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Dog Vomit: Common Causes and How to Help

There are times when caring for your canine friend involves some not-so-desirable occurrences, with dog vomiting being among the least appealing. As we know, nothing gets you out of bed faster than hearing the tell tale signs of your dog vomiting.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Dog Vomit: Common Causes and How to Help

Vomiting in dogs can stem from numerous factors, with some being harmless and others more worrisome. Drawing from over two decades of experience working with dogs, Alison Frost, Canine Nutritionist at ProDog Raw, offers her insights in this article. She shares signs to watch for, common causes of dog vomiting, and practical strategies to help your dog feel better.

What is vomiting?

Just as with humans and many other species, vomiting in dogs is the process that brings food back up from the stomach. It’s the body’s way of evacuating the stomach contents without always going through the entire digestive process. 

This can occur for a multitude of reasons, and while it’s never pleasant, it isn’t always an indication of an underlying health issue. However, there are certain health concerns that can cause vomiting in dogs, which we’ll discuss later.

The difference between regurgitation and vomiting

Though they may look like the same thing, regurgitation and vomiting are actually different. Regurgitation happens quite quickly after dogs eat or drink, and as it’s undigested, looks similar to what it was before it was consumed. Regurgitation can happen for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Food/water is too hot or cold
  • Chunks of food were too large for your dog to swallow properly
  • Your dog ate too fast
  • Stomach irritation (either due to food or pre-existing)
  • Health issues, such as megaesophagus 

On the other hand, vomiting in dogs  happens after some time and the food has reached the stomach. Vomiting takes more effort to expel the stomach contents back up, and usually starts with gagging, drooling, retching before it all comes out. Vomit tends to look different from the food that was consumed, as the digestive process has started, so will generally contain bile, mucous and less food than regurgitation. Once the digestion process has started, the food your dog has eaten begins to change in composition and colour, leaving it looking more like a liquid than a solid.

Signs your dog is feeling nauseous (sick)

Whilst our dogs can’t tell us when they are feeling nauseous, there are subtle signs that they don’t feel themselves.  Aside from the actual act of vomiting, your dog may be feeling nauseous if they display any of the following:

  • Drooling more than normal
  • Licking lips repeatedly
  • Swallowing repeatedly
  • Refusing food/water
  • Seeking grass, leaves, or other plants to chew/eat
  • Heaving/retching/gagging
  • Hunched back posture
  • Abdominal contractions
Licking their lips repeatedly can signal dogs are feeling nauseous.

Common causes of vomiting in dogs

Diet

It makes sense that a common cause of dog vomiting is the food they have eaten; after all, that’s what’s coming back up! Raw, species-appropriate ingredients are the healthiest, most natural way to feed dogs [1], but even raw-fed canines can eat things that don’t agree with them. 

Trying a new protein or a simpler version of their raw food might help, such as our Novel Protein dog food and 80:10:10 raw meals. If your dog is on a processed food diet, and they are sick often, consider transitioning them to raw for more balanced digestion (among other health benefits). Our article on The Benefits of Raw Dog Food discusses this topic in more detail.

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Motion sickness

Though they may love going for rides in the car with you, motion sickness is a common cause of vomiting in dogs. If you’re noticing that your dog is only vomiting during (or shortly after) car rides, motion sickness is likely the culprit. 

Medications/supplements

Some dogs simply don’t take well to certain medications, and vomiting can be an indication of this. If your dog is currently taking medication for an existing health condition and has been vomiting regularly, the medication could be the cause.

Also, while they may provide additional benefit to a dog’s diet, certain ingredients in canine nutritional supplements may not agree with all dogs. If your dog’s vomiting has started since beginning a new supplement regimen, there may be an element in the formula that irritates their digestive system, or you have started on a too high dose.

Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)

Irritable bowel disease is not strictly reserved for humans; our dogs can experience it, too. When a dog’s gut health isn’t balanced, their digestive system can become chronically irritated. This can lead to full-blown IBD, which often includes vomiting [2]. 

Acid reflux

Acid reflux is a condition whereby intestinal or gastric fluid comes up from the stomach and flows into the esophagus, and is another common cause of retching and vomiting. If your dog is vomiting a yellow substance, acid reflux may be the reason. Read our expert article on Acid Reflux in Dogs for more detailed information.

Hunger pukes 

Hunger pukes’ in dogs refer to episodes of vomiting when a dog’s stomach is empty. Also termed Bilious Vomiting Syndrome, people may mistake this condition for acid reflux, as both can result in similar symptoms like retching and vomiting. However, hunger pukes are identifiable by the yellow or green, frothy appearance of the vomit, which occurs due to stomach inflammation and bile presence. They frequently occur when a dog’s stomach is empty, commonly late at night or early morning. Adjusting ingredients, meal times, and portion sizes can alleviate this issue. Providing a late-night snack can also prevent hunger pukes in dogs.

Parasites

As dogs explore the world with their noses and often eat things they shouldn’t, it’s generally a good idea to rule out parasites when it comes to dog vomiting. Microscopic  parasites such as giardia, and other types of worms, can cause vomiting in dogs; as well as robbing them of nutrients and hydration.

More serious health conditions

Aside from the more common causes, vomiting in dogs can occasionally be a symptom of more serious health concerns. Some of these might be:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney issues 
  • Intestinal blockages
  • Tumours
  • Poisoning  

These may sound scary, but they’re less common than you think. Also, there are often other warning signs aside from your dog vomiting that may indicate a more serious condition. Before you start to worry, read our “When to contact the vet” section below.

What to do when your dog has vomited

Occasional vomiting

In cases of occasional dog vomiting (e.g; your dog has only vomited once or twice), it’s fine to resume feeding as usual. If your dog vomits but is otherwise acting normally, this is likely just a mild case of irritation and should pass quickly.

Vomiting multiple times

If your dog throws up several times throughout the course of the day and is lethargic or seems otherwise uncomfortable, fasting for 24 hours is generally recommended. This will starve any potential bacteria or parasites that may be the source of your dog’s upset stomach, as well as allowing their digestive system to rest and heal itself. 

Keeping your dog hydrated

In any case of dog vomiting, adequate hydration is key. Dogs lose vital fluids when they vomit (especially more than once), and these need to be replenished to avoid dehydration. Ensuring your dog drinks enough water, offering healthy additional fluid like bone broth for dogs, will help prevent dehydration. 

Special considerations

There are certain instances where any case of vomiting in dogs warrants a call to the vet. If you have a puppy, a toy breed dog, or a dog with diabetes or any serious health issue that requires medication, your vet will be able to offer the best guidance on how to make your dog more comfortable until their digestive upset passes.

Natural remedies for dog vomiting

Thankfully, there are several ways you can help your dog feel better after they’ve been vomiting. These are some natural remedies you can use at home to soothe your dog’s irritated tummy and restore balance to their digestion:

Ginger

Naturally soothing to the digestive tract, ginger can be a fantastic remedy for nausea (often accompanied by vomiting). Chop and steep 1 tbsp fresh ginger in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. After straining and cooling, give dogs 1 tsp per 6 kgs of bodyweight.

Marshmallow root

Marshmallow root is excellent for calming inflammation, which is undoubtedly present in your dog’s digestive system if they’ve been vomiting for any length of time. It also helps with nausea and vomiting in dogs directly. 

Slippery elm

Slippery elm is a gut-soothing herb that’s recommended for vomiting in dogs. It’s high in vitamins such as A, B, C and K, and provides essential electrolytes such as sodium and magnesium. 

A mild diet

Feeding bland, easy-to-digest meals in small portions also helps after fasting when the  dog has been vomiting.  Leaner proteins such as turkey and white fish, and pureed pumpkin can l help restore balance to your dog’s digestive tract, as well as provide key nutrients for their recovery.

Bone broth

Bone broth is a time-honoured remedy for ailments of all kinds, including digestive upsets. Its packed full of electrolytes, collagen and takes minimal digestive effort,    helping to calm and restore the gut lining. It’s also super helpful for keeping dogs hydrated when they’re vomiting and don’t feel like eating.

There are various tests that help your vet to determine the cause of your dog’s vomiting.

When to contact the vet

While it’s common for dogs to vomit once in a while and there are ways to help them at home, some cases call for veterinary attention. Consult with your vet if your dog is on long term medication or experiences any of these symptoms:

  • Vomiting for longer than 24 hours
  • Unable to keep food or water down without vomiting
  • Blood in the vomit
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Other symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, or sudden behaviour changes

These symptoms can be indicators of an underlying health condition, and should be evaluated by a vet as soon as possible. Observing and keeping track of when symptoms started, frequency of vomiting/other symptoms, and how much your dog is eating/drinking will also help your vet determine the cause of your dog’s vomiting.

How do vets determine the cause of vomiting in dogs?

Depending on the individual case, severity, and associated symptoms (if any), there are a number of tests that vets can perform to determine the cause of vomiting in dogs [3]. Some of these include:

  • Blood/urine laboratory testing
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy of the intestines
  • In rare cases, exploratory surgery

As mentioned in the above section, keeping track of your dog’s symptoms can help your vet to determine which manner of testing will be the most effective in finding the cause of the vomiting.

Dog vomiting FAQs

When should you be concerned about a dog throwing up?

Mild cases of vomiting in dogs are not usually a cause for concern. However, if your dog is throwing up for more than 24 hours or is experiencing other symptoms, give your vet a call. More signs to watch for are listed in the “When to contact the vet” section.

What is the most common cause of vomiting in dogs?

There are several common causes of vomiting in dogs, many of which can be remedied at home. Inappropriate food items or diet, bin raiding, gastric bugs, parasite and inedible object like socks.  However, diet is the key contributing factor in dogs’ digestive health, which is why we recommend feeding raw, species-appropriate food to dogs.

What should I do when my dog is vomiting?

Fast for 24 hours, keeping an eye on their symptoms and ensuring they stay hydrated are the main ways to help your dog with vomiting. If you notice any of the signs listed above, contact your vet.

What does concerning dog vomit look like?

Any blood in your dog’s vomit should be discussed with your vet as soon as possible. Also, brown-coloured vomit can be indicative of underlying health issues or ingested toxins. As always, contact your vet if you’re concerned.

Why is my dog throwing up undigested food?

This is most likely regurgitation and not actually vomit. Regurgitation can happen for a variety of non-urgent reasons (listed above), but if it’s a regular occurrence, it could indicate an underlying health condition [4].

How can I treat dog vomit at home?

Using the remedies we recommend in the “Natural remedies for dog vomiting” section should help your canine companion feel better. Our expert feeding advisors can help you find a suitable diet to calm their digestion as well. 

Supporting your dog’s health, naturally

It’s understandable that dog vomiting can be worrisome: you love your dog and want them to feel better. Thankfully, many cases of vomiting in dogs are not serious, and can be treated with natural remedies in the comfort of your own home.

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References

 

References:

  1. Craig, J. Dec 2019. Raw feeding in dogs and cats. Companion Animal;, 24(11). Doi: 10.12968/coan.2018.0068

 

  1. Arslan, H. Jul 2017. Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Current Treatment Options in Dogs. American Journal of Animal and Veterinary Sciences;. 12(3):150-158. Doi: 10.3844/ajavsp.2017.150.158

 

  1. Holzmann, B., Werner, M., Unterer, S., Dorfelt, R. Feb 2023. Utility of diagnostic tests in vomiting dogs presented to an internal medicine emergency service. Frontiers in Veterinary Science;, 10. Doi: 10.3389/fvets.2023.1063080

 

  1. Tanaka, M., Hoogevonink, N., Tucholski, A., Trapp, S., Frehse, M. 2010. Canine megaesophagus. Academic Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences;, 8(3):271-279. ISSN: 0103-989X

 

Image credits:

Ewka_pn from Pixabay

Hachipa from Pixabay

Jaminriverside from Pixabay

 

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