There are very few dog owners who haven’t had to scrub dog vomit from the carpet at least once. But, from devouring a chunk of their favorite chew toy to serious gastrointestinal conditions, vomiting is a symptom with a long list of potential causes — so how do pet owners know when throwing up is no big deal and when it could be something serious?
“If your dog vomits once, but is otherwise behaving normally, there’s probably nothing to worry about,” explains Dr. David Dilmore, a veterinarian with Banfield Pet Hospital. What can be cause for concern, however, is when your dog’s vomiting is prolonged or accompanied by other symptoms. “It’s important to monitor your pet for behavior changes, repeat vomiting, or other signs of illness,” he adds.
What causes dogs to vomit?
According to Dr. Stephen Katz, veterinarian and founder of the Bronx Veterinary Center in New York, one of the first things a veterinarian might consider when determining the cause of vomiting is the age of your pet. “If the dog is younger than five years old, then chances are they ate something that made them sick … but as dogs age, they can develop more serious conditions involving their organs, such as the liver, pancreas or intestines, that can also cause a symptom like vomiting.”
Dilmore adds it’s important for pet owners to remember that vomiting itself may not be a disease. It can, however, be a sign of another condition your dog may be experiencing. “A single episode of vomiting can be related to various things, including but not limited to eating too much, eating too fast, eating something unfamiliar or getting into garbage,” he explains.
However, pet owners should seek immediate veterinary care if their dog is vomiting repeatedly or vomiting while experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, pain or general discomfort, or disorientation. “These symptoms can be a sign of infection, pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease, an intestinal foreign body, and various diseases specific to the intestines themselves, including inflammatory disease, parasitism, and even cancer,” Dilmore warns.
While vomiting can sometimes be cause for concern, according to Dr. Gary Richter, veterinarian and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide, it’s most commonly caused by a dog accidentally swallowing something that isn’t food, like a sock, or getting into the garbage to sample last night’s leftovers. “There are a million reasons dogs start vomiting, but it’s most commonly because they ate something they shouldn’t have,” he explains. “However, it can also be caused by a host of other conditions ranging anywhere from infection to some sort of organ disease to cancer — it really runs the gamut.”
Preventing vomiting in your dog
As there are so many different causes for vomiting, there are ways you can prevent it. According to Dilmore, there are a few ways you can help prevent your dog from throwing up, include watching them while they eat to ensure they don’t gobble up their food too quickly. Pet owners should also avoid giving dogs “human” food that could upset their stomach — especially without consulting your veterinarian.
“You’ll also want to make sure to take fresh, cool water and a bowl with you on walks, hikes and to the dog park. Streams, lakes, and shared bowls can contain diseases like Giardia and Leptospirosis that can harm your pet,” he adds.
Diagnosis and treatment
The treatment for vomiting in dogs will vary widely depending on the underlying cause. Dr. Richter notes that sometimes it will be a matter of letting your dog’s stomach rest by offering bland food like chicken and rice, or even withholding food for a day (only do this after consulting with your veterinarian) and offering plenty of water instead. Some medications can also be appropriate, depending on the cause of vomiting. Katz notes that antibiotics may also be given when it’s related to a bacterial problem. Depending on the severity of the vomiting, your dog could require treatment for dehydration.
“Your veterinarian may also choose to run a blood test to check your pet’s organ function, because issues like hypertension or renal failure can be the extreme cases of what could be causing your dog to vomit,” he adds. Another serious reason your dog could be vomiting is if they consumed something that’s now blocking their intestines, causing them not to be able hold down food or water. “A dog ingesting a foreign body can happen at any age, and that’s something that could require surgery,” Katz says.
Either way, consult your pet’s veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment when your dog has been vomiting, particularly if you’re considering OTC medications or at-home treatments. “Each case is different, so be sure to reach out to your veterinarian to decide if your dog needs a certain type of medication,” Dilmore concludes. “Some over-the-counter human medications can be harmful to pets if not used appropriately and under the guidance of a veterinarian.”
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