Nausea in dogs and cats is a very common problem. In fact, nausea is one of the most common symptoms vets see in pets. This symptom can occur by itself, but is also very common just prior to the act of vomiting. In humans, nausea is referred to as “feeling sick to your stomach” or “queasy” and is associated with a feeling of discomfort and unease in the stomach. In dogs, nausea is harder to define, since pets can’t tell you that they are “sick to their stomach.” In many instances, it is unclear that there is an issue until the dog vomits.
The most common symptoms of nausea in dogs are lack of appetite, licking, restlessness, and excessive drooling. Nausea can make some dogs restless during which time they will pace and appear unable to get comfortable. This is common just prior to vomiting. Other pets with nausea may lie in the same spot while drooling.
Overview of Canine Nausea
Nausea is a nonspecific symptom, which means there are many different possible causes. Common reasons for canine nausea include eating too fast or overeating, changes in diet, eating something indigestible or spoiled, licking something with an unpleasant taste (such as cleaning chemicals or topical flea prevention products), motion sickness, side effects of some medications or post anesthesia, and any disease or condition that can cause vomiting. Application of eye drops can cause nausea in some dogs. Ingestion or licking of cleaning materials can range in danger from being caustic, toxic, or just having a disagreeable taste.
Nausea in dogs can be caused by different conditions of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and/or intestines) or it can be secondary to a disease from a different system, like cancer, acute kidney failure, chronic kidney failure, diabetes mellitus, or various infectious diseases, including parvovirus. The variety of causes can make finding the root cause of nausea a challenge.
At one time or another, your dog may have episodes of vomiting before which they probably had a period of nausea. Vomiting may be a sign of a very minor problem or it may be a sign of something very serious. It can also be an acute problem with a sudden onset or a chronic problem associated with other symptoms such as decreased appetite, vomiting, and/or weight loss.
An occasional, isolated episode of nausea with or without vomiting is usually normal and not a reason for major concern.
The severity or concurrence of other signs will determine whether specific diagnostic tests are recommended. Important considerations include the duration and frequency of the nausea, so it is important to monitor these things. If your dog vomits once then eats normally with no further vomiting, or has a normal bowel movement and is acting playful, then the problem may resolve on its own. If the nausea and vomiting continues after your dog eats, if your dog acts lethargic, or doesn’t want to eat, then medical attention is warranted from your vet. Learn about specific home care instructions in Home Care for the Vomiting Dog.
Common Signs of Nausea in Dogs
Common signs of nausea in dogs and cats may include:
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive licking
- Excessive chewing
- Anorexia (lack of appetite)
Other signs or symptoms that can be associated with nausea may include:
- Dry heaving (this can also be associated with an emergency condition called “bloat”)
- Dehydration (persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration)
- Abnormal behavior or physical abnormalities associated with prolonged vomiting, such as the presence of lethargy (reluctance to move or decreased activity), abdominal or stomach pain, weight loss, or other physical abnormalities
- Symptoms of concurrent intestinal tract problems, including diarrhea. This can be common in puppies with parvovirus as well as dogs with intestinal infections or parasites.
- In humans, some odors can invoke nauseous sensations. However, this appears to be uncommon in pets.
Diagnosis of Nausea in Dogs
The diagnosis of nausea is based on the signs listed above and observation of the sequel to nausea, which is vomiting of food and/or bile. When vomiting occurs, it is important to evaluate the contents of the vomit for clues as to why your dog is nauseated. For example, look in vomit to identify bile, food, grass, mulch, toys, candy wrappers, or other foreign material that you may or may not know that your pet ingested. Any of these abnormal findings could help you identify the cause for the nausea.
There are many different reasons nausea can occur in dogs. Optimal therapy for any serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of nausea and before any treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause.
Questions or tests your vet may consider include:
- Complete medical history and physical examination, including abdominal palpation. Your vet will feel your dog’s abdomen to evaluate for evidence of pain or abnormal organ size or shape. The medical history will most likely include questions regarding the following: exposure to trash, vaccination history, diet, appetite, general health, associated vomiting and character of vomitus (frequency, progression, presence of blood duration of vomiting), weight loss, past medical problems, medication history and presence of other gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea. They will also question about any current or prior infections.
- Your veterinarian may recommend a number of laboratory tests that may include a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemical panel, and a urinalysis. These tests can help evaluate for signs of infection, anemia, dehydration, acute or chronic kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus, electrolyte abnormalities, and more. An additional blood test called the CPL can help evaluate for pancreatitis.
- Fecal examination may be recommended to search for the presence of parasites or other infections.
- Plain radiography (X-rays) can evaluate the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach and intestines to help determine the cause of the vomiting. The liver, kidneys, spleen, and bladder can also be visualized.
- Contrast X-rays are performed by giving a dog contrast material such as barium or aqueous iodine. Radiographs are then taken over several hours to follow the movement of the contrast material as it flows from the stomach into the intestines. This can show a delay which can be caused by an obstruction, such as that caused by ingestion of foreign materials.
- Ultrasonography, commonly known as “ultrasound”, is an imaging technique that allows visualization of abdominal structures by recording reflections (echoes) of inaudible sound waves to determine the size and shape of abdominal organs, normal intestinal tract motility, and detect changes in the consistency or texture of organs. Ultrasound can evaluate the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, and lymph nodes. Not all veterinary clinics offer ultrasound, therefore you may be referred to a specialty vet hospital.
- Endoscopy may be useful for diagnosis or to remove certain foreign bodies in the stomach. This technology can also be used for examination of the stomach and a portion of the intestine and to obtain biopsies of abnormal areas noted during the exam. Not all veterinary clinics offer endoscopy, so you may be referred to a veterinary specialty hospital.
Treatment of Nausea in Dogs
Feeling nauseous is no fun for humans or dogs. Common treatments for canine nausea may include one or more of the following:
- Eliminating the predisposing cause (e.g. exposure to trash, change in diet, stop any medications that may be contributing to the nausea, etc.) can help. Patients who eat too quickly or overeat can be treated by feeding small portions at a time or by using feeders designed to slow eating.
- An acute episode of nausea with or without vomiting in a playful dog, in the absence of other physical abnormalities, may be treated symptomatically without hospitalization (outpatient treatment). This may consist of subcutaneous fluids, injectable antiemetics (drugs used to control nausea and vomiting), and a follow-up appointment if the symptoms are not resolved immediately. A drug commonly used to treat nausea is Maropitant (commonly known by the brand name Cerenia). This drug comes in both injectable and oral forms. Often, a dog is given an injection and sent home with the oral pills.
- Dogs with abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy or any other physical abnormality may be treated with hospitalization. Therapy may include intravenous (IV) fluid administration, 24-hour monitoring, and drug treatment. This is often combined with diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the vomiting.
- Sick pets may require referral to an emergency vet or 24-hour hospital that offers care around the clock.
Home Care for Nausea in Dogs
Follow-up with your veterinarian for re-examinations of your dog as recommended and administer any medications they prescribe. To be safe, do not administer any medication without the approval or recommendation of your vet. If your dog experiences an inadequate response to previous medical measures, a further workup may be indicated to determine the underlying cause of the nausea.
Additional home care recommendations for dogs with nausea include:
- Treatment for nausea is dependent on the cause. As you reintroduce intake, do not give your dog a large volume of food or water. Some pups quickly overeat or drink, which expands the stomach causing some dogs to immediately vomit. The key is to go slow when introducing water and food.
- Symptomatic therapy of an episode of nausea and vomiting includes withholding food and water for 3 to 4 hours. If your dog has not vomited by the end of this time, offer water a few tablespoons at a time. Continue to offer small amounts of water every 20 minutes for two hours or so until your dog is hydrated.
- After the small increments of water are offered, gradually offer tiny amounts of an easily digestible food. Encourage your dog to eat small frequent feedings of a bland digestible food. Common dog food products made for pets with gastrointestinal upset include Hill’s Prescription Diet I/D, Iams Recovery Diet, Provision EN, or Waltham Low Fat are usually recommended. Homemade diets of boiled rice or potatoes (as the carbohydrate source) and lean hamburger or skinless chicken (as a protein source) are also recommended. Here are instructions on how to make a chicken or hamburger and rice diet at home. You may offer dogs with chicken or beef allergies low-fat cottage cheese as an alternative protein source.
- The small portion size of meat and rice should be approximately a teaspoon for dogs less than 20 pounds, a tablespoon for dogs between 21 and 50 pounds, and a golf-ball sized amount for dogs over 51 pounds. If there is no vomiting, you may offer more 30 minutes to an hour later.
- Medications to reduce stomach acid may be recommended. A common and safe medication commonly used at home is famotidine (Pepcid). For dosage and medication information, go to the Drug Library article on Pepcid. Pepcid is an over-the-counter product.
- Gradually return your dog to his regular food after 1 or 2 days. If nausea and vomiting continues at any time or you note the onset of other symptoms, call your veterinarian promptly.
- If your dog is not eating, acts lethargic, vomiting starts or continues, or any of the other physical abnormalities mentioned above begin, it is important to see your veterinarian. Your dog needs your help and the professional care your vet can provide. If your dog is having the clinical signs mentioned above and the symptoms have been present for more than one day, expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and make treatment recommendations. These recommendations will be dependent upon the severity and nature of the clinical signs.
- While your dog is sick, provide him with frequent opportunities to eliminate. Take him out every few hours on a leash so you can evaluate his behavior and look for any associated signs such as vomiting episodes, diarrhea, eating grass, getting into something in the yard you may not be aware of, or abnormal urinary patterns.
- Call, text, or email your vet for additional advice, especially if your dog has underlying health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or other gastrointestinal issues. Fluid therapy and other treatments may be indicated in severely affected pets or those with secondary health problems.
- If your dog is acting sick, it may be best to keep your dog isolated from other pets and reduce stressful situations.
Prevention of Nausea in Dogs
Prevention of nausea in dogs and cats is aimed at minimizing your pets exposure to trash (bones, food products), foreign material (socks, strings, etc.), medications, or toxins. Walk your dog on a leash to reduce exposure to foreign or toxic materials that may be located outside. Dogs with a history of motion sickness can be treated with medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), meclizine (Bonine®) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®). Some pets can also overcome motion sickness by conditioning them to travel. Learn more about Motion Sickness in Dogs. Sudden food changes can also cause symptoms of digestive upset. When you change dog food, do it gradually. Mix in a little of the new food to your dogs current diet, then gradually mix in more over the course of a week. Ensure you are feeding a high quality AAFCO-approved dog food. Monitor your dog’s appetite and general health as well. If your dog is overeating, feed smaller and more frequent meals to prevent further nausea.
We hope this gives you more information on nausea in dogs. If you believe your pup is nauseated, seek consultation with your veterinary hospital or after-hours emergency clinic.