Home Care for the Dog with Vomiting and Diarrhea

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Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms seen in dogs. They can occur alone or together. It can be a very minor self-limiting problem or a very significant major problem.

Below are some common questions pet owners ask when their dog has vomiting and diarrhea. The focus of this article will be on how you can care for these problems at home.

What is vomiting and diarrhea?

Vomiting is the act of expelling contents from the stomach through the mouth. Diarrhea is the act of having abnormally loose or liquid stools. This can also be associated with an increased frequency of bowel movements. Some dogs will have a large amount of liquid or abnormally loose stools once and others will have semi-formed stools frequently with straining.

What causes vomiting and diarrhea?

Vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by a variety of problems including eating too fast, eating too much, eating something that is not digestible, changes in the dog's food, eating spoiled food or garbage, infectious agents (including bacterial, viruses or parasites), as well as systemic problems such as cancer, diabetes, pancreatitis, kidney disease or liver disease. For a full list of possible causes – go to: causes of vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

Vomiting and diarrhea can affect your dog by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances and/or acid-base imbalances.

A common question that pet owners often ask is, "What can I do at home?"

Home treatment of vomiting and diarrhea

Specific treatments of vomiting are dependent on the cause. Here is the general approach to treating vomiting and diarrhea:

  • If your pet vomits once and/or has a small amount of diarrhea then eats normally with no further vomiting, has a normal bowel movement and is acting playful, then the problem may resolve on its own.

  • If you discover any predisposing cause such as exposure to trash, change in diet or plants your dog may be eating, always eliminate that cause.

  • If your dog vomits several times, has diarrhea and you cannot take your dog to your veterinarian (which is recommended), then you may try the following:

    - Do not give any medications without consulting your veterinarian. Some medications can be toxic.

    - Dealing with both vomiting and diarrhea can be difficult. Often with Vomiting we hold food for 2 to 4 hours – with Diarrhea sometimes is it longer – even 24 hours. These are general guidelines trying to treat both conditions. If your dog is acting sick, lethargic or the vomiting and/or diarrhea continues – PLEASE see your veterinarian.

    - Withhold food and water for four to six hours. Oftentimes, the stomach lining may be very irritated. Some dogs will want to eat and continue vomiting. Give the stomach "time to rest" for a few hours.

    - If your pet has not vomited by the end of this time, offer small amounts of water (a few tablespoons at a time). Continue to offer small amounts of water ever 20 minutes or so until your pet is hydrated. Don't allow your dog to over drink as this may lead to vomiting.

    - If there has been no vomiting after the small increments of water are offered, then you may gradually offer a bland diet.

    - Small frequent feedings of a bland digestible diet such as Hill's Prescription Diet i/d, Iams Recovery Diet, Provision EN or Waltham Low Fat, are usually recommended. You can make a homemade diet of boiled rice or potatoes (as the carbohydrate source) and lean hamburger, skinless chicken or low-fat cottage cheese (as the protein source), Feed small amounts at a time. Don't over feed as your dog may eat the entire bowl and vomit. Feed a meatball size portion and if there is no vomiting, offer a small amount more about 1 hour later. Give small amounts frequently – every 3 to 4 hours – for the first day. You can gradually increase the amount and decrease the frequency as your dog tolerates.

    - Many veterinarians recommend Pepcid AC® (generic name is Famotidine) to decrease stomach acid. This helps many pets. The dosage most commonly used is 0.25 to 0.5 mg per pound (0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg) every 12 to 24 hours. A 20-pound dog should get about 5 to 10 mg (total dose) once to twice daily. This is an oral medication, which can be found at most pharmacies in the antacid section. Pepcid (Famotidine) does not require a prescription. It is often used for 3 to 5 days.

    - Some veterinarians recommend Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate® (for dogs only!). The active ingredients are generally subsalicylate and Bismuth. Two tablespoons of Pepto-Bismol contain almost as much salicylate as one aspirin tablet (which is toxic to cats). Do NOT give cats Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate! The subsalicylate, an aspirin-like compound, can decrease diarrhea caused by intestinal infections. The bismuth agent is a chalk-like compound designed to coat the lining of the stomach and intestines. This helps some pets with diarrhea. The typical daily dose administered to dogs amounts to approximately 2 teaspoons (10 ml total) per 10-pounds, ideally split between two to four doses. This be found at most pharmacies and does not require a prescription. It is often used for 1 to 2 days. DO NOT USE IN CATS.

    - Feed a bland diet for 2 days.

    - The return to regular dog food should be gradual over a period of one to two days. At first, mix in a little of your dog's food into the bland diet. Feed that for one meal. Then feed a 50/50 mix for one meal. Then feed ¾ dog food and ¼ bland diet for a meal – then feed your dog's regular food.

    - Leash-walk your pet to allow observation of bowel movements, observe for normal urinations and note any additional vomiting that may otherwise occur without your knowledge.

    - Administer only prescribed medications.
  • This is important! If the vomiting and/or diarrhea continue or worsen, if you note blood in the vomit or feces, or if other symptoms appear, call your veterinarian promptly. If your pet is not eating, if he acts lethargic, if the vomiting continues or if any other physical abnormalities mentioned above begin, it is important to see your veterinarian. Your pet needs the professional care your veterinarian can provide. If your pet is having the clinical signs mentioned above expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and to make treatment recommendations dependent upon the severity and the nature of the clinical signs.
  • When are vomiting and diarrhea in dogs an emergency?

    If the vomiting and/or diarrhea continue after your pet eats, if your pet doesn't want to eat or if your pet acts lethargic, medical attention is warranted. Please see your veterinarian.
    If your dog is losing weight, if you see blood in the vomit or feces, or if your dog has ineffective vomiting (he is retching but unable to product vomit), this is an important medical emergency. It can be caused by a life-threatening emergency called Bloat.

    Great links for more information on vomiting and diarrhea in dogs

    For more details about vomiting, go to Vomiting in Dogs and Chronic Vomiting in Dogs (duration longer than 1 or 2 weeks).

    Related topics – go to Acute Diarrhea in Dogs, Vomiting and Diarrhea in Dogs, and Dehydration in Dogs


    Disclaimer: Advice given in the Home Care series of articles is not meant to replace veterinary care. When your pet has a problem, it is always best to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. But in some cases, it is not always possible to seek veterinary care. You could be traveling, it could be after hours and there are no 24-hour clinics near you, or maybe you simply can't afford it. Whatever the reason, when your pet has a problem, you need answers. Most vets will not give you any information over the phone – they will tell you to bring your pet in for an office visit. So, when these difficult situations arise, many pet owners don't know what to do – and they end up doing the wrong thing because they don't have sound veterinary advice. When your pet has a problem and you can't see your vet, the information in this series of articles can help guide you so that you will not inadvertently cause harm to your pet. However, this information is not a replacement for veterinary care.

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    About The Author

    debra-primovic Dr. Debra Primovic

    Debra A. Primovic, BSN, DVM, Editor-in-Chief, is a graduate of the Ohio State University School of Nursing and the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Following her veterinary medical training, Dr. Primovic practiced in general small animal practices as well as veterinary emergency practices. She was staff veterinarian at the Animal Emergency Clinic of St. Louis, Missouri, one of the busiest emergency/critical care practices in the United States as well as MedVet Columbus, winner of the AAHA Hospital of the year in 2014. She also spends time in general practice at the Granville Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Primovic divides her time among veterinary emergency and general practice, editing, writing, and updating articles for PetPlace.com, and editing and indexing for veterinary publications. She loves both dogs and cats but has had extraordinary cats in her life, all of which have died over the past couple years. Special cats in her life were Kali, Sammy, Pepper and Beanie.