How to recognize when vomiting is serious and if you should see a vet
Most dogs vomit at least a few times in their lifetime. Sometimes they bring up food and other times you may see dogs vomiting a clear liquid, or a yellow or white foam. Your task as a pet parent is to know what to do when your dog is vomiting and how to recognize when it is a possible life-threatening emergency.
The key question you need to ask if your dog is vomiting is: Is this an emergency?
This article will help you answer this question by going through the following checklist:
If your dog vomits, here are the questions we need to ask:
- Is your dog agitated or distressed?
- Is what you are seeing true vomiting, or something else?
- Why your dog’s age matters when addressing vomiting
- How frequent is the vomiting?
- Can vomiting in dogs be caused by worms?
- When is your dog’s vomiting an emergency?
- Is your dog vomiting blood?
- What is the cause of the vomiting?
- Can processed food and kibble cause vomiting in dogs?
- What to do when your dog is vomiting
1. Is your dog agitated or distressed?
If your dog throws up food, foam, or liquid but otherwise appears to be fine, without showing signs of listlessness or distress, the “wait and see” 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.
Vomiting doesn’t only eject food and other ingested objects, sometimes vomiting is the body’s attempt to eliminate toxins of any kind. Most of us have at least one life experience from high school or our college years where we had “one too many” which resulted in the body’s detox reaction.
But back to the decision-making, 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.
If your dog is vomiting and not eating for more than one meal, appears listless or distressed, go to an emergency clinic immediately.
Note: It is also important to check your dog’s gums. I suggest you check your dog’s gums regularly to have a good idea of what their normal looks like. This helps you recognize when their gums are too pale in an emergency situation. I find people often struggle with determining whether their dog’s gums are pale or not because they have never really looked before.
2. Is what you are seeing true vomiting, or something else?
Dog guardians often confuse retching and coughing up foam with vomiting. Also, some dogs may regurgitate water with foam after drinking too much too fast.
If your dog is truly vomiting, it is part of a a neurological reflex that causes abdominal contractions. Food regurgitation or retching is more passive.
In any case, it is often helpful to take a ziploc bag or a container with a sample of the vomit for your veterinarian to examine.
3. Why your dog's age matters when addressing vomiting
If you have a puppy, it’s much more likely they swallowed a toy, a piece of a shoe, a golf-ball, or another foreign body. Repeated vomiting in puppies brings 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.
FIRST AID NOTE: 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 with symptoms of loss of appetite and repeated vomiting, and while there may be some exceptions, you should consider a lack of interest in more than one meal to be a potentially serious problem if it is connected with vomiting.
If your dog is in distress and repeatedly vomiting take your dog to the emergency clinic.
4. How frequent is the 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 is unsuitable for example: spoiled food, toxins, foreign body, or cooked bones.
Note: Raw bone feeding is generally safe for dogs as raw bones are fully digestible. Avoid cooked bones as they are indigestible. For details on safe 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.
5. Can vomiting in dogs be caused by worms?
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.
6. When is your dog's vomiting an emergency?
If your dog has been vomiting 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.
Hypersensitivity to diet, organ disease such as pancreatitis, hepatitis, kidney disease, as well as metabolic conditions, parasitic issues or central nervous system disease and cancer may also be the cause.
Note: Most dogs with chronic vomiting usually recover when processed foods are discontinued and they are switched to a raw or cooked diet and essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics and Omega-3 oils are added.
7. Is your dog vomiting blood?
In such situations, it is important to determine the colour and quantity of your pup's vomit.
FRESH BLOOD IN VOMIT If you see red specks or a small amount of fresh blood, most of the time this is not serious. Vomiting sometimes causes the stomach or esophageal blood vessels to burst, which leads to a few specks of blood in the vomit.
If you notice large amount of fresh blood in your dogs vomit, take your dog to the emergency clinic right away as rat poison ingestion can lead to uncontrolled bleeding.
DARK DIGESTED BLOOD IN VOMIT or black coffee ground like material in the vomit suggests the presence of blood digested by stomach acid. This is usually due to stomach ulcers caused by NSAID drugs, which are commonly used for pain and arthritis.
Note: If you use NSAIDs 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.
8. What is the cause of vomiting?
This is a question that your veterinarian should answer, as the main purpose of this article is to ensure that you are able to recognize whether or not your dog’s problem is serious.
However, I can give you a brief summary of the most common diagnoses that can be connected to vomiting, and why a further work up is needed if your dog keeps throwing up.
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.
Note: 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 emesis (vomiting). Inflammatory bowel disease, foreign body ingestion, post-surgical narrowing and scarring, intussusception (a state where one portion of the intestine pushes in the intestinal passage), and intestinal tumours may all be causes 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 causes. This is why blood work, X-rays, and other forms of imaging are very important.
- 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 one of the most common side-effects. Remember that the body has a natural tendency to try to remove toxic and foreign substances.
- Infectious diseases such as distemper, leptospirosis, parvovirosis, and parasitic infestations also lead to emesis (vomiting), however, they are very rare in dogs older than 6-12 months.
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. Mercury poisoning and arsenic or lead toxicity are relatively common in dogs. For more info on the HairQ Test click here. For more info on mercury poisoning and heavy metal toxicity, click here.
9. Can processed food and kibble cause vomiting in dogs?
I have left the topic of processed food for the end of the article. Processed food, and species inappropriate foods in general, are unfortunately one of the most common causes of vomiting and diet should be addressed in any case of chronic vomiting.
No doctor would recommend that people eat a diet consisting of processed food, so why is a processed diet still recommended by so many veterinarians?
I trust that you see the logic and common sense in feeding wholesome food to dogs. Unfortunately, decades of advertising and “educating veterinarians” has lead to the perception that dog kibble and processed food is okay, but it isn’t.
10. What to do when your dog is vomiting
The best path is always to take the route of least regret. I trust that this article will provide you with a general idea of how to navigate your dog’s vomiting. If your dog vomits once and you decide to wait the episode out, fast your dog for 12 to 24 hours.
It is also preferable that you feed your dog once daily, as opposed to twice or more times a day. The canine digestive system is designed to go through extended periods of fasting and letting your dog snack or feed more frequently than once per day can put a strain on your dog’s digestion.
If you catch yourself worry-waiting, it may be a sign that you should take your dog to a vet and take the route of least regret
Below are some additional resources and articles on the topic of vomiting and digestive issues in dogs.
Take care and give your dog a hug for me.❤️