While it can be messy and unpleasant, it's fortunate that vomiting in dogs is not usually a dire emergency. Even so, you should never ignore it. It's important to address your dog's vomiting so you can help your canine feel better soon and make sure it's not the sign of something more serious.
Why Do Dogs Vomit?
Dogs vomit for a variety of reasons, some more serious than others. Dietary indiscretion is a very common reason for vomiting in dogs. This often happens after a dog gets into the trash or eats table scraps. Vomiting may also be caused by something more serious, such as toxin ingestion, gastrointestinal obstruction, pancreatitis, and more.
Vomiting is one of the most common signs of illness reported by dog owners. It may be accompanied by diarrhea, loss of appetite, or lethargy. Not only is it important to understand why dogs vomit; you should also know how to respond when your dog is throwing up.
One or two episodes of vomiting are not usually serious. Do you call your doctor every time you get sick to your stomach? Of course not. It is important to take extra precautions when a dog is sick because dogs cannot tell us how they really feel. In fact, dogs often instinctively hide illness as long as possible, acting like they feel fine when they really don't.
If your dog vomits, first have a look at the substance that was vomited up. Is it food? Bile? Mucus? Foamy white stuff? Water? Is there blood? Are there pieces of toys, clothing or other inedible material? It's a good idea to keep any foreign objects you find in a baggie in case your vet needs to see them later. Make a note of the appearance of the vomit in case you need to remember later.
After a dog vomits, it's generally best to withhold food and water for several hours and observe. If lethargy, diarrhea or other signs of illness accompany the vomiting, make a note of this too. NEVER give over-the-counter or prescription medications without your vet's advice.
If any of the following circumstances apply, you should contact your vet immediately:
- Vomiting is frequently repeated for several hours in a row.
- Your dog is on medication that may cause vomiting (stop giving the medication and call your vet).
- You suspect your dog ingested a foreign body, such as a toy or clothing.
- Your dog shows extreme lethargy or unresponsiveness.
- You suspect your dog ingested a toxin.
- Excessive amounts of blood are seen in the vomited material (mild blood spotting is not an emergency, but call the vet if it continues).
- Your dog's abdomen has a bloated appearance (it could be GDV aka "bloat" or something else serious).
- Your dog's abdomen seems painful.
- Your dog's gums are pale, white, bluish or gray in color.
- Your dog is having trouble breathing.
- If you are in doubt, just call the vet!
If your dog vomits one time and acts completely normal, you can probably resume your normal feeding routine within 6-12 hours or when the next meal is due. Just keep watching for vomiting and other signs of illness.
If your dog vomits again at the next meal, but the vomiting does not continue after a few hours, try offering your dog a small amount of water first. If the dog keeps this down, offer a small amount of bland food. For a bland diet, vets generally recommend preparing plain white rice with boiled chicken or lean ground meat. Be sure to drain off any fat. Do not add salt or seasoning. Offer a couple of tablespoons of this mixture. If your dog will not eat, don't push the issue. Try again in a few hours. If your dog eats and keeps the food down for an hour, try feeding a little more food. Repeat this until the next day. If vomiting does not recur and your dog's appetite is good, you can start to gradually add back your dog's normal food to the bland diet mixture.
If the vomiting occurs a few times throughout the first day and it is still happening the next day, contact your vet for advice. If your dog will not eat for two days in a row, you should contact the vet even if the vomiting has stopped. Diarrhea sometimes occurs during or after vomiting episodes. Call your vet if diarrhea does not begin to improve by the next day.
Chronic intermittent vomiting (ongoing but less than once a day) is not considered normal either. If your dog vomits "off and on" for more than a week or two, you should schedule an appointment with your vet for a physical examination. Additional testing may be recommended.
IMPORTANT: If your dog vomits every time it eats or drinks for longer that one day, take it to the vet immediately. This may be a sign of a gastrointestinal obstruction (like a foreign body) or other serious illness. As always, communication with your veterinarian is an essential part of keeping your dog healthy. When in doubt, call the vet!
It is not entirely possible to prevent your dog from ever vomiting. You can take common-sense precautions to limit the exposure to risks that may cause vomiting. Keep trash and table scraps away from your dog. Remove broken chew toys and keep an eye out for other chewed items that may have been eaten or swallowed. Finally, serve your dog healthy, fresh food and remove access to any toxic materials or foods.