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Vomiting in Dogs

Dogs vomit occasionally for a variety of relatively benign reasons – to expel something unwanted from their stomach, as a result of gastric irritation or in response to colonic stimulus, for example. Prolonged, unrelenting vomiting or regurgitation, however, can be the sign of a serious condition, anything from head trauma or toxin exposure to pancreatic cancer or gastrointestinal obstruction.

WHAT IS VOMITING

Vomiting is defined as the forceful emptying of the stomach’s contents. It is caused by a signal from the brain to the stomach that originates in a part of the brain known as the vomiting center. Vomiting initially developed because it helps save animals from poisoning. Nerves in the abdomen or certain substances in the bloodstream indicate to the brain that the animal may have eaten something toxic, and vomiting can help to rid the body of the toxic substance. Although this does occur now, the actual ingestion of toxins has become less of a threat to our pets than to their wild ancestors; over time, many more triggers began to induce the brain to signal vomiting. Prolonged vomiting can be dangerous because it can lead to life-threatening dehydration.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Dogs drool, lick their lips, and swallow excessively just before vomiting or when they feel nauseous. Some may eat grass, possibly to relieve gastric irritation or serve as self-induced emetic.

It is important to distinguish between vomiting and regurgitation — the latter happens spontaneously, raising undigested food with no abdominal effort. Usually, this is a sign of esophageal issues or other problems occurring early on in the digestive process. Regurgitation should not be classified with vomiting as a different range of possible causes are associated with regurgitation.

PRIMARY CAUSE

Vomiting usually empties the stomach of unwanted or indigestible material. It also accompanies a wide range of more serious problems triggered by nausea or gastric inflammation/irritation. Anything from infections and ulcers to cancer and drug reactions can lead to vomiting.

OTHER CAUSES

Primary stomach or intestinal diseases that can cause vomiting include:

  • Parasites
  • Toxins
  • Foreign bodies
  • Spoiled food
  • Food allergies
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cancer

Secondary or nonstomach disorders that can cause vomiting include:

  • Motion sickness
  • Thyroid disease (in cats)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Pyometra (uterine infection)
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Canine parvovirus or distemper
  • Feline panleukopenia virus

IMMEDIATE CARE

For severe, unrelenting vomiting:

  • 1.Remove all food made available to your dog.
  • 2.Check for shock. If your pet is in shock from vomiting, pale skin/gums, an abnormal attitude and/or collapse/coma may result, which requires immediate veterinary attention.
  • 3.Check for dehydration. If the dog is dehydrated, immediate veterinary assistance is also needed.

For occasional or infrequent vomiting (and if the dog is not in shock or dehydrated):

  • 1.Do not give the dog food for 12 hours.
  • 2.Instead, provide the dog with ice cubes to lick or two to three tablespoons of water every half hour. This will help keep the mouth moist.
  • 3.After 12 hours, reintroduce clean, fresh water.
  • 4.Reintroduce bland food between 12 and 24 hours after the initial vomiting incident. A mixture of rice and chicken is best (one part lean meat to five parts starch is ideal), but do not overdo it. Two to three teaspoons is enough to test if the dog is able to partake of the food.
  • 5.If the dog does not vomit, continue with a little more bland food every hour or two.
  • 6.If vomiting stops, your pet can return to a normal diet the next day.

DIAGNOSIS

Continued, repetitive, or serious vomiting should be investigated more fully. A vet will more than likely be able to help diagnose the underlying condition with X-rays, bloodwork, fecal analysis, urinalysis, ultrasound imaging and/or a barium study, among other things. If you can bring a sample of the dog’s vomitus with you, it may also help in the diagnostic process.

PREVENTION

Many causes of vomiting cannot be prevented, but for those that can, observe the following rules:

  • 1.Don’t change your dog’s diet suddenly. Always use a gradual approach in case gastric irritation or intestinal upset should result (a common occurrence as the result of sudden dietary changes).
  • 2.Don’t give the dog toys that can be swallowed or chewed into pieces, thereby causing gastric and/or intestinal irritation.
  • 3.Don’t give your dog bones. These, too, are routinely implicated in vomiting episodes.
  • 4.Don’t let your dog scavenge. “Garbage gut” is what veterinarians commonly call the gastroenteritis caused by consuming scavenged items from the garbage.
  • 5.Watch inquisitive dogs carefully when out and about. A basket muzzle to keep dogs from non-edible items they’d unwisely elect to consume may be in order.

HOW CAN I PREVENT VOMITING

Vomiting is a signal to the owner and the veterinary team that something is wrong. If your pet vomits once, remove food and water for a few hours. Continuing to eat and drink may cause the vomiting to continue instead of stopping after one episode. If your pet continues to vomit without having anything to eat or drink, call your veterinarian. Also, do not allow your pet to eat grass — this is an old wives’ tale and does not benefit the pet.

In fact, eating grass can contribute to additional medical problems. Sometimes it can be very difficult to determine the cause of vomiting. This is especially true if a pet is not well supervised or has access to a variety to things that can cause vomiting. Keeping a watchful eye on what your pet eats and preventing his or her access to harmful substances will help prevent many causes of vomiting.

Having routine physical examinations, fecal testing, and wellness blood work performed regularly can permit the early discovery and treatment of medical conditions such as parasites, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, thyroid disease, and other conditions that can cause vomiting. A watchful eye, along with early diagnosis and treatment of primary disease, provide the opportunity to prevent vomiting in many cases.

 

Call us if you see any strange symptoms in your pets.

Our resources and articles originate from other sources such as VetStreet and PetMD, and are meant for general pet care information. Please contact our office directly for specific questions concerning your pets or any other animals you may come into contact with.

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