Your alarm won’t go off for another two hours, but your dog’s unmistakeable retching sounds catapult you from bed at exactly 3:17 a.m. As you race down the hallway in search of the source, you’ve never been more alert. 

Your dog is crouched under the piano, leaning over a puddle of unrecognizable items and partially digested food bits. Several identical piles are visible nearby.

Your dog is shaking with fatigue and fear, looking at you with wide eyes, seemingly reading your mind. What happened?

One and done—vomiting can be normal for some dogs

Watching your dog vomit can be frightening for you both. Dogs often seem startled by the involuntary action, and may anticipate punishment for their mess. Other dogs may eat their vomit, especially vomit that contains undigested food. Despite the lengthy overtures and noisy sound effects, vomiting in dogs can be common, and does not always indicate a medical issue.

Dogs may occasionally vomit because of a dietary indiscretion, or stomach acid buildup. In these instances, the dog feels better after vomiting and returns to their normal activity and appetite. However, if your dog vomits multiple times in a 24-hour period, veterinary care is advised. 

What causes vomiting in dogs?

If you’ve ever searched “vomiting dog” on Google or PetMD, you’ll have realized that vomiting can signal nearly every disorder, disease, or malady your dog can have, including:

  • Digestive disorders — Problems that typically affect the stomach and upper small intestine
  • Dietary indiscretion — Eating fatty foods or inedible objects
  • Organ disease — Kidney and liver failure
  • Nervous system disorders — Old dog vestibular disease, motion sickness, seizures
  • Viral infectious disease — Parvovirus, distemper virus
  • Parasites — Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms
  • Cancer — Tumors that rupture, bleed, or apply pressure to the digestive tract
  • Trauma — Spontaneous emergency conditions, such as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), or bloat.

While we understand your curiosity and desire to help your pet, we recommend that you stay off the internet, and call our team for guidance. Your pet deserves the individualized attention and care that only an in-person veterinary exam can provide.

Signs that your vomiting dog needs veterinary care

Persistent vomiting can be acute (i.e., a sudden and rapid onset) or chronic (i.e., increasing in frequency over time), depending on the cause. Acute vomiting can indicate your dog ingested a foreign object or toxin, while chronic vomiting suggests an underlying disease. In either case, prompt veterinary assessment and treatment can make a difference in your pet’s outcome. Schedule an appointment immediately if your vomiting dog meets any of the following criteria:

  • Your dog is trying to vomit unproductively — If your dog is straining to vomit without producing food, bile, or fluid, they may need emergency attention. Unproductive vomiting is a classic GDV or bloat sign. During GDV, the dog’s stomach fills with gas and rotates on its axis. Dogs attempt to vomit to relieve the intense pressure, but the rotated stomach traps the gas inside. Emergency life-saving surgery is needed to deflate the stomach, and return it to its normal position.
  • You know or suspect your dog has consumed a toxin or non-edible object — Curious or unsupervised dogs can get in a lot of trouble following their nose and their stomach. Many household items are considered pet toxins, and can lead to lethal clotting disorders, nervous system disorders, kidney or liver failure, and death, so timely treatment and hospitalization are essential. Common pet toxins include:

    • Human medication
    • Rodent bait
    • Antifreeze
    • Fertilizer
    • Some plants
    • Certain foods

Inedible objects, such as toys, bones, and food wrappers, may become lodged along the gastrointestinal tract, obstructing other contents and blood flow. Surgery or endoscopy are required to remove the blockage. 

  • Your dog’s vomit is bloody  Most dog owners whose dog is vomiting blood do not need prompting to seek veterinary attention. Frank red, undigested blood from the mouth, stomach, or upper small intestine can be a shock. Digested blood should be equally concerning, but requires closer identification. Digested blood that comes from the lower small intestine resembles coffee grounds, and gives the vomit a speckled appearance. Bloody vomit may indicate oral trauma, stomach ulceration, cancer, or intestinal obstruction.
  • Your dog is showing other illness signs If your dog is showing additional illness signs, they may have an undiagnosed condition. Your veterinarian will likely request X-ray or ultrasound imaging, to search for the cause. Common signs that are concerning in vomiting dogs include:
    • Diarrhea
    • Lethargy
    • Appetite loss
    • Pale or discolored gums
    • Weakness
    • Fever
    • Sudden-onset seizures

  • Puppy or senior dog — Young and old dogs have weakened immune systems, which make them vulnerable to more everyday pathogens. Both age groups can dehydrate rapidly with persistent vomiting, especially when accompanied by diarrhea. Puppies who have not been vaccinated, or are incompletely vaccinated, are susceptible to deadly parvovirus and distemper virus, which require hospitalization and supportive care.

Don’t take a wait-and-see approach to your dog’s health. Persistently vomiting dogs can decompensate quickly, making stabilization, diagnosis, and treatment more challenging. If you’re still uncertain whether your vomiting dog needs an appointment, contact Liberty Veterinary Hospital. Our veterinary team can discuss your dog’s condition over the phone, and determine an appropriate course of action.