Anyone who has a dog has likely experienced them throwing up at least once or twice.
Before you panic, you should be aware that it’s a relatively common occurrence.
There are many causes for nausea in pets, so if you're worried about your dog, it's important to talk to a vet. They can help you decide how serious the vomiting is and what you need to do.
The first step is to figure out whether your pet is actually vomiting versus regurgitating, as these conditions have very different causes as well as treatments. Regurgitation is more of a passive process that occurs quickly, without heaving and often soon after eating or drinking. The food that is brought up is usually undigested and often in a tubular shape, as it comes from the esophagus and not the stomach.
Vomiting, however, is often more distressing for your dog; they may pace and lick their lips before actively using their abdominal muscles (heaving) to bring up the contents of their stomach.
Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference, but your vet will be able to figure out the difference either by observing your dog vomiting or by questioning you about what the contents of the vomit look like.
There are many possible causes for vomiting. Some of these causes are relatively mild and will self-limit within 24-48 hours, but sometimes vomiting can be a symptom of a more serious ailment.
Here are some of the major causes of vomiting in dogs:
A change in diet
Eating something they shouldn't
Inflammation of the gut
Some dogs, like humans, have sensitive stomachs; any sudden diet change (including changing their dog food suddenly instead of gradually) can cause them to vomit. Dogs can also vomit from food allergies or simply because they ate too fast.
Dogs can also vomit if they’ve eaten something that is toxic to them. Dogs that accidentally get into the garbage can consume human foods that could potentially be harmful.
Dogs that tend to chew on toys or other objects could also swallow parts of those items. Objects with sharp edges could potentially cause irritation to the stomach or gut and cause vomiting. A blockage of the intestinal tract can occur if the object is too large to move through the gut. This will often result in explosive vomiting and can get serious very quickly if left untreated. Dogs with suspected blockages of the intestinal tract should see a vet as soon as possible, as this could be a medical emergency and even require surgery.
Not all dogs love car rides. Some dogs are prone to throwing up, even during a short and easy car ride. Your dog may have a case of motion sickness if the vomiting only occurs when they are riding in the car. This is nothing major to worry about, but if it happens repeatedly and you're planning on taking your dog away with you often, you should reach out to your vet to get their insight on ways you can reduce the chances of this occurring again.
There are cases where dogs will seem fine during the day, but vomit regularly in the early morning hours when their stomachs are empty. This condition is often referred to as bilious vomiting. It's actually not uncommon and usually happens when the dog’s stomach is empty of food and the stomach acid is starting to build up a bit and irritate the stomach lining, causing nausea.
Inflammation of the gut (the stomach and intestines) has many causes, including viral or bacterial infections, parasites, and food intolerance. Depending on the cause, the vomiting can be sudden or longer term and your vet will have to do a clinical exam and possibly some further tests (including blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasound scans) to find the cause for the inflammation.
Pancreatitis is another serious condition that will require treatment by your vet. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can lead to vomiting as well as other symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and pain in the abdomen. Dogs with pancreatitis will often go into a downward dog or praying position to try to relieve the pain. Pancreatitis can be very serious and you should head to the vet immediately if your dog has these symptoms.
The exact reasons for bloat are to some extent still unknown, but bloat sometimes occurs after a dog has eaten too quickly and can be a medical emergency. In cases of bloat, dogs will often heave and try to vomit, but their attempts will be mostly unproductive and they will not vomit anything up. In addition to this, other symptoms of bloat include restlessness, an enlargement of the dog’s abdomen, salivation, and frequently looking at their belly. If your dog doesn’t receive treatment immediately, the condition can become fatal. It's better to seek professional help sooner rather than later if you suspect bloat.
Vomiting can sometimes be caused by cancer. It might be cancer directly affecting the gut or cancer in another organ system causing the nausea. Other symptoms might include weight loss, visible lumps, poor appetite, and lethargy. A vet will make the diagnosis based on the results of a clinical exam and diagnostic tests.
Vomiting is not always caused by something going on in the gut itself, but can sometimes be triggered by disease processes in other organ systems. Liver and kidney problems commonly cause nausea for example, as well as issues like infection and endocrine disease (an example would be diabetes).
In addition to providing any context about lifestyle changes your dog has undergone, the appearance and texture of the vomit is also an important thing to note and share with your vet.
Bile, for example, looks quite different from regurgitated kibble. If you're speaking with a veterinarian through telehealth, it will be easy to share photographs of your dog’s vomit. Please keep in mind that this information should not be used to self diagnose your dog, and if you notice vomiting of any kind, it’s best to speak to a veterinarian.
If your dog is throwing up yellow vomit, this could be bile secretions from an empty stomach. This most commonly occurs in the middle of the night or early morning, and can be due to reflux, acid buildup, or any other condition that causes nausea.
Foamy, white vomit is indicative of a buildup of acid in the stomach. Contact with air and wallowing around in the stomach can cause the foamy appearance.
We touched on this one earlier, but this happens when food is ejected from the esophagus and likely occurs shortly after eating or drinking.
If your dog is throwing up clear liquid, this can be caused by stomach secretions or drinking water when feeling nauseous. The water can pool in the stomach and come up on its own when they vomit.
If your dog is throwing up blood, this could indicate a few different things depending on the color and texture. Clots of blood, fresh red blood, or blood that looks like coffee grounds could mean that there's bleeding in the upper small intestine or stomach. This should be taken very seriously and we recommend contacting a vet immediately.
If there's a slightly pink tinge to your dog's vomit and the vomiting does not last long, this situation might not be as urgent, but should still be brought to the attention of a vet.
Due to the variety of possible reasons for your dog throwing up, it's always recommended to speak to a vet when your dog is vomiting.
If your dog’s vomiting is relatively mild, you can try to treat them at home for a short period to see if they improve. These are cases where the vomiting has been occurring for less than 24 hours or they have no other symptoms. If your dog has any other concurrent symptoms like diarrhea, not eating, lethargy, pain, or discomfort, or you see blood in the vomit, you should have your dog examined by a vet. If you're uncertain about the symptoms and whether you can attempt home treatment first, you can always contact Pawp to speak to one of our pros.
To allow the gut some time to rest and heal, you can withhold food from your dog for 12 hours (for young puppies, you should not do this for longer than 4-6 hours). This should only be done in otherwise healthy dogs with no other known conditions.
After the fasting period you can slowly start introducing small amounts of a bland diet. A bland diet consists of a single non-fatty protein with a simple carbohydrate and sometimes with some added fiber. A good example would be boiled white meat chicken with some white rice and pumpkin puree. Attempt to feed six small meals during the first day. If the food is well tolerated and kept down, you can continue the bland food for about 2-3 days, slowly increasing the amounts you are feeding. Transition back to their normal diet over a period of about 2-3 days. If at any time the symptoms recur or you see any other symptoms, you will need to take your dog to your vet, as the cause for the vomiting could be more serious.
Probiotics can be added to the diet to try to balance the microflora (bacteria and helpful organisms) in the gut.
In more serious cases where your dog has other symptoms such as inappetence, lethargy, or diarrhea, your vet will base the treatment plan on the cause for the symptoms while also supporting the body’s important functions. Treatment can include fluid therapy, anti-nausea medication, antibiotics, pain killers, antacid therapy, nutritional support, and sometimes surgery.
If your dog is throwing up and you're not sure about the best next step, the Pawp team is here to help 24/7.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Dr. Mari, DVM at Pawp