Vomiting in Dogs: Is He Actually Vomiting?

by Lorie Huston, DVM 

Vomiting is a common occurrence in dogs and can be a major concern for their owners. There are many causes of vomiting and vomiting can range from being an isolated incident of very little concern to your dog’s health to being a major threat to his health and well-being.

But how do you determine the difference? 

Firstly, you need to determine whether your dog is truly vomiting.


Is Vomiting Really Vomiting?

While vomiting is a very real symptom and one we see frequently in dogs, there are a few other instances that can cause symptoms that appear very similar while not actually being vomiting in reality.

In order to accurately diagnose the cause of a symptom or illness, we need to understand what we are seeing.

Let’s start by defining vomiting.

Vomiting is defined as the forceful expulsion of contents from the stomach

The contents “thrown up” when your dog vomits may be anything that is in his stomach, including undigested or partially digested food, yellowish-colored bile-tinged fluid, or even foreign objects your dog has swallowed.

Vomiting is typically an active process and you will usually see your dog’s abdomen heaving as he vomits.

At the same time, your dog may be nauseous, in the same fashion that you probably feel nauseous when you are vomiting. Nausea may result in excessive salivation or drooling and it is possible that your dog may feel nauseous even if he is not actively vomiting.

Vomiting Versus Regurgitation

Vomiting must be differentiated from regurgitation.

Regurgitation is the term that is used to describe the expulsion of the contents of the mouth, pharynx or esophagus

In other words, regurgitation involves “throwing up” food and other content that has not yet made its way to the stomach.

Regurgitation is a more passive process than vomiting. 

There is no abdominal heaving involved. There may be a little gagging involved but basically undigested food will simply pass back up through your dog’s mouth when he regurgitates. In most cases, the regurgitated material will be undigested food and it may be covered with mucus.

Respiratory Symptoms and Vomiting

Another scenario that may be mistaken for vomiting can happen when a dog is experiencing respiratory symptoms and is coughing up respiratory secretions.

This can usually be differentiated from true vomiting by the presence of other respiratory symptoms such as coughing, gagging, wheezing and/or difficulty breathing. When coughing up respiratory secretions, the “thrown up” material is likely to be white and frothy in appearance.

Diagnosing the Cause

Naturally, if any of these symptoms are occurring for your dog on a regular basis, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.

With a thorough physical examination and good history of your dog’s physical symptoms, it is usually possible to determine whether your dog is truly vomiting or experiencing some other health issue.

Bringing a sample of the material your dog is “throwing up” can help determine whether the material is made up of stomach contents if you are uncertain. 

Because of the acidic nature of the stomach, stomach contents will have a pH value that is much more acidic than that of regurgitated food or other materials. The pH value can easily be measured.

The list of possible causes of true vomiting is much different than the things that can cause regurgitation.

Similarly, if your dog is experiencing respiratory issues rather than gastrointestinal issues, the differential list changes dramatically.

Once it has been determined that your dog is truly vomiting instead of regurgitating, a diagnostic plan can be pursued to find the cause and a treatment plan can be chosen to resolve your dog’s illness.

Articles by Dr. Huston:
Lyme Is Lame (Pun Intended)
The Ticking Bomb
Don't Let Heartworm Become A Heartbreak!
Summer Perils: Blue-green Algae
Your Dog And Leptospirosis
Canine Parvovirus
Canine Distemper Virus
Why Is My Dog So Itchy? Top 5 Causes Of Itching In Dogs 
Vaccination Concerns and Potential Side Effects 
Natural Flea Control for Dogs 

Related articles:
What's In The Urine? (Part I)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
Excessive Drinking
Bad Odor
Excessive Panting
Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire: A Symptom Is Your Friend!
When Is It An Emergency?


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