Why Is My Dog Throwing Up?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM June 25, 2020
There is probably nothing more retching than hearing your dog throw up, especially if that happens in the middle of the night. But whether throwing up occurs in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, no dog parent wants to see their best friend in misery. So let’s look at some of the reasons that dogs throw up, how you can help them, and how to prevent vomiting episodes in the future.
Why Is My Dog Throwing Up?
Vomiting is a dog’s way of ridding their stomach of something that is disagreeable, sort of a first line of defense to prevent further issues. For some dogs, throwing up may seem like a constant issue in their lives. But for others, it’s a first time experience that never happened before that may trigger alarms bells to go off. Either way, there are many different reasons why a dog may throw up.
Your Dog May Throw Up …
What and when your dog throws up will tell you a lot about why they’re throwing up. Sometimes vomiting will be a one and done occurrence, while other times it may be a repeat performance. Typically, dogs that vomit once and then appear fine are fine, it’s the ones that vomit more than once or have other accompanying symptoms that you need to worry about. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what types of things your dog may throw up and what it may mean.
- Undigested food
If the vomit is undigested food, then that means the food wasn’t in the stomach for very long, or if at all. This is more commonly referred to as regurgitation as it typically doesn’t require ignition of the vomiting center in the brain or the forceful abdominal heaving to expel contents in the stomach. Rather, it’s a more passive motion where the food just sort of comes out. Regurgitation happens within a couple minutes of eating and can be the result of eating too much too fast, an esophageal problem called megaesophagus, or less commonly a condition affecting the opening to the stomach.
- Partially digested food
This type of vomit contains some partially identifiable food bits and lots of thickened liquid, which is the food that’s been broken down. When a dog vomits food hours after eating it, the cause is usually something in the food, meaning that the stomach had some time to work with it and found something disagreeable. The disagreeable item may be a toxin, foreign object, rotten food, etc. Dogs may also vomit partially digested food if they exercised too soon on a full stomach or drank a lot of water following their meal, especially in warmer weather.
- Clear liquid
If your dog is throwing up liquid, with no food particles, the reason for their vomiting is usually due to something other than food. Clear or yellow liquid vomit can be a sign of liver or kidney disease, pancreatitis, or severe gastritis (stomach inflammation). When dogs throw up liquid, the timing of their vomiting has no relation to meals. In fact, they’re probably not eating at all or eating very little. You will likely notice other symptoms such as diarrhea, increased water consumption, lethargy or stomach pain as well.
- White foam
This can be similar to clear liquid in that it is due to an underlying disease rather than something your pup ate, or it may not deal with vomiting at all. Sometimes dogs ‘throw up’ white foam when they’ve been retching or coughing from kennel cough or an esophageal obstruction. In these cases, the dogs cough so hard that they actually bring up some foam from their stomach. You will probably notice them coughing pre and post vomit, as well as not wanting to eat or having difficulty swallowing, similar to a sore throat in humans.
Blood in your dog’s vomit can look one of two ways. It may be bright red like we’re used to seeing from wounds, or it may be partially digested and appear brown and grainy like coffee grounds. Blood can get into vomit either through something they ate, such as raw meat, or from a bleed somewhere in their mouth, esophagus, or stomach. Severe gastritis, ulcers, and injuries from a foreign object can all cause your dog to throw up blood.
- And shake
Dogs may shake or tremble for all kinds of reasons, even excitement. Although, chances are if they’re vomiting, their shaking isn’t because they’re happy. Dogs may also shake from pain or nausea. Usually dogs won’t shake after throwing up if it’s a one-time occurrence. Shaking is reserved for when they’re really sick, like with toxin ingestion, liver or kidney issues, pancreatitis, or severe gastritis.
- And have diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea often go hand-in-hand. If the stomach is upset enough to cause vomiting, then the intestines are often upset enough to create diarrhea. Gastroenteritis refers to the inflammation of the stomach and intestines and can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, parasites, medications, new foods, or something that shouldn’t have been eaten.
What Should I Do After My Dog Throws Up?
You may not want to hear this, but after your dog vomits you should look at it to examine it for possible causes. Check to see if the contents of the vomit are just liquid or if there are food partials in there, blood, or any other odd colors or textures. If you end up seeing your vet for further diagnostics, this will help them sleuth out the cause.
If your dog throws up one time and seems fine afterwards, then chances are they just ate a little something that was disagreeable. However, if they throw up several times within a 12 hour period or have any other symptoms, you’ll want to see your veterinarian.
What Diet Should I Feed My Dog That Is Throwing Up?
If your dog picked up an extra tidbit that has their stomach a little unsettled, you can try feeding them a bland diet for a couple of days to help them get back to normal. There are many veterinary prescribed diets out there that are low fat and easily digestible that will give your dog’s stomach a break while it’s sorting through the issues. You can also give them some boiled chicken and rice or pasta as a home cooked alternative.
The most important thing to remember is to feed small meals more frequently regardless of whether you’re feeding a bland diet or their regular dog food. Small portions every couple of hours will provide your dog with the energy and protein that they need to keep going without asking their digestive system to work overtime. Smaller meals will also sit better for those dogs that tend to scarf food like they have a time constraint or for when the weather is warmer and nobody feels like a big meal anyway.
When Should I Be Concerned That My Dog Is Throwing Up?
Again, vomiting can be a very normal part of some dog’s lifestyle, especially those that prefer to explore their environment with their mouth. Occasional throwing up without other symptoms may be normal for indiscriminate eaters. You should be concerned if your dog is vomiting more than two or three times during a 12 hour period or if they have other issues like diarrhea, a fever, stomach pain, or a change in appetite.
The severity of vomiting will fluctuate based on the cause of it. Some dogs may vomit 6 times within 12 hours and feel ok, whereas others will vomit twice in 12 hours and be very sick. Rely on your gut instinct to tell you whether you should seek veterinary attention.
Also, long term, or chronic, vomiting should be a concern. Intermittent vomiting that is leading to weight loss, a dull hair coat, or other changes should be checked out.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Throwing Up?
The best thing for your dog to eat is a high quality dog food, not table scraps, cat food, or a low quality diet. Keeping your dog on a consistent dog food with a fairly reliable feeding schedule will help keep their digestive system happy. You don’t want to switch up brands or feed larger portions in order to make up for a missed meal. This can all lead to vomiting.
You also don’t want to let your dog scavenge or eat things that they shouldn’t. Keep your garbage secured to prevent break-ins and keep your dog on a leash when out walking to prevent them from eating other animals’ feces, rotten meat, plants, and other undesirable objects.
Stay current on vaccinations as many diseases that can cause your dog to throw up can be prevented with these injections. This is especially important if your dog is groomed or boarded, frequents the dog park or hangs out anywhere that a lot of other dogs have been.
When Should Your Dog See A Veterinarian For Throwing Up?
Anytime you’re concerned about your dog’s throwing up warrants a veterinary visit. Since there are so many causes of vomiting in dogs, the sooner you make the trip, the better. Again, causes for concern include frequent vomiting of more than two to three times in a 12 hour period, other symptoms, or chronic vomiting.
A major complication of vomiting is dehydration. This makes even mild vomiting a concern, especially if your dog isn’t drinking. If you notice any signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, sticky or dry gums, or tented skin, see your vet right away.
None of us like to see our pups throw up. We hate to see our best friends in distress. Plus the leftover mess can be a real pain to clean up. While vomiting may simply be a way your dog gets rid of disagreeable contents in their stomach, it can also be a sign of a severe underlying condition. So don’t be afraid to get your vet involved if your dog throws up multiple times throughout the day or is showing any other symptoms.