By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Caring for a four-legged best friend brings big responsibility but results in even greater rewards. Slobbery kisses and wet noses are just some of the joys dog owners experience. In fact, dog parents can often set the clock on their pet’s mealtime, playtime, and couch cuddle time, so changes in your dog's daily habits or behavior may be a clue that they are not feeling well. Many pet owners have experienced the worry of a sick pet, and most dogs will experience vomiting during their lifetime. Vomiting, or throwing up, is not a disease but can be a sign of an underlying illness or a serious health problem in some cases.
Differentiating between vomiting and regurgitation in your dog
It is not uncommon for pet owners to confuse vomiting and regurgitation. Regurgitation is a less common health condition than vomiting and results from esophageal contraction or dysfunction that often occurs immediately after a meal. Regurgitated food will look similar to fresh food because it has not been digested and is mucous-covered.
Dog vomiting is a more active process caused by abdominal muscle contraction. During a vomiting episode, your dog’s body may be tensed while they are gagging and/or heaving to remove food from their stomach or upper small intestine. In most cases, your pet will vomit partially digested food that may contain a clear, yellow, or green liquid. Precursors to your dog vomiting may include:
- Eating grass
- A smiling appearance
- Loud abdominal sounds or gurgling
- Loss of appetite
Common causes for vomiting in your dog
Most dogs will have a vomiting episode during their lifetime, and in some cases, it may not be a cause for immediate veterinary care. However, regardless of the underlying reason, pets with multiple vomiting episodes are at risk for dehydration and electrolyte problems, which can be life-threatening without treatment. Potential causes for your dog vomiting that are generally not life-threatening may include:
- Motion sickness – Like people, your dog can also become nauseous during a car ride or plane trip.
- Behavioral causes (e.g., stress, excitement, anxiety) – Dogs who ingest food too fast due to excitement or stress, or dogs who have anxiety, may suffer from the occasional upset stomach that can lead to vomiting. Native Pet’s Calming Chews can help decrease the chances of your pet vomiting due to behavioral causes.
- Food allergy/sensitivity – Some dog food ingredients, especially certain proteins, like beef, are the culprit for food allergies in pets and may lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, or constipation.
Potentially life-threatening causes for your dog vomiting may include:
- Gastroenteritis/indigestion – If your pet prefers dumpster diving to their food bowl, then they have an increased risk of vomiting. Table scraps and garbage can be difficult for pets to digest, which can lead to a single vomiting episode, or chronic vomiting, in severe cases.
- Pancreatitis – Although tempting, never share your plate with your pet. Rich, fatty foods can lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammatory condition that can be deadly without treatment. Dogs suffering from pancreatitis often have vomiting, painful stomachs, and diarrhea.
- Foreign body/intestinal blockage – Dog toys or small children’s toys, socks, sticks, rocks, or other foreign objects can cause life-threatening intestinal blockages. In many cases, vomiting is the first sign your dog may have ingested a dangerous object. Bring your pet for immediate veterinary care if you suspect they have ingested a foreign object.
- Infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic) – Parvovirus is a common cause of vomiting in puppies; fortunately, a vaccine is available to prevent this potentially deadly virus. Intestinal parasites like roundworms, various fungi, or bacteria can infect your dog’s digestive system and cause vomiting.
- Toxin ingestion – Many household items, including cleaning products, pesticides, human medications, foods, and popular houseplants, can cause your dog to throw up. Immediately call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin.
- Underlying diseases – Various diseases, including kidney disease, liver failure, cancer, or gastric ulcers, can cause vomiting in your dog.
Do I stay or do I go: when to visit your veterinarian
Occasional vomiting episodes, like when your pet eats too fast, may not be cause for concern or warrant an immediate veterinary visit. However, never hesitate to seek veterinary advice if you are concerned about your pet’s health, regardless of the reason or concern. If your dog has a single vomiting episode and appears otherwise normal, it is likely unnecessary to rush to your veterinary office. However, immediately bring your dog for medical care if your dog has the following concurrent signs:
- Excessive continued vomiting or vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours
- Lack of appetite
- Vomiting blood
- Bloated abdomen
- Painful abdomen
- Foaming at the mouth
- Attempting to vomit without effect
Natural home remedies to support your vomiting dog
Under your veterinarian's direction and/or approval, various home remedies or supplemental care can be considered to help calm your dog’s tummy and prevent future vomiting episodes. Following an initial vomiting episode, withholding food for several hours can help to calm their gastrointestinal (GI) tract and prevent additional vomiting episodes. However, never withhold water from your pet unless directed to by your veterinarian. Dogs who are vomiting are at risk for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, so water and additional hydration is critical to prevent a life-threating condition. In addition to providing your dog a water bowl with fresh, clean water, the following can help increase and support your pet’s hydration:
- Offering your dog ice chips every few hours
- Offering small amounts of Native Pet’s Bone Broth to provide easily digestible nutritional support and hydration
- Placing bone broth ice cubes in your dog’s water bowl to encourage them to drink
- Creating a broth with Native Pet’s Probiotic Powder to help reset their gut flora
Dogs who are vomiting due to mild indigestion or other minor stomach problems can be offered a bland diet after a 12 to 24-hour fasting period to allow their GI tract to process nutrition more easily. Always consult your veterinarian to determine the appropriate length of time to fast your dog. Additionally, young dogs should never be fasted for more than 12 hours. A bland dog diet may include:
- Plain, broiled, skinless chicken
- Oatmeal or plain white rice
- Native Pet’s Pumpkin Powder to provide a nutritional boost, regulate your dog’s digestive system, and aid in regular bowel movements
Herbal remedies to support your vomiting dog
Some herbs, like ginger, may help prevent motion-sickness-related nausea and vomiting in your dog. Ginger is a well-known tropical plant that has been used in Traditional Chinese medicine and Western medical practices. Although there is limited available animal research, there is anecdotal evidence that ginger can help alleviate nausea, and it is generally considered safe to use in pets. However, some pets may have skin sensitivity or an allergic reaction from contact with ginger. Use caution with feeding your pet ginger if they have a bleeding disorder, are taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, have gallbladder disease, or are pregnant or nursing. Always consult your veterinarian before starting your pet on a new supplement.
Slippery elm is another popular herbal supplement that is used to alleviate an upset stomach and other GI problems in people. There are no known animal studies, but like ginger, anecdotal evidence suggests that it can help alleviate an upset stomach in dogs. Slippery elm also has the ability to coat intestinal surfaces, which can provide added relief and help decrease inflammation. Although there are no known side effects, it is critical to speak with your veterinarian before starting any herbal remedy. Additionally, ensure not to give slippery elm within two hours of other medications to prevent decreased medication efficacy. Herbal supplements should never replace a visit to your veterinarian, but can serve as natural adjunctive treatment to support your nauseated pup.
Vomiting may be the first clue that your dog has an underlying medical or behavioral problem. Never hesitate to contact your veterinarian when your pup has an upset stomach so that you can get to the root of their vomiting problem. Natural remedies and herbal supplements can help lessen your dog’s vomiting, as well as decrease the risk of secondary problems like dehydration.