Anyone who has a dog knows that at some point, that dog is going to throw up. That’s why most dog owners eschew carpet in favor of laminate, tile, or other non-fabric flooring. Vomiting in dogs can have any number of causes, some serious and others not so much. The catch-all term that veterinarians use to describe the most common kind of vomiting in dogs is “canine gastritis,” which simply means an inflammation in the stomach. And along with numerous causes, there are also numerous treatments.
I talked a bit about this problem in Caring for Your Vomiting Dog, but in this post, I’m going to go into considerably more detail, talking about causes of vomiting, what to do about it, and even offering a few helpful pointers on how to deal with it. You could consider this to be Puke 101.
So, your dog is bringing up his entire dinner, or maybe just some greenish or yellowish bile. How serious is this? Do you have to rush off to the vet, or can you just wait it out? Can you treat it at home? And why is it happening?
As previously stated, it’s usually due to an inflammation in the stomach. With acute gastritis, your dog will usually upchuck a couple of times over the course of a couple of days, and usually the cause will be simply that he has ingested something he shouldn’t have – spoiled food, grass, kitty litter, garbage, etc. Most of the time, you don’t have to worry – he’ll get better in a day or two. You do have to worry, though, if he seems to be in pain, vomits repeatedly, if there is blood in the vomit, or if he can’t even manage to drink without vomiting.
With chronic gastritis, the vomiting is intermittent, and could last for up to two weeks. Common causes are a reaction to medication, allergies, infections, or a foreign body lodged in the digestive tract. This is serious, because your dog is not absorbing the nutrients he needs. This type of vomiting will not go away on its own, so if your dog has been throwing up for more than a week, a trip to the vet is in order.
Do you happen to own a bread making machine? I know, that likely sounds like a non sequitur, but a dog gearing up to vomit sounds exactly like the sound a bread machine makes when it’s in the “knead” cycle. In fact, when I use my bread machine, Janice and Leroy look at one another as much as to say “Are you gearing up to give me a hot lunch?” But maybe we’ll talk about how dogs love to eat their own vomit, and that of others, another time.
Other signs of impending vomiting could be more subtle. Some dogs will lick their lips or drool, or stand with their head toward the floor. They may also look toward you, with a worried expression. These are all signs that you might want to try to take your dog outside, or at least move him to a place in the house where minimal damage will occur when the inevitable happens.
I highly recommend keeping a record of your dog’s vomiting, just in case it turns into something serious. Most of the time it won’t – dogs just throw up from time to time. But if it is an indication of something serious, any information you can give your vet will help him or her to come to a proper diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment. When your dog throws up, first record the time. If you’re feeding regular meals as opposed to free feeding, then knowing how soon after eating the vomiting occurred can be helpful. Also, try to estimate the amount of vomit. Describe it, too – is it solid, containing undigested kibble? Is it runny? Is it watery, oily, or foamy? What color is it? Also include anything you might notice about your dog’s demeanor – is he listless, cranky, or pretty much his usual self?
If you can, you should also take pictures of the vomit. I know, this sounds disgusting, and I’m not exactly suggesting that you post them on Facebook along with shots of what you had for dinner, but being able to see what your dog’s vomit looks like can also be very helpful to your vet if your pet needs treatment.
Of course you feed your dog regularly. I free feed Janice and Leroy, even in the face of disapproval from my vet, Stephen. He’s a big believer in regular, scheduled meals. I am not, because I’ve always free fed my dogs, and none of them has ever developed a weight problem, even in old age. Stephen and I have agreed to disagree on this, and since we’re in tune with pretty much everything else when it comes to Janice’s and Leroy’s health, it works for us.
I have to admit, though, that if I had regularly scheduled meals for my pair, I’d know if they weren’t eating. Some dogs, if they haven’t been eating, will vomit. I know, you’re saying, “If they’re not eating, how can there be anything to throw up?” This is where you get the greenish or yellowish foamy vomit, and it’s known as empty tummy syndrome. It’s not always a cause for worry – you probably have times when you don’t feel much like eating, but you feel better if you have a light snack, right?
It’s the same with your dog. If you notice this type of vomiting, it could just be that your dog has “gone off his feed” for a bit. Offer a light meal, and the problem will likely correct itself. So, feed a little less, and a little more frequently.
Now, having said that, sometimes dogs will refuse to eat, and vomit up bile, because there is something in their stomach that shouldn’t be there. Ever wonder where all those lost socks go? Sometimes it’s not the dryer that’s eating them – it’s your dog.
Ideally, your dog will vomit up the problematic item. This doesn’t always happen, though, and to make matters worse, x-rays and ultrasounds may not always show the foreign object. If feeding smaller meals more frequently doesn’t help, there is a real possibility that there is something in his stomach that just doesn’t belong there. It’s causing irritation, and your dog won’t want to eat. If this happens, your vet may order an endoscopy, which is a way of visually examining both the stomach and the esophagus in order to determine if a foreign body has been ingested.
You know how it goes – you can’t stuff the Thanksgiving turkey because Mom can’t handle herbs and spices, and Uncle Ray is gluten-intolerant, so bread is not okay. Dogs have food sensitivities and allergies the same way humans do, and if your dog is subjected over and over to ill-tolerated foods, then the lining of the stomach and intestinal tract will end up being irritated.
This doesn’t require a visit to the vet right off the bat. If you think that your dog’s food is the problem, then just change the food and see how it goes. You can also experiment with probiotic supplements, which encourage the development of healthy microflora in the gut.
Your dog can be just as intolerant to grain products as humans. So check the label on your dog food, and choose one that is high in animal protein, and low in grain and soy products.
Additionally, although dry dog food is usually the best choice, it can absorb moisture in your dog’s stomach. Then, the dry food expands, and your dog vomits. You don’t have to switch to canned, but you could try adding some water or low-sodium chicken broth to the dry food, or mixing it with a bit of canned food.
If you suspect that a certain food is causing your dog to vomit, you can also try eliminating it for a while to see if it makes a difference. This is called a rotation diet. Essentially, what you do is offer a certain food only every five days, which is the time that it usually takes for your dog to flush out the food from his system. So, you might try giving beef on Monday, salmon on Tuesday, eggs on Wednesday, and chicken on Thursday. Keep track, and note if on the fifth day of the cycle (Friday for beef, for instance), the vomiting recurs.
Obviously, this is not going to work if you are just feeding commercial dog food. And obviously no reasonable person is going to want to follow a regimen of just eggs, just chicken… and so on. So the idea is to go off the commercial food for a while, so that you can determine what ingredient in the commercial food is causing the problem. Then, once you know that the problem is too much poultry product, or too much fish, etc., you can find another dry dog food that has less of the problematic ingredient.
A similar approach is the elimination diet. With this method, you don’t just eliminate a food at a time – you eliminate them all, and replace them with foods your dog has never had before. The down side to this is that it can be very expensive – once you eliminate the chicken, beef, eggs, pork and so on in your dog’s regular food, you might end up having to feed something like pheasant or rabbit. Now, I don’t know where you shop, but at my grocery store, if I wanted to buy a single pheasant, I would probably have to take out a second mortgage.
With the elimination diet, you feed only the one food – no treats, no rawhide chews, no dietary supplements, no nothing other than the one food. If the dog does not throw up for a couple of months, you assume that the food you have been offering is safe. Then you can add another food and see how it goes.
Finally, if all seems to be going well, you can start adding back in, one by one, the foods that were in your dog’s original diet. As soon as the dog starts vomiting again, you take the offending food back out of the diet.
I’m just throwing this up – um, I mean out – in the interests of informing you, but honestly, I don’t think the elimination diet is an overly practical approach. For one thing, it takes a huge level of commitment, total control over your dog’s diet, and powers of observation that border on the supernatural. For another, it is going to be incredibly costly. Now I know that if you’re like me, you don’t put a price on your dog’s health, but we have to be realistic here. I’m not poor, but I’m not rich either, and feeding Janice and Leroy things like pheasant, rabbit, goose and so on would bankrupt me in no time.
Sometimes, the most effective solution is the most obvious. So here are some very common things that you can do to try to alleviate your dog’s vomiting before you go crazy with dietary experiments and restrictions.
1. Keep the Dishes Clean
Make sure that your dog’s food and water dishes are always clean, so that no parasites enter his digestive tract. Also, if your dog usually eats out of plastic bowls, try stainless steel, glass or ceramic – some humans are sensitive to chemicals in plastic, and so are some dogs.
2. Slow Things Down
Remember that article you read about a certain movie star who gorges on half a dozen hamburgers and four pieces of cheesecake, and then goes into the bathroom to yak it all up?Your dog could be eating way too fast, and then feeling the need to purge. You could try a slow-feeding bowl, or spread his food out on a cookie sheet so that he’s eating a kibble at a time instead of whole mouthfuls.
Janice and Leroy are good about sharing food, but if you have more than one dog, and they seem to be competing for food, one could be eating too fast in order to make sure that he gets his fair share. Try feeding them separately.
3. Less Food More Often
You can also try feeding several small meals over the course of the day, instead of one or two big meals.
4. Create an Obstacle
If you put a brick, an unopened soup can, or something similar in your dog’s dish, in the middle of the food, the dog will have to eat around it. This will slow him down. Of course, you should be sure that the object is safe, clean, and bigger than anything he might inadvertently swallow.
5. Make Him Work for Treats
Every dog should get treats from time to time, but make him work for them. Put the treats in a Kong toy so he doesn’t get them all at once.
All of these suggestions can work to curb vomiting in the over-eager dog.
It goes without saying that if you know that your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t have, and is vomiting, you need to get to the vet. However, most cases of gastritis will get better on their own. Usually, if you withhold food for about a day, so that the dog’s digestive system has a chance to rest, all will be well. Of course you should make sure to provide enough water so that the dog does not become dehydrated. If giving water seems to aggravate the vomiting, though, again, you should get to the vet as soon as possible.
Once the vomiting has stopped (for at least 24 hours), offer low-fat, easily digestible food. White rice and chicken (no bones or skin) is a good choice. Then, you can begin feeding the normal diet again, but in small increments, returning to normal quantities in about three days.
Sometimes, you really can’t handle things on your own. Any of the following are reasons to call your vet immediately:
As previously mentioned, if you can, save a sample of the vomit or at least take a picture.
Let’s take it on faith that a vomiting dog is probably going to cost you a pile of money. Veterinary exams alone are expensive, and when you factor in x-rays, endoscopies, ultrasounds, lab work, and so on, you are probably going to want to do whatever you can to avoid them. So, if you just saw your dog eat something he shouldn’t – a sock, a poisonous plant, steel wool or whatever, should you make him throw up?
Maybe your first course of action is to go online looking for advice. You’ll find a ton of information about dog health – in fact, you’re finding it here. But don’t make the mistake of thinking “If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.” Some suggestions that you’ll find could be harmful, or even fatal to your dog. For instance, you might find a blog that recommends administering syrup of ipecac. For a long time, this was given to both people and dogs who ingested harmful substances. The problem with syrup of ipecac is that it can suppress the circulatory system and the heart, and can even cause far too much vomiting.
You might also find material that suggests using mustard powder, soap or table salt. Bad, bad ideas – they often don’t work, and can be toxic. And never, ever consider sticking your finger down your dog’s throat to make him vomit – you could cause serious harm to his mouth, throat and esophagus.
If your dog has ingested poison, call your vet, or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435). The hotlines are available to you 24/7. Only induce vomiting if you are advised to do so. The best course of action is, obviously, to rush your pet to the veterinarian.
If you are advised to make the dog vomit, here’s how to do it:
If your dog is vomiting, don’t assume that he’s eaten something he shouldn’t have. He could have been exposed to noxious chemicals that he didn’t actually consume. He could be reacting adversely to a medication. Some types of canine cancer can also be accompanied by vomiting.
It is comforting to know that most of the time, vomiting isn’t a biggie. Dogs eat bad stuff, and they yak it up. You clean up the mess and move on. Gastritis is more often acute than chronic, and does not require veterinary treatment. Sometimes, though, vomiting can be an indication of a more serious condition. So be alert, pay attention to what’s going on with your dog, and do what you need to do to make sure he enjoys good health and stays with you for a long time.