It's bound to happen to every dog owner: You feed your pooch a meal and they gobble it up happily. A few minutes later, you hear them retching. Before you know it, your dog has thrown up their stomach contents, leaving you with a gross mess. 

When vomiting happens shortly after eating, the food will be undigested simply because it didn't have enough time to work its way through their digestive system. But why do our canine companions throw up undigested food? 

There are all sorts of reasons why a dog might vomit, including sickness, foreign body ingestion, toxins, and much more. While the occasional isolated episode of vomiting isn't a huge cause for concern (more on that later), continuous or frequent vomiting definitely means something is wrong.

Let's take a closer look at canine vomiting and regurgitation to help you answer the ultimate question: Why is your dog throwing up undigested food? 

What's the Difference Between Vomiting and Regurgitation?

You'll often see the terms "vomiting" and "regurgitation" used interchangeably. But the truth is that these two are different.

Regurgitation refers to the return of food into your dog's mouth after it's been swallowed. Your dog swallowed food, but it came back from the stomach through the esophagus and out of your pet's mouth. The esophageal muscles pushed the food back out rather than the stomach muscles. 

When your dog vomits, on the other hand, the food is pushed back out of the stomach by the stomach muscles. The contents could be undigested, or they could be partially or fully digested depending on how much time passed between your dog eating and their vomiting episode.

To put it simply, regurgitation involves the esophagus pushing food out of your dog's body before it’s digested. Vomiting refers to the stomach expelling its contents, whether it's undigested food or partially or fully digested food.

Why Do Dogs Regurgitate Food?

dog throwing up undigested food: Dog lying on a white linen while looking at the camera

Even if your dog is just regurgitating their food rather than vomiting, you'll still be wondering: Why is my dog throwing up undigested food?

There are a few common causes of regurgitation in our canine friends. They include:

  • Eating too much: If your dog overeats, their body might naturally expel their meal. 
  • Eating too fast: If your dog gobbles up food quickly, they might feel sick and wind up regurgitating their kibble. 
  • Stress or anxiety: One of the potential symptoms of stress and anxiety in dogs is nausea, and it can cause your pet to regurgitate a meal they just ate. 
  • Megaesophagus: This is a condition in which your dog's esophagus dilates, which stops food from moving into the stomach properly. 

You can usually tell when your dog has regurgitated food rather than vomiting it. Regurgitated food, disgusting as it may be, will essentially look the same as it did before your dog ate it. It will probably be slick with saliva, but it will basically be intact. 

Vomited food, by contrast, will be mushier and will probably contain some gastric juices like bile. Vomit may also be colored differently than Fido's food, taking on a yellow hue in many cases. And while regurgitated food will smell like, well, normal dog food, vomit will have a particularly foul and somewhat sour odor.    

Why Do Dogs Vomit Food?

If your dog is throwing up undigested food but it isn’t immediately after they've eaten, they're probably vomiting. As described above, you can usually tell vomiting from regurgitation by the consistency, color, and smell of the stomach contents. 

So, why do dogs vomit? There are many possible causes. 

Foreign Object Ingestion

One of the most common causes of vomiting in dogs is eating a foreign object or material, otherwise known as dietary indiscretion. Garbage, table scraps, socks, batteries, stones, bones, sticks — the possibilities are endless. Many dogs seem to enjoy eating grass, too — if you see the color green in your dog's vomit, this is usually the reason. 

Tell your veterinarian immediately if your dog ate something he or she shouldn't have. They’ll need to take quick action to make sure your pet is okay.

Intestinal Parasites

Infestation by an intestinal parasite like roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms could cause a dog to vomit. If you see associated symptoms like diarrhea, loss of appetite, or lethargy, or if you spot worm segments in your dog's vomit or stool, an infestation might be likely.

Luckily, worm infestations aren't usually difficult to treat. Your vet can prescribe a dewormer that will kill off the parasites. 

Poisoning

If your dog ingests a toxin, such as antifreeze, pesticides, rat poison, or a medication like acetaminophen, vomiting could result. You might also see drooling, uncoordinated movements, or collapse. This is a medical emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian right away.

Viral Infections 

Viral infections including parvovirus and distemper can cause vomiting, along with symptoms like weakness, appetite loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and more. Notify your vet as soon as you see these symptoms. 

Disease

Aside from viral infections, plenty of diseases could cause vomiting as well. The list includes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), pancreatitis, Addison's disease, gastroenteritis, kidney failure, and much more. If you can't determine another cause for your dog's vomiting or regurgitation, let your veterinarian know — a disease could be the root cause. 

Motion Sickness

Did you know that dogs can experience motion sickness, just like we can? If your dog vomits during or after a car ride, this is likely the cause. Your vet can recommend preventative measures or prescribe medication to help your pet feel more comfortable in the car. 

Food Allergies

Dogs can be allergic to ingredients in their food, like chicken, pork, beef, soy, or wheat, for example. Vomiting is a common sign of food allergies, along with itchy skin, diarrhea, and possible weight loss. You'll need to work with your vet to conduct food trials to determine what your dog is allergic to. From there, you can change what your dog eats to avoid any problems. 

Want to help your dog feel less itchy at home? Native Pet's Allergy Chicken Chews target itchy skin and hot spots to help your dog feel more comfortable. They may be of use if your dog is prone to food allergies or environmental allergies. 

When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog Vomiting?

Puppy sitting in front of an empty bowl and looking up at the camera

As you can see, there are all sorts of potential causes for your dog throwing up undigested food. And it's entirely possible that your dog doesn't have anything wrong with them at all — they might just have a sensitive stomach. So, what should dog owners do if their dog is vomiting or regurgitating food?

If your dog regurgitates or vomits once and doesn't continue to expel food, keep an eye on them for the next few hours. If no further vomiting or regurgitation occurs and they seem fine, it was probably just an isolated incident. You can try giving them a bit of water or a handful of kibble to see how they react. You might also try feeding a bland diet of boiled chicken and white rice for a bit. This can be soothing for your dog's digestive tract. 

If the vomiting or regurgitation continues, or if you see symptoms like those described above, it's time to call the vet. And if you know your dog ate a foreign object, you should take your dog to the emergency room for veterinary attention. Your dog might have a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract, and it might require emergency surgery to correct. 

Here's the bottom line: If you're concerned about your dog's regurgitation or vomiting, or if you're seeing chronic vomiting, it's time to call your vet's office. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

You can do your part to maintain your dog's good gut health by giving them a probiotic supplement. This helps to promote a thriving microbiome and large and small intestine, which can help avoid upset stomach and associated regurgitation or vomiting. Native Pet's all-natural probiotic powder is a great choice. 

Why Is My Dog Throwing Up Undigested Food, and How Do I Respond?

Why is your dog throwing up undigested food? There are many possibilities. Usually, it's regurgitation. Your dog may have eaten too much, too fast, or they may be suffering from stress. Megaesophagus is also a possibility, so you'll want to check with your vet to be sure. 

If your dog is vomiting, it usually happens at least a few minutes after your dog has eaten. Your dog's stomach contents will probably be mushier and will look and smell less like the food they ate. In this case, it's time to call the vet. Disease, infection, parasites, foreign body ingestion, poisoning, food allergies, and much more could be to blame.

Pay attention when your dog throws up food, whether it's undigested, partially digested, or fully digested. As soon as you think it's something more than an isolated incident, play it safe and call your vet. 

To learn more about your dog's health and care needs, visit the Native Pet blog here.

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