At some time or another, chances are your dog will vomit. The occasional episode of vomit in dogs is normal, and generally is nature’s way of ridding the body of an unwanted food or foreign objects the dog may have ingested. While vomiting occasionally may not be an indication of a serious illness, any occurrence of repeated vomiting, especially if accompanied by lethargy, diarrhea or other behavioral changes, should receive prompt medical attention.
Just as diarrhea is a result of irritation in the lining of the small and large intestine, vomiting is the result of irritation in the stomach. Unlike regurgitation, the act of spitting up undigested food soon after a meal, vomiting occurs when stomach contractions forcefully expel stomach contents. Vomiting can be split up into two major categories- acute vomiting has a sudden onset, usually a one-time occurrence. However, in some cases acute, repeated vomiting can be a sign of a life-threatening emergency. In contrast, dogs that vomit one or more times a week on a regular basis may have a chronic condition, usually caused by an inflammatory or irritated intestinal system.
An occasional bout of vomiting is not necessarily a sign of a major medical problem in dogs. A sudden change in the type of food, giving an unfamiliar treat, or feeding table scraps can cause a bout of diarrhea or vomiting. An upset stomach caused by food changes can often be resolved at home, so long as the vomiting (and often diarrhea as well) is not severe, and the dog continues to act and feel normally. Withholding food for 24 hours will allow the dogs digestive system to settle down (while continuing to encourage water consumption). After 24 hours, small amounts of a bland diet, such as white rice and chicken, can be offered. If the upset subsides, you can gradually place the dog back on their original diet.
Eating too fast, especially dry food, can often result in vomiting or regurgitation shortly after a meal. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals may help to relieve this problem. Small dogs and puppies on a primarily dry food diet that vomit shortly after eating may simply be eating too much in one meal. When ingested, dry food will absorb the moisture in the dogs stomach, expanding in size, causing the dog to regurgitate. Soaking dry food before feeding it to your dog, or mixing dry with canned food, may help to solve this problem.
Parasites can play a part in vomiting in dogs, and especially puppies. Roundworms can be ingested from the soil, and puppies are passed the worm from their mothers. As the eggs hatch in the intestine, the larva is then carried to the lungs via the bloodstream. From the lungs, the worms crawl up the windpipe and cause gagging and coughing, before returning to the intestine to grow into adults. Roundworms can grow to up to seven inches long and appear spaghetti-like, long and thin. A pot-bellied appearance, poor growth and a rough, dull hair coat are signs of a worm infestation. Although diarrhea is the most common sign, in severe cases puppies may actually vomit large quantities of live worms. If allowed to continue unchecked, the worms can cause pneumonia, intestinal obstructions and death.
While not a worm, Giardia is an intestinal parasite caused by a single-celled organism that lives in the intestines of infected animals. Recent research has shown that Giardia is present in up to 11% of the general population of pets, and as many as 50% of puppies. Giardia can be transmitted from pet to pet, through contaminated feed or water, and through the soil. Pets who attend dog-park, doggy day care or are kenneled are at higher risk for infection. The most common symptom of Giardia is diarrhea of varying severity, and vomiting. However, many animals who are infected with Giardia can show no symptoms for extended periods of time, which makes routine testing even more important.
Coccidia is another single-celled organism that infects the small intestine of dogs. Dogs with coccidia may show know signs of illness, and some may have severe bouts of watery stools and bloody diarrhea, vomiting, depression and fever, and even death as a result of severe dehydration. These severe side effects of coccidia are most common in puppies and adult dogs suffering from other illnesses.
Sudden, repeated vomiting- a medical emergency
Unfortunately, dogs are well known for getting into things that they shouldn’t, lead by their noses and stomachs. Dietary indiscretion, in the form of eating things out of the garbage, in the yard, plants, etc, can be the cause of vomiting. Most times, withholding food and letting the dog naturally expel the unwanted substances will be curative. However, eating something that may cause an obstruction in the gut is a threat, and any dog that has eaten a large amount of something, even if it is seemingly harmless, should be monitored for abdominal pain, lethargy or increasing episodes of vomiting.
As many dog owners will attest, dogs will eat just about anything. Unfortunately, this can mean an array of items that never meant to be in the body, winding up in your dogs stomach. Tennis balls, coins, socks, rocks, toys - there really is no limit to the dogs imaginative thinking when it comes to ingesting foreign objects. Once the dog has swallowed the item, it may prove too large to pass through the rest of the increasingly smaller intestinal tract, and can at some point become stuck. This intestinal blockage quickly becomes an emergency situation. A partial blockage in the intestines may produce vomiting, diarrhea and cramping of the abdominal muscles. A complete blockage will cause severe abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, and repeated, frantic, projectile vomiting. Depending on the location of the blockage, fecal-like mater may be vomited, while in other situations the vomit may be only bile.
If the obstruction is allowed to continue, the gut surrounding the blockage will begin to loose blood supply, and start to die. This process can happen in as little as an hour of a complete obstruction. As the intestines begin to rot, the gut may leak or even rupture, causing a severe systemic infection.
Abdominal X-rays are the best way to diagnose an obstruction, and immediate surgical intervention is usually the only form of treatment. The blockage will be located and removed, and if the surrounding bowel has been compromised, it must be cut out (resected) and the healthy ends of the gut sewn together to reconnect the intestinal tract.
Bloat, also known as Gastric dialation-volvulus, or torsion, is a serious, life-threatening condition affecting large breed dogs. The most commonly affected breeds are those with a large, deep chest, such as the Akita, Great Dane, German Shepherd and Doberman Pincher, though all dogs are at risk for developing this condition.
Bloat is caused by a variety of factors, which when combined lead to a recipe for disaster. Dogs fed a large meal once daily, especially those that eat their meals rapidly, are at greatest risk. As their stomach fills, gastric distention occurs. Increased activity shortly after a meal can cause the stomach to twist, closing off the esophagus, and leaving them unable to expel gas or excess food in the stomach by vomiting or belching. Signs of bloat include a distended abdomen, pain, salivation, and repeated, unproductive attempts to vomit.
As the bloat continues unrelieved, many of the dogs body systems may become involved. Blood flow to the spleen can be cut off, and the blood return to the heart can decrease, causing cardiac arrhythmias. The lack of blood supply reaching the stomach will cause the lining of the stomach to begin to die, releasing toxins into the bloodstream. The liver, pancreas and other portions of the intestine can become involved, and low blood pressure, shock and endotoxemia quickly develop. The stomach, now weakened, can rupture, leaving to a severe infection within the abdomen.
Bloat is serious medical emergency, and if you suspect your dog is suffering from torsion, time is of the essence to save his or her life. At the hospital, medicines to stabilize your dog, such as intravenous fluids, steroids and antibiotics will be started, and the veterinarian may attempt to decompress the stomach by passing a tube directly into it. In some cases, this is successful, and a gastric lavage will be performed to empty the contents of the stomach, and allow it to return to its normal place.
Unfortunately, this medical treatment may not be sufficient to relieve the torsion, and surgery may become the only way to save the dog. Because the dogs body is often severely compromised at this point, the surgery may have a high risk, but still be the dogs only chance for survival. In surgery, the stomach twist will be corrected, and the dogs intestinal tract thoroughly inspected for damage. If damaged tissue is found, it may be removed, and if infection is present, a lavage of the entire abdomen may be performed to remove bacteria.
The outcome of surgery depends on how quickly the bloat was discovered and corrected, and how much damage was done to the intestinal tract and other major organs. Recovery is often difficult, with intestinal complications and infecting being the most common cause of problems.
Prevention of bloat is aimed at reducing the occurrence of extreme gastric dilation. Feeding two or three smaller meals throughout the day, instead of one large meal, as well as waiting two hours before allowing exercise after a meal, can help to prevent bloat. In addition, dogs that have had surgery for bloat may have a procedure called gastroplexy done to anchor the stomach to the wall of the abdomen, reducing the chances of a future occurrence of torsion.
Treating Dog Vomiting
Treatment of acute vomiting in dogs is aimed at diagnosing the underlying problem, and correcting that. Your veterinarian will first take a full history on your dogs condition, when the diarrhea first started, were there any precipitating factors, etc. After a comprehensive physical exam, your veterinarian may recommend:
Fecal testing- a sample of stool will be obtained, and checked for evidence of parasites such as roundworms and coccidia. In addition, an antigen test may be run on the fecal sample to check for the presence of Giardia.
Blood work- Blood chemistries look at a variety of body systems, and will give your vet a reading as to the basic health of your dogs major organs such as the kidneys and liver. The CBC evaluates the components of your dogs blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The CBC will help to diagnose or rule out infection as a potential cause of your dogs diarrhea.
X-rays- Radiographs of your dogs abdomen may be recommended to rule out potential intestinal obstructions, or foreign bodies that your dog may have ingested. If radiographs suggest a possible problem, surgery may be recommended, or follow-up X-rays at several intervals may be taken to ensure a foreign object is successfully moving through the intestinal tract.
Hospitalization- Depending on the results of the above tests, and your dogs physical condition, your veterinarian may recommend hospitalizing your dog to diagnose and treat the cause of vomiting. IV fluids may be administered to correct fluid imbalances and dehydration as a result of vomiting. Several medications are available to treat nausea and vomiting in dogs, and these may be given to help your dog stop vomiting.
While acute cases of vomiting can be cause for great concern, chronic vomiting, while less common, is also reason for a visit to your veterinarian.
Vomiting that occurs on a seemingly otherwise health dogs more than once a week is considered chronic. Because chronic vomiting can lead to poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, often dogs will be finicky eaters, have a low energy level and poor quality hair coat.
Food allergies and intolerances are a common cause of chronic vomiting. Similar to lactose intolerance in people, dogs may have or develop allergies or sensitivities to variety of ingredients in dog food, leading to chronic inflammation in the stomach and intestinal tract.
Pancreatitis can present in dogs in both an acute form, as well as a chronic problem. The pancreatic gland is responsible for secreting hormones such as insulin and glucagons into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar levels, as well as making the digestive enzymes that break down food for digestion. Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can cause these digestive enzymes to decrease, and in severe cases the enzymes may begin to digest the actual organs of the dog instead of digesta. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and a poor appetite are the symptoms of pancreatitis, but because these symptoms are shared with so many other gastrointestinal problems, it can be hard to diagnose.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can also be a cause of chronic diarrhea in dogs. In affected dogs, the intestine is taken over by inflammatory cells, eventually leading to scar tissue throughout the lining of the digestive system. Although the exact cause of IBD is unknown, nutrition, genetics and the immune system are thought to play a role in its development. Dogs with a long history of chronic vomiting, diarrhea or weight loss that have been found to be free of parasites and other obvious causes should be considered for IBD. Diagnosis of IBD can be difficult, and often requires an intestinal biopsy to confirm. Treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation, as well as dietary changes to provide a more easily digestible food source.
Because vomiting can be a sign of anything from simple overeating, to a major life-threatening emergency, it is up to you to be aware and well informed of the dangers to your dog. By carefully watching your dog, you may be able to spot a potential problem before it comes an emergency, and save you and your dog from a heartbreaking situation.