptoms of vomiting are the same but the treatment very different. For one, it’s a matter of withholding food; for the other, major intestinal surgery. So let’s take a dog’s-eye view of why your pet pal may be sick.
Throwing Up vs. Regurgitation
First things first: Is the dog who presents you with a sausage-shaped version of breakfast actually vomiting? Probably not.
Regurgitation is a subtly different problem, which matters because it affects which investigative tests are required. Regurgitation is more passive than vomiting and is usually due to food sitting in the gullet (esophagus) that hasn’t reached the stomach.
Typically, the dog lowers his head and the food comes tumbling out in a sausage shape because it’s been sitting in the gullet. (Gee, I hope you’re not eating while reading this.) There’s no nausea or retching involved.
Pro tip: If you suspect your dog is regurgitating, video an episode and show it to your vet.
Throwing Up for Non-Gut-Related Reasons
A dog vomits; therefore, he has a stomach problem — right? Wrong!
Factors outside the gut can make a dog nauseated or cause vomiting. Some examples include:
- Pancreatitis: Digestive juices escape from the pancreas and cause severe inflammation. This can be linked to a recent fatty meal.
- Liver disease: When the liver fails to thoroughly detox the blood, the dog slowly poisons himself.
- Pyometra: Pus in the womb causes bacterial toxins to enter the bloodstream.
- Kidney failure: The kidneys fail to remove naturally occurring toxins from the blood, which build up and inflame the stomach lining.
- Inner ear problems: When the balance mechanism is inflamed or infected, this results in nausea, similar to motion sickness.
- Complicated diabetes: Ketone buildup leads to nausea and vomiting.
- Addison’s disease: Severe electrolyte imbalances in the bloodstream cause vomiting.
- Bladder obstruction: Retention of toxic metabolites cause nausea and vomiting.
Quite a problem list to whittle down — but it doesn’t end there.
Throwing Up Due to Gut Problems
Even this isn’t straightforward, as this list of possible causes shows:
- Garbage gut: Scavenging spoiled food that the body then “rejects.”
- Stomach infections: Food poisoning by any other name.
- Systemic infections: Bugs such as distemper, parvovirus, coronavirus and leptospira cause the entire dog to become ill, of which gut signs are a part.
- Stomach ulcers: Due to stress or caused by drugs eroding the lining of the stomach.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: The causes of inflammatory bowel disease are a whole topic to itself. In a nutshell, this can be food allergy or intolerance, lack of fiber in the diet or stress.
- Drug or toxin reaction: Anything that has contact with the gut wall has the potential to cause inflammation and vomiting.
- Cancer: From localized tumors to general inflammation of the intestine, cancer is a rare cause of vomiting — but not one to be overlooked.
- Foreign body: This one causes most vets the biggest headache. It is the nature of dogs to investigate with their mouths and to chew. This can lead to swallowed toys, yogurt pots, stones — you name it. If these get stuck in the gut, then the consequences can be very serious.
What to Do When Your Dog Throws Up
If your dog seems otherwise well but has vomited, then withhold food for 12–24 hours, but allow access to water. Then give bland food for their next meal. However, if you are worried, go seek a vet’s opinion.
Indeed, take the dog to a vet if you see the following:
- Blood in the vomit
- Vomiting for longer than 4 hours
- Unable to keep water down
- Listless or lethargic
- Also has diarrhea
- Trying to be sick but bringing nothing up
- Has other symptoms apart from vomiting
As you see, the reasons for a dog throwing up are many and varied, so for safety’s sake, hand the problem over to your vet.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed June 30, 2017.