Thursday, February 19, 2015

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Vomiting

Nothing gets an owner moving faster than the sound of their dog heaving. If you're lucky, you manage to let your dog out in time. Or you might come home from work to a puddle of vomit by the door.

Dogs are built to vomit.

Which is a good thing, considering the kinds of stuff they get into. If something doesn't sit right after it's gone down, back out it comes. That is a good thing, particularly when there is a clear reason you can either think of or discover in the vomit itself.

The signs of impending doom might include your dog drooling, licking their lips (or the furniture, the rugs, themselves) and swallowing excessively. Some seek to eat grass.

If my dog vomits just once, looks and acts normal, and I can put my finger on the cause, I don't get overly worried.

Things my dogs threw up over time include dead mice, pieces of sticks, rocks, pieces of plastic, a sock (we really dodged a bullet there), grass, and horse poop mixed with hay .... Yes, I do worry when I find assorted inedible items in the puke. But as far as I can tell, it all came back out and didn't cause further trouble.

I don't encourage my dogs to eat these things but I can't watch them every second of every day either.

“Drop it” or “leave it” commands are great if you're at the right place at the right time. But this has even backfired on me when Cookie discovered that grabbing sticks is a way to acquire more treats. She'd drop one and accept her treat only to turn around and grab another one. Eventually it turned out that ignoring her stick-grabbing behavior was more successful.

With inedible items you have to worry about obstructions or perforations.

This was one of the reasons we got pet health insurance. Having a lot of free time outside, it is inevitable that the guys will ingest something inappropriate from time to time. As long as it safely makes its way back out, you're in the clear.

If your dog keeps vomiting and/or exhibits signs of distress, it's time to be on your way to the vet.

Signs that you should call your vet include:
  • vomiting more than once or twice
  • projectile vomiting (a sign of possible gastrointestinal obstruction)
  • poor appetite
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • weight loss associated with chronic vomiting, inability to keep food down, or lack of interest in the food
  • changes in drinking and urinary habits
  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal enlargement or distension especially concerning if happening quickly over an hour
  • blood in the vomit (partially digested blood looks like coffee grounds; fresh blood is bright red)
  • attempting to vomit but nothing comes out
  • evidence of poison in the vomit (e.g., packaging or bright green dyes that are included in some types of rat poison)
While there is a serious gross factor involved, examining your dog's vomit might give you important clues as to what's going on. See article What's in the Vomit.

Dogs do seem to conduct scientific studies on the edibility of almost everything in their environment, but it’s important to remember that their vomiting might have nothing to do with what they recently ate.

While vomiting is often caused by a problem in the GI tract itself, the issue might be originating somewhere else all together.

Problems within the GI tract that cause vomiting include:
  • dietary indiscretion
  • foreign bodies
  • intestinal obstruction
  • food intolerance/food allergies
  • parasites (roundworms, hookworms, Giardia, coccidia, etc.)
  • viral infections (canine parvovirus, coronavirus, canine distemper, etc.)
  • bacterial infections (Salmonella, E. coli, etc.)
  • intussusception (telescoping of the intestines which causes a functional obstruction)
  • tumors/growths in the GI tract
  • ulcers in the GI tract
Problems outside the GI tract that can cause vomiting include:
  • kidney disease/kidney failure
  • liver disease/liver failure
  • heart disease
  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • pyometra (infection of the uterus)
  • severe diabetes mellitus
  • Addison’s disease (a disease of the adrenal gland)
  • toxins/poisons
  • medications
If JD or Cookie vomits something inedible, acts normally and is hungry, I might not even withhold food and let them eat shortly after. I leave it up to them whether they want to eat or not. Our guys are usually good at making the right judgment about that.

If you pay close attention your dogs will tell you how ill they feel.

With her IBD, Jasmine threw up fairly frequently. She'd refuse food, her stomach would make gurgly noises and eventually she'd throw up some bile. Shortly after she'd start feeling better and look for food. 

When Cookie got a bout of pancreatitis, she vomited only once and we were on our way to the vet. Why? Because she was looking sick even before she threw up. She was refusing food and looked tired and lethargic. When she threw up we thought that getting it out of her system was going to make her feel better. But because it didn't, we didn't wait any longer.
Know when it's an emergency

Projectile vomiting, vomiting repeatedly, trying to vomit but nothing coming out, blood (whether fresh or digested) ... mean you need to see a vet ASAP.

A vomiting dog who is lethargic, weak, shaking or otherwise obviously in distress, needs to see a vet immediately.

With severe vomiting, you're problem isn't only the underlying cause but also the dehydration, acid-base imbalances and electrolyte disturbances caused by the vomiting.

Waiting too long before seeing a vet could even be fatal.

Related articles:
What’s In the Vomit?
Why Examine Your Dog's Vomit?
One Vomit, No Vomit 
What Happens in a Dog's Body with Severe Vomiting?
Grocery Bag Is Not An Open Buffet: What Was In JD's Vomit 
Causes of Vomiting in Dogs
The Gross Factor: When A Dog Vomits In Your Hands

Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog 
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: What Is That Limp? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Loss
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Loss Of Appetite  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Lethargy 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Fever (Pyrexia)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Regurgitation
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Changes in Urination/Urinary Accidents  
Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea 
Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
Don't Panic, Don't Panic: Know What Your Job Is 

Further reading:
Vomiting in Dogs
Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment of Vomiting in Dogs
Why Is My Dog Vomiting?

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. I am a huge fan of Drop It and Leave It as life-saving commands. They've come in handy for me more times than I can count.

    --Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

    1. Those are certainly great tools. Unfortunately, one isn't ALWAYS there to see what mischief the dog might be into. When Cookie munched on some rocks, we didn't know until she threw them up.

  2. Great info about dogs vomiting. I am always scared that my dogs get something stuck in their mouth

    1. Getting it stuck in their mouth is technically the lesser of the evil. But best scenario is not getting anything stuck anywhere.

  3. It is amazing all of the stuff that dogs can get into. Thanks for educating us all on the difference between an emergency and a "normal" case of vomiting in dogs.

    1. Thank you, Robin. It truly is amazing the things dogs sometimes consider eatable. Or experiment with.

  4. Mauja and Atka have very senstive stomachs so I don't usually worry when they throw up. It's typically a once and done sort of thing. About a month ago, Atka was throwing up blood which had me insanely worried. Thankfully he was okay, but another reason why it's alway important to keep an eye out for these things.

    1. Words like sensitive stomachs always make me suspicious. Jasmine was deemed to have a sensitive stomach and eventually it turned out she had IBD. I believe that sensitive stomach has a cause and I'd investigate until I knew exactly what is going on. Probiotics and supporting healthy motility should be helpful with keeping the GI tract happier too.

      Throwing up blood is certainly worrisome and a reason to see a vet right away. Glad he was ok.

  5. You have some good points. After about 12 years as an adult dog owner, I've pretty much gotten over the gross factor of "what's in the vomit"... "what's in the poop" is still a little tough for me though...

    1. I hear you. I got so used to it it doesn't even mother me. Through I do use gloves to go through it :-)

  6. You've shared a wealth of information for the health of our dogs. I'd say the best advice is not to wait too long before contacting the vet.

    1. Yes, if a dog throws up more than once or twice, it's best not to wait.

  7. Thanks for sharing this important information! You are definitely right about moving fast when they start to heave. For some reason, my dogs always like to throw up in the only room with carpet.

    1. Amazing how fast a human can move, isn't it? Our guys always try to take it outside, so it normally ends up somewhere near the door.

  8. We had a scare about a year back when Luna was vomiting fairly often. It turned out to be just a bit of over dehydration, so we made adjustments to her food to make sure she stays hydrated. Thanks for sharing this great info!

    1. Glad you got it figured out and it was an easy fix.

  9. This was fantastic. With having 6 dogs, I've learned when to be alarmed, and when to know that it's normal. Thanks for sharing this :)

    1. With enough experience, one figures these things out. Though I'm pretty sure when to worry and when not, when in doubt I always err on the side of caution.