Vomiting is a clinical sign that something is going wrong inside your pet; it is not a diagnosis or disorder in and of itself. Vomiting is common in companion animals. Vomiting is not the same as regurgitation, which is the passive expulsion of undigested food or fluid from the esophagus into the oral or nasal cavities. Vomiting, unlike regurgitation, requires abdominal effort, usually described as "retching" immediately prior to "throwing up."
Vomiting can be caused by a number of things, and can cause a number of mild to severe consequences such as dehydration/volume depletion, electrolyte disturbances, nutritional deficiencies, poor body condition, inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), aspiration pneumonia and malnutrition. Dogs may vomit after eating rancid food, poisonous plants or other substances. They may vomit because of an underlying medical condition or food or other allergies. While occasional vomiting can be normal, frequent bouts of vomiting should be assessed by a veterinarian.
How Vomiting Affects Dogs
Vomiting is a common central nervous system reflex in dogs. It is not the same as regurgitation, which is the passive expulsion of undigested food. Vomiting, unlike regurgitation, requires active abdominal effort, usually described by owners as "retching" immediately before "throwing up." Vomiting can cause dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, muscle weakness, tremors, inflammation of the esophagus, aspiration pneumonia and severe malnutrition. Vomiting often is preceded by nausea evidenced by profuse salivation, licking of lips, swallowing, retching and abdominal contractions. Dogs can vomit intermittently or fairly persistently. While occasional vomiting can be normal, frequent bouts of vomiting are not. Frequent vomiting, or vomiting that is accompanied by severe, bloody or mucoid diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, depression, pain, fever or confusion warrants an immediate examination by a veterinarian. If a dog is unable to hold down even small amounts of food or water, something serious is going on, which could be an intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis, poisoning, bloat or an infectious disease.
Causes of Vomiting in Dogs
There are countless causes of vomiting in dogs. In most cases, canine vomiting is the result of dietary indiscretion. Dogs may vomit after eating rancid food, foreign bodies, trash, poisonous plants or other toxic or unpleasant substances. Dogs also may vomit because of an underlying disease or medical condition, including food or other allergies. Vomiting of undigested or partially digested food more than 12 hours after it was eaten suggests a delay in the normal emptying of stomach contents. Repeated vomiting, especially if accompanied by profuse diarrhea, is a serious condition that may be attributable to gastrointestinal disease, dietary conditions, adverse drug reactions, diseases not primarily of the gastrointestinal tract, ingestion of toxins or neurologic disease, among others.
There is no magical way to prevent a dog from vomiting. Prevention requires removing the underlying causes of vomiting; since those are so diverse, there is no one protocol to recommend. In general, dogs should be kept away from all potentially toxic substances. They also should have regular veterinary examinations to identify any diseases or conditions that might predispose them to vomiting and its adverse consequences. Good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle with moderate exercise, lots of fresh air, warm and comfortable housing and plenty of human companionship always contribute to good health in our beloved companions.
Treating recurrent vomiting in dogs requires identifying and removing the initiating cause and then providing the appropriate fluids, electrolytes and medications. Owners should not panic over an occasional episode of vomiting, but may want to contact their veterinarian to see if the particular episodes warrant a visit to the veterinary clinic.
Effective treatment of recurrent vomiting in dogs involves identifying and removing the initiating cause, and then providing the fluids, electrolytes and medications necessary to stop the cycle of vomiting and to treat any conditions, such as dehydration, that occurred as a result of the vomiting.
Treating Vomiting in Dogs
If a dog has been vomiting frequently, or has been vomiting with blood coming up and/or accompanied by severe, bloody or mucoid diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, depression, abdominal pain, fever or confusion, treatment certainly is warranted. If a dog is unable to hold down even small amounts of food or water, this also indicates that something serious is going on. In these cases, the dog could be suffering from poisoning, an intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis, bloat, or an infectious disease such as parvovirus. All of these conditions require immediate treatment or they could be lethal to the dog.
At the outset, food and maybe even water should be withheld from the dog for a short period of time that your veterinarian can describe for you. This is called "NPO," or "nothing per os" (nothing by mouth). This will let the dog's gastrointestinal tract rest. The next step in treatment normally is to provide small sips of water or maybe ice cubes until the cause of the vomiting is determined. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids may be administered if the dog is dehydrated and hospitalized. Electrolytic fluids can be administered if the dog has been diagnosed with an electrolyte imbalance.
Veterinarians will use physical examinations and blood and other tests to try to determine the cause of the vomiting and to assess the dog's precise level of hydration and electrolyte balance. If these methods do not point towards a primary cause of the vomiting, more specific tests will be necessary, including possibly radiographs (x-rays). Intravenous fluids may be administered if the dog is hospitalized, and drugs that reduce vomiting (antiemetics) may be prescribed as well to give the dog's digestive tract time to heal.
If a food allergy is suspected as the cause of vomiting, then the veterinarian may try a hypoallergenic diet. An ultrasound may be done to discover any physiological deformities in the dog's digestive tract which could cause vomiting. A tissue biopsy may be needed to diagnose any bacteria or viruses which are causing illness from an infection that leads to vomiting.