Overview of Vomiting in Dogs
At one time or another your dog may have a bout of vomiting. In fact, vomiting in dogs is one of the most common problems that require a dog to see a veterinarian or go to a veterinary emergency room. Vomiting can be caused by eating something disagreeable, eating too much or too fast, exercising too soon after eating or any number of non-serious conditions. Vomiting may be a sign of a very minor problem or it may be a sign of something very serious.
This article will provide an overview of vomiting in dogs followed by in-depth information including the many possible causes of vomiting and detailed information about diagnostic tests and possible medical therapies.
First, what is vomiting? Vomiting, also known by the medical term “emesis”, is the act of expelling contents from the stomach through the mouth. It’s a reflex act, involving a triggering stimulus (such as inflammation of the stomach) that causes the central nervous system and abdominal muscles to work together to expel the contents from the stomach. An occasional, infrequent isolated episode of vomiting is usually normal.
There are multiple causes of vomiting. Vomiting is a symptom that can be caused by disorders of the gastrointestinal system (stomach and/or intestines) or it can be secondary to a disease from a different system (such as from cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, or infectious diseases). This can make the diagnosis of the cause of the vomiting a challenge.
Vomiting can be defined as acute (sudden onset) or chronic (longer duration of one to two weeks). The severity or concurrence of other signs will determine the recommendation of specific diagnostic tests. Important considerations include monitoring the duration and frequency of the vomiting.
If your dog vomits once 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 the vomiting continues after your dog eats or if your dog acts lethargic, or doesn’t want to eat, then medical attention is warranted.
Here is a very useful article about what you can do at home if your dog is vomiting. Go to: Home Care of the Vomiting Dog.
Vomiting can occur alone or with other symptoms of diarrhea or lack of appetite or not eating. Learn more about home care for a dog that is having both vomiting and diarrhea.
What to Watch For
Additional problems to watch for include:
- Weight Loss
- Blood in the vomit
- Ineffective vomiting
IMPORTANT NOTE: If your dog is trying to vomit but is ineffective, acts restless, please call your veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. This could be a life-threatening emergency medical problem called “Bloat”. Learn more about “Bloat in Dogs.”
Diagnosis of Vomiting in Dogs
Optimal therapy of vomiting in dogs or any other serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of vomiting and before any specific treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause. Initial therapy should be aimed at the underlying cause.
Tests to determine the cause of vomiting in dogs may include:
- Complete medical history and physical examination, including abdominal palpation. Medical history will most likely include questions regarding the following: exposure to trash; vaccination history; diet; appetite; general health; 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).
- Your veterinarian may recommend a number of laboratory tests. These can include a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemical panel, and a urinalysis.
- A fecal examination may be recommended to determine the presence of parasites or blood.
- Plain radiography (X-rays) or contrast X-rays (X-rays performed with a contrast material such as barium or aqueous iodine), can help to determine the cause of the vomiting.
- Ultrasonography is an imaging technique that allows visualization of abdominal structures by recording reflection (or echoes).
- Endoscopy may be useful to diagnose or remove certain foreign bodies that are in the stomach.
- Endoscopy can also be used for examination of the stomach and a portion of the intestine (and potentially obtain biopsies of abnormal areas).
- Laparotomy is an exploratory surgery that involves looking into the abdomen for evaluation and correction of abnormalities.
Treatment of Vomiting in Dogs
Treatments for vomiting may include one or more of the following:
- Eliminate any predisposing causes for vomiting such as exposure to trash, change in diet, eating plants, or eating toys.
- An acute episode of vomiting in a playful dog, in the absence of other physical abnormalities, may be treated symptomatically without hospitalization (outpatient treatment). Outpatient treatment 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.
- Dogs that have abdominal pain, diarrhea and act lethargic or have any other physical abnormality may be treated with hospitalization. Hospital therapy may include intravenous fluid administration, 24-hour monitoring, and drug therapy. This is often combined with diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the vomiting.
- Sick dogs may require referral to an emergency or 24-hour hospital that offers around-the-clock care.
Home Care and Prevention
Home care includes following-up with your veterinarian for re-examinations of your dog as recommended and administering any veterinary prescribed medications.