The Vomiting Dog

Vomiting in the dog is a very common occurrence, one that I’m sure you’ve all experienced with your dogs.   The causes are vast, from a minor bout of mild stomach irritation, to a life threatening disease.  Vomiting is the coordinated process involving a triggering stimulus, the central nervous system, and the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract to expel the contents of the stomach.  It must be differentiated from regurgitation, which is a passive process (with no abdominal contractions) occurring very shortly after eating, and the food is undigested - usually caused by disorders of the oesophagus (food pipe).  Vomiting can further be divided into an acute problem or a chronic disease, where the dog has been vomiting intermittently for over 2 weeks. 

 

Common causes of vomiting

 

  1. Gastrointestinal causes:

 

i)                    Scavenging, introducing new foods, food intolerances

ii)                  Bacterial or viral infections eg parvovirus, salmonella

iii)                Inflammatory bowel diseases (allergies)

iv)                Eating non food items causing obstructions eg rocks, balls, toys, bones, clothes (you’d be surprised how common this is especially with young Labradors!)

v)                  Gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome (twisting and bloating of the stomach, usually in larger deep chested breeds)

vi)                Intersusseption (the small bowel telescopes into each other to cause an obstruction – usually seen in young dogs)

vii)              Neoplasia (cancer)

viii)            Intestinal parasites eg large worm burden

ix)                Motility disorders (ineffective contractions of the intestinal tract to propel food)

x)                  Constipation

 

2. Non Gastrointesinal causes:

 

i)                    Liver or kidney disease

ii)                  Various hormonal diseases eg Diabetes

iii)                Generalised or localised severe infections eg pyometra (uterine infection)

iv)                Toxins or chemicals

v)                  Neurological disease especially if it affects balance

vi)                Various drugs eg some antibiotics

vii)              Electrolyte disturbances eg high calcium levels

 

What do you do if your dog is vomiting?

If your dog remains bright and alert and only vomits once then the condition if generally self-limiting and you may need to do nothing.  However if you dogs vomits a few times then you will need to ask yourself a few questions:

 

i)                    Is my dog dull and lethargic?

ii)                  Is he/she off of his/her food?

iii)                Is there any blood in the vomit?

iv)                Does he/she have diarrhoea?

v)                  Is he/she trying to vomit but not succeeding?

 

If you answer yes to any of these questions then you must contact your vet.  If your dog continues to vomit then he will rapidly become dehydrated and may die as a result.  Your veterinary surgeon will obtain a full history of his diet and symptoms and then after a clinical exam, may need to perform various tests in order to determine the cause.  These tests may include blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, contrast studies (using x-rays with barium to check for an obstruction), ultrasound examination, endoscopic examination (a small camera inserted into the intestinal tract to check for abnormalities and take small samples), or exploratory laparotomy (opening them up to take a look). 

 

Home treatments

If you dog vomits a few times but you have answered no to the above questions, then you may trial treatment at home.  Firstly withhold food and water from your dog.  If your dog hasn’t vomited for the last 2 hours then introduce a small amount of water (don’t allow him to gulp down a bucket!) every 20 minutes until hydrated.  If after another 2 hours he still hasn’t vomited, introduce a small amount (meat ball sized) of bland food eg cooked skinless chicken with an equal portion of rice, or a prescription diet from your vet.  The trick is to only allow small amounts of food at a time approximately every 2 hours.  Continue to feed a bland food over the next 24-48 hours and then gradually mix in with his normal diet.   Remember if he seems unwell or continues to vomit contact your vet.

 

Prevention

 

Some ways to prevent common causes of vomiting in your dog are to introduce new foods gradually, stop your dog scavenging ie access to rubbish bins etc, prevent access to small objects he may swallow eg small balls, and never feed cooked bones.