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Why Is My Dog Vomiting?
Why do dogs vomit?
As simple as it may appear, the act of vomiting is a complex, coordinated function involving the stomach, esophagus, intestines, abdominal muscles, and the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain. The dog vomiting centers of the brain ultimately give the 'vomit now' command to the gastrointestinal tract which causes spasm of the stomach and abdominal muscles to expel the stomach contents.
As with most carnivores, dogs vomit relatively easily; it is a simple defense mechanism against food poisoning from rotten meat or carrion. However, excessive or regular vomiting is a very common symptom of many many illnesses; some easily resolved, others more complex. I wish to describe for owners the main groups of problems causing vomiting, as well as steps to resolve simple cases of vomiting.
Is your vomiting dog unwell?
While I hope to provide useful advice to help you help your pet without incurring unnecessary expense, it is very important to me that I convey this one message in this article:
- If your vomiting dog is unwell (sleeping more, depressed, not eating) he needs to see a veterinarian ASAP!!!
From our own experiences of stomach upsets, most of us expect our dogs to be depressed, inappetant, and lethargic if they are vomiting. However, many vomiting dogs are quite well. They play, eat, drink, vomit, and play some more. These dogs can usually be managed at home by a sensible owner.
Causes Of Vomiting in Dogs
The causes of vomiting can be divided into two main groups: those within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and those outside of it (extra-GI). Animals with extra-GI problems are usually unwell. There are literally dozens of extra-GI causes of vomiting including:
- Kidney failure
- Addison's disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Liver failure
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Brain disease/injury
- Womb infections
Again, it is very likely that if your pet has any of these underlying conditions, he/she will be quite unwell and will also have exhibited other symptoms such as weight loss or excessive thirst. Treatment for any of these conditions requires prompt veterinary attention.
Gastrointestinal causes of vomiting are as follows:
- Food reactions- allergy/intolerance to food
- Dietary indiscretion- veterinary term for when your dog eats out of the trash or finds a tasty five day old bird carcass at the bottom of the garden
- Infections- usually in dogs which socialize with other animals or in unvaccinated pets.
- Gastric ulcers, which are thankfully less common in dogs than humans
- Surgical conditions causing partial/complete obstruction of the stomach or intestine: very often foreign bodies such as parts of toys, corn cobs, bottle corks, especially in young dogs
Dog vomiting mechanism
The vomiting center in the brain is located within the fourth ventricle, a fluid-filled cavity. It receives input from many sources throughout the body, and when stimulated, initiates the vomiting reflex. Input to the dog's vomiting center comes from:
- peripheral sensory receptors (including within the gastrointestinal tract)
- motion sensors in the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear
- higher centers of the brain sensing stress or other emotional stimuli
Nausea precedes vomiting, and may be manifested by salivation, licking of the lips, or just agitation. Forceful contraction of the dog's abdominal muscles results in retching. This increases pressure in the abdomen of the vomiting dog, while decreasing pressure in the chest, thus helping to 'suck' stomach contents from the abdomen. The dog vomits during the final phase, when the exit from the stomach (the pyloric sphincter) tightens, the sphincter of the esophagus relaxes, and the muscle of the stomach wall contracts, forcefully expelling its contents.
Treating the Vomiting Dog at Home
If your dog is bright, alert and willing to eat and drink in spite of vomiting it is worthwhile attempting treatment at home. Follow these steps:
- Maintain hydration: Persistent vomiting will cause dehydration. Encourage your dog to drink small amounts of fluid frequently. Avoid milk or anything too flavorsome; electrolyte solutions are ideal, water is the next best option.
- Withhold food: It is vital to give the GI tract a rest in order to allow vomiting to settle. You must remove your dog's food dish for 24 hours- that's 24 hours, not 4 hours or 12 hours. He will be hungry, he will beg, and you will feel awful about it. However, this is the only way to stop vomiting in many cases. Dogs are built to survive periods of prolonged starvation, weeks rather than days, and you will not do any harm by leaving him hungry for one day. This does not apply to pups younger than six months of age, speak to your veterinarian about appropriate treatment in these cases.
- Bland diet: After 24 hours, offer your dog a small amount of a bland home-cooked diet. Boiled chicken/white fish plus white rice or white pasta in a 50:50 ratio will work fine. Aim to give four small feeds during the course of the first day, three during the second day, and two thereafter. Your dog should be eager to eat and should not vomit.
- Reintroduce normal food: After five days, mix your dog's normal food 50:50 with the bland diet. Continue this for five more days before switching entirely back to the normal diet.
- Celebrate- Problem Solved! or not...... if things do not go to plan; if your dog shows other signs of illness, becomes lethargic or begins to vomit again at any point he will require further investigations and treatment, and a trip to the veterinary clinic is in order. As mentioned above, vomiting is a very non-specific sign, and if it doesn't respond to this symptomatic treatment protocol then there is probably something more serious than a simple dietary indiscretion involved.
My Dog Is Still Vomiting- What Now?
If the steps outlined above are not enough to resolve your dog's problem, he/she is going to need some veterinary intervention. On visiting your vet, he is going to be keen to find what underlying illness is causing the problem. This process begins with a thorough examination and history-taking, which is where you as the owner play an important role. Any change in diet or environment may be significant, and your veterinarian will appreciate getting as much detail as possible from you. Be sure also to provide details of your pet's vaccination history.
The next steps will usually involve blood tests and abdominal imaging (x-rays or ultrasound), and your dog may at this point require hospitalisation for intravenous fluids and drug treatments such as antiemetics (to stop vomiting). However, your vet will be reluctant to use an antiemetic until he has ruled out the possibility of gastrointestinal obstruction or foreign body. Your pet will usually begin to improve rapidly with treatment once the problem has been identified.