The ultimate first aid guide to vomiting in dogs
Today, I want to equip you with a brief piece of knowledge that is crucial for every dog lover. Vomiting is not exactly a topic that people love to talk about, but this information is crucial for you to keep your dog safe and recognize a life threatening emergency.
If your dog vomits, here are the questions we need to ask:
- Is your dog agitated or distressed?
- What is your dog's age?
- What is the frequency of vomiting?
- How long has this been going on?
- Is there any blood in the vomit?
- Is it really vomiting, or is it something else?
1. Is your dog agitated or distressed?
If your dog throws up food but otherwise appears to be fine, without showing any signs of listlessness or distress, the “wait and see” is approach is a reasonable strategy.
Vomiting is the body’s attempt to cleanse or get rid of something noxious.
It is one of the most important life-protecting neurobiological reflexes animals have. The other day, I saw a video of a pufferfish being eaten by another fish. The pufferfish puffed up as soon as it had been ingested which stimulated vomiting in the fish who had eaten it.
Vomiting doesn’t only “eject” food and other ingested objects, sometimes vomiting is a general symptom of overall toxicity within the body. Do you remember your high school or college years? Almost everyone has a story about having had “one too many” at least once in their lifetime.
But back to how to determine what to do, if your dog seems fine after vomiting, just wait and see. If the vomiting repeats once or twice but your dog isn’t in distress, it may be okay to wait until the morning. However, if your dog seems listless or distressed — go to an emergency clinic immediately.
Note: It is also important to check your dog's gums. I suggest looking at your dog's gums regularly so that you know what their "normal" looks like, and are able to recognize when the gums do not look normal in the event of an emergency. I find people often struggle with determining whether their dog’s gums are pale or not because they never really looked at them before. Take reference photos if you like.
2. What is your dog's age?
The reason why we ask this question is to assess the likelihood of your dog having eaten a toy, shoe, golf-ball, or another foreign body. This commonly occurs with puppies and younger dogs, and repeated vomiting in puppies brings a foreign object ingestion to the top of the differential diagnosis list. In such cases, the sooner you bring them to the hospital the better, as it is always easier to remove an object from the stomach than from further down in the intestines.
If you have seen your dog swallowing a piece of an indigestible object, many of my readers and clients have used my protocol for inducing vomiting and preventing an emergency procedure. Read more here.
Foreign object ingestion often comes along with symptoms of loss of appetite and repeated vomiting, and while there may be some exceptions, you should consider a lack of interest in food to be a potentially serious problem.
If you see your dog in distress and repeatedly vomiting, this an indication for a visit to the emergency clinic.
3. What is the frequency of vomiting?
It is safe to assume that if your dog vomits just once, or even twice without any other symptoms, their body is just doing what it is supposed to do — getting rid of something that should not be present, for example: spoiled food, toxins, a foreign body, or cooked bones.
This is a good time to mention that raw bone feeding is safe for dogs. For details on raw bone feeding - refer to the chart below or click here for the full article.
If your dog is vomiting repeatedly and the onset is acute (sudden) see your veterinarian immediately, especially if there is a loss of appetite and listlessness.
Note: If you have just adopted a puppy that has not been checked for intestinal parasites, there is also a possibility of heavy intestinal parasite infestation that can lead to vomiting and be very serious.
4. How long has this been going on?
If your dog has been vomiting for some time (for weeks, months, or even years on a consistent basis), this is unlikely to be an emergency but an exam and proper work-up should be done without procrastination.
Vomiting is a general symptom that occurs in a range of health problems and further inquiry is necessary.
However, most dogs with chronic vomiting usually recover when processed foods are discontinued and they are switched to a raw or cooked diet and the Fab4 essentials vitamins, minerals, probiotics and Omega-3 oils are added.
5. Is there any blood in the vomit?
First we determine if there is any blood, then we need to know how much and what colour it is.
If you see red specks or a small amount of blood, this may not be serious at all. Sometimes, just the physiology of vomiting causes the stomach or esophageal blood vessels to burst, which leads to a few specks of blood appearing in the vomit. However, if you see large amounts of fresh blood, you need to take your dog to the emergency clinic right away, as rat poison ingestion is possible and can lead to uncontrolled bleeding.
Dark brown or black coffee ground like material in your dog's vomit suggests the presence of blood digested by the stomach acid. One of the most common reasons for this is gastric ulceration due to the use of NSAID drugs used for pain and arthritis. If you or your dog have been on these drugs, you will be happy to hear that based on research high quality Omega-3 fatty acids are as effective as NSAIDs without any of the undesirable side-effects. Click here for more info on NSAIDs, and for more info on Omega-3 oils click here.
6. Is it really vomiting, or is it something else?
I have frequently seen dog lovers confuse retching and coughing up foam with vomiting. Also, dogs may sometimes regurgitate some water with foam after drinking too much. My dog Pax is a good example of this at the beach if he accidentally drinks salt water.
It is also important to distinguish vomiting, which involves a neurological reflex and abdominal contractions, from food regurgitation which is a more passive process.
In any case, it is often helpful to take a Ziploc bag or a container with a sample for your veterinarian.
What might be going on?
This is a question that your veterinarian should answer, as the main purpose of this article is for you to recognize an emergency.
Despite this, I would like to give you at least a brief summary of the most common diagnoses that can be connected to vomiting here:
Stomach related vomiting can be caused by an ulcer, obstruction, foreign body, a tumour or decreased function or motility. Also, the area of the spine between the last thoracic and the first lumbar vertebra is responsible for the energy flow to the stomach and pancreas, and dogs who frequently vomit may have an undetected injury in this region.
This is why it is very important to have your dog examined by an experienced canine chiropractor, physical therapist, acupuncturist, or a veterinarian with experience in spinal alignment and treatment techniques.
The intestines can sometimes play a role in emetics (vomiting). Inflammatory bowel disease, foreign body ingestion, intussusception (a state where one portion of the intestine pushes in the intestinal passage), and intestinal growths may all trigger the neuro-pathway of vomiting.
Organ diseases such as pancreatitis, liver disease, bile duct obstruction, kidney disease, and kidney stones can cause vomiting in dogs. Brain injuries and inflammation can also be the cause.
Hormonal problems such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and Addison’s disease can cause stomach upsets too.
Drugs are often underestimated when it comes to nausea and vomiting. Any introduction of foreign chemical substances or toxins can provoke vomiting. All you need to do is start reading the side-effects of drugs and you will realize that stomach upsets are common with many of them.
Infectious diseases such as distemper, leptospirosis, parvovirosis, and parasitic infestations also lead to emesis (vomiting).
Metabolic diseases and nutritional imbalances, deficiencies and excesses of minerals and vitamins, can cause severe digestive tract disturbances. Toxins and heavy metals are also frequent contributing factors.
Note: Hair testing is one of my favourite methods of determining a dog’s nutritional status and the heavy metal levels in their body. For more info, click here.
I have left the topic of processed food for the end of the article. Processed food, and species inappropriate foods in general, are one of the most common causes of vomiting, and diet should be the first step in addressing any case of chronic vomiting.
There are no human doctors who suggest their patients should eat processed food, so why do we think it’s a suitable diet for dogs? I have never seen dogs or wild canines grazing in a wheat field and I stand firmly against feeding dogs kibble. I would never feed it to Pax.
I trust that you see the logic in feeding wholesome food to dogs. If you would like to learn how to switch from kibble to wholesome fresh food, click here for my course. You can also refer to our healthy dog food Recipe Maker.
If your dog has vomited and after reading this article you've decided to wait and see, here is how you should proceed. All you need to do is keep an eye on your dog, restrict food for 12 - 24 hrs and provide access to fresh, filtered, room temperature water. If vomiting resumes after drinking, see your veterinarian.
I have included some additional resources on the topic of digestive issues in dogs below, and you can always find more resources by searching a keyword on my website www.peterdobias.com.
Take care and give your dog a hug for me.❤️
Items referenced in this article.
Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM has 30 years of experience as a veterinarian. He graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 in the Czech Republic and obtained the Canadian Certificate of Qualification in 1995. He is currently licensed in the European Union, and his unique approach to healing and nutrition helps holistically minded dog lovers worldwide.
Dr. Dobias strongly believes that disease prevention, natural nutrition and supplements, the right exercise and a drug free approach to medicine can add years to your dog's life.
As a formulator of his all-natural vitamin and supplement line and co-inventor of natural, chemical free flea and tick control, FleaHex® and TickHex®, his unique healing system and products currently hold the highest independent five star customer rating. For more information click here.
Any general recommendations that Dr. Dobias makes are not a substitute for the appropriate veterinary care and are for informational and educational purposes only.
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