Causes of Dog Vomit and What They Mean

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Key Takeaways:
  • It’s important to distinguish between whether your dog is vomiting or simply regurgitating.
  • Some of the most common causes of vomiting include consuming table scraps/fatty foods, random objects, various infections/diseases, motion sickness and stress/anxiety.
  • If your dog is having repeated vomiting episodes, the vomiting is accompanied by other signs such as poor appetite, weight loss, or there is abnormal discoloration of the vomit such as blood or a dark brown color, contact your vet immediately.

It's not unusual for dogs to throw up. In fact, there are many reasons why your pet might vomit, and some are more concerning than others. So how can you tell if the dog barf on the grass is a sign of serious trouble? Are there different types of vomit? Read on to find out.

Vomiting vs. Regurgitation

What causes a dog to vomit? First, you should understand the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. When a dog regurgitates, the coughed-up material typically consists of undigested food, water and saliva. It is often expelled in a cylindrical shape since regurgitated material is usually the food or matter in the esophagus. It comes out seemingly effortlessly, without muscle contraction. It's unlikely there will be any warning — either for you or your dog — that anything is coming up.

Vomiting, conversely, is much more active. It will cause muscles to contract and the whole body to tense. When a dog vomits, the food or object is typically coming from the stomach or upper small intestine. You will likely hear the dog retching and see food that is undigested or partially digested, along with clear liquid if it's from the stomach, or yellow or green liquid (bile) if it is from the small intestine. You might also have a little more warning that vomit is coming, such as drooling, pacing, whining or loud gurgling noises from your dog's stomach.

dog yawning

Common Causes of Vomiting

The Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic, identifies the eight most common causes of dog vomit as:

  1. Consuming garbage, fatty foods, and table scraps
  2. Ingesting bones, rubber balls, stones, hair, sticks and other foreign objects
  3. Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms
  4. Viral infections, such as distemper, parvovirus and coronavirus
  5. Diseases, such as kidney disease, cancer and stomach ulcers
  6. Ingesting poisons like rat poison, antifreeze, pesticides or household drugs, like acetaminophen and aspirin
  7. Motion sickness
  8. Stress, excessive excitement or anxiety

The most common reasons for regurgitation are:

  • Gastic reflux and esophagitis
  • An obstruction or stricture in the esophagus
  • Congenital esophageal disease (megaesophagus), which is  more common in breeds including the shar-pei, German shepherd, Great Dane, Irish setter, Labrador retriever, miniature schnauzer, Newfoundland and wire fox terrier

When to Be Concerned

Because vomiting is not that unusual in dogs, pet parents are typically not fazed if a dog throws up occasionally. But when should you worry?

The Animal Hospital of North Asheville notes that there are few dog vomit scenarios that should be cause for concern:

  • Other signs are present: If your dog has not only thrown up, but is also acting strangely — such as sleeping more than usual, refusing to eat or having diarrhea — you should call your veterinarian.
  • There are signs of blood: If you see blood in the vomit or if your dog is throwing up something that looks like coffee grounds — digested blood — call the vet. The blood can be a sign of serious problems, such as gastric ulcers, or a dog who has eaten a sharp foreign object, such as a bone or toy.
  • Your dog won't stop vomiting: While occasionally throwing up isn't unusual, if a dog throws up routinely or excessively, consult a vet to find out why.

If you're concerned at all about your dog’s health, don't hesitate to call your vet for advice.

What Your Vet Will Do

When your veterinarian evaluates your dog, they will likely first want a good history of anything your pet may have eaten or gotten into and information on how often they are vomiting or regurgitating. They may want to do bloodwork to look for causes of vomiting such as kidney disease or pancreatitis.   They may also need to do X-rays if they think your pet may have an obstruction in the GI tract or the esophagus is not working properly.   

Once your vet is able to identify the problem, they can start treatment to get your pet feeling better quickly. 

What You Can Do

If your vet determines what causes your dog to vomit and says that at-home care is sufficient for your pup, you'll want to know how to treat him to alleviate his symptoms. Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine has these care tips for your vomiting dog:

  • Withhold food for a few hours, but make sure to consult your veterinarian on how long first. (However, the college notes, water should never be withheld from a pet with certain health conditions. It's a good idea to talk to your vet before withholding fluids from your dog.) With persistent vomiting, dehydration can be a real cause for concern, which is why fluids are so important.
  • Once vomiting stops, introduce a bland, low-fat food, and feed your dog small amounts three to six times daily for a few days. Gradually increase the amount of food and decrease the feedings as you transition to the dog's normal food. If your vet asked you to withhold water, re-introduce it slowly in small amounts.
  • If you determine your dog is throwing up because he is eating too fast, one solution might be a "puzzle feeder," which forces dogs to eat slower as they work to obtain food.
  • You can also try switching your dog's food to a high-quality option, such as Hill's® Science Diet® Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Dog Food, which offers your dog easy digestion and balanced nutrition. Switch to his new food slowly, rather than all at once or you might exacerbate the problem.

A dog who throws up is not necessarily ill or in need of immediate veterinary attention. But if you see signs that make you believe something might seriously be wrong, call your vet to determine what the problem is and how to solve it. You'll soon be back to petting your pup rather than cleaning up his puke.

Contributor Bio

Kara Murphy

Kara Murphy

Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.

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