Seeing your dog vomit can be a scary experience. It is also extremely unpleasant for them, particularly if it is accompanied by retching or coughing. While scary and unpleasant, it is rarely dangerous, unless your dog has problems clearing the vomit from their throat.
However, vomiting can be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem and should always be investigated if there is no obvious reason for it happening. Here we discuss the differences between vomiting, regurgitating, and retching, and explore some of the common reasons why dogs vomit and the potential underlying causes.
Understanding Dog Vomiting
Dog vomiting, also known as puking, throwing up, barfing, and emesis refers to the forceful and involuntary act of expelling the contents of the stomach through the mouth or nose. If your dog vomits repeatedly until there is nothing but bile left in their stomach, this is termed acute vomiting. Vomiting is itself not a disease but can be a symptom of a range of conditions, particularly if it happens several times over a short time period.
Vomiting differs from other physical processes that may look and sound similar. It is important to be able to recognize the difference between vomiting, retching, and regurgitation.
Vomiting – An active process that is often accompanied by coughing or retching sounds and the contraction of the abdominal muscles. Vomit comes from the stomach or small intestine and therefore generally contains bile. This is a digestive fluid that is often green, yellow or orange in color. If, however, your dog has just eaten or is not properly producing bile, then bile may not appear in the vomited material.
Regurgitation – A passive process where food appears to fall out of your dog’s mouth. It is often accompanied by the lowering of your dog’s head. The material that is regurgitated comes from the pharynx or esophagus. It often comes out in a tube-like shape and often contains food, saliva, or mucus. However, the regurgitated material does not contain bile.
Retching – When your dog is retching they cough or make retching noises, but no food or bile is brought up.
Why Dogs Throw Up
There numerous reasons why your dog might throw up. Some reasons are completely harmless, while others require medical attention immediately. Dog vomiting causes can include:
- Motion sickness – such as when being transported by car
- Dietary issues – from food intolerances to dietary changes, or eating something that is past its best
- Swallowing non-digestible material – such as toys, plastic, bones etc.
- Viruses, infections, or parasites in the gastrointestinal tract
- Gastric dilation / bloat
- Bilious vomiting syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Poisoning – ingesting substances that are toxic
- Addison’s disease
- Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
- Kidney or acute liver failure
- Inflammation of the gallbladder
- Uterine infections or pancreatitis
- Reactions to medications or anesthetics
- Acute urethral obstruction
How to Make Your Dog Throw Up
If your dog has ingested something harmful, toxic, or poisonous, you may need to make them vomit to stop the toxins from being absorbed into the body. Always consult your veterinarian before inducing vomiting. They will tell you whether it is safe to take this course of action and recommend the best way to do it.
It is crucial that you only induce vomiting if it is less than two hours since your dog ingested the unsafe substance. If it is over two hours, then the substance has already worked through the digestive system and is being absorbed into the bloodstream. Inducing vomiting at this point will have no positive effects and will cause you and your dog a great deal of stress.
It is also important to know what it is your dog has swallowed. There are some substances where inducing vomiting would increase the harm to your dog and could even be fatal. If your dog has swallowed any of the following items, then DO NOT induce vomiting:
- Caustic substances – like drain cleaners or bleach
- Any alkali or acid-based chemical
- Household cleaning solutions and chemicals
- Sharp objects – including glass
- Any petroleum-based products – like gasoline, turpentine, or kerosene
- Any product that specifically instructs you not to induce vomiting if it is swallowed
Additionally, do not try to induce vomiting if your dog:
- has already vomited
- is having trouble breathing
- is exhibiting signs of a nervous system disorder, such as seizures or loss or coordination
- is unconscious
Veterinarians are most likely to suggest inducing vomiting if your dog has swallowed one of the following substances:
- Medication not intended for dogs
The safest and most common medication used to make dogs vomit is apomorphine. Diluted hydrogen peroxide can be used in an emergency. Veterinarians will often use IV fluids and activated charcoal to treat a dog that has ingested poisons, once vomiting has been induced.
Examining Your Dog’s Vomit
Examining your dog’s vomit may not be the nicest thing in the world, but it can help you to understand why they are vomiting and what further action you may need to take. Regardless of what you find in your dog’s vomit, if you are concerned at all, you should contact your veterinarian.
- Yellow Vomit
If your dog’s vomit looks yellow, orange, or green then this indicates that bile is present. Bile is a digestive fluid and its presence means that the food that has been thrown up has been partially digested. If the vomit is just liquid it can indicate a more serious condition that requires your veterinarian.
- White Foam
If all your dog is bringing up is white foam, then this may not be vomit. It is more likely to be expectorus, similar to the phlegm that humans cough up. It is an indicator of a kennel cough.
- Undigested food
If the food looks the same, or very similar, coming out as it did when it went down, then this indicates that it hasn’t been in your dog’s stomach very long. They may be exercising too soon after eating or simply eating too fast.
It is understandable that the presence of blood in vomit causes immediate panic. However, the severity of blood in vomit depends on where the blood has come. The best indicator of this is its color.
If the blood is bright red, then it is fresh. If there are small amounts of it in your dog’s vomit, then it is an indicator of an irritation or cut in the esophagus, throat, or mouth. This is common if your dog has thrown up several times or their throat is scratched by the contents of the vomit.
If the blood is dark brown or black and grainy in appearance, then this is blood that has been digested and you should contact your veterinarian as it could be a sign of a stomach ulcer, internal bleed, or other serious health condition.
Blood can also often be confused with red color foodstuffs. If you think you see blood in your dog’s vomit, note down what they have eaten. Foods such as beetroot and tomatoes can be misconstrued as blood. However, if you are in any doubt, check with your veterinarian.
Vomiting in puppies can be very serious. The main reasons for this are because they are so much smaller, and their immune systems are less developed than those of adult dogs. The situation is particularly serious in puppies under six months of age. If your puppy throws up just once, then monitor closely and look for potential food intolerances. If they undergo acute vomiting, then go straight to your local veterinarian.
If your puppy shows any signs of distress, pain, lethargy, or weakness, then contact your veterinarian. Take similar action if they are throwing up a long time are eating, are experiencing diarrhea as well as vomiting or having bloating or abdominal pain.
Other Steps to Take
Vomiting can happen for any number of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. However, if your dog vomits it is always best to make a note of what they have eaten, where they have been, and anything they may have encountered. If a single vomiting incident turns into something more serious, you then have information that could greatly help your vet to diagnose the problem.