Why is my dog vomiting?

If your dog is vomiting, it can be scary, especially when you don’t know why she is throwing up. Unless you see her eat, for example, a shoelace, and then watch her throw it up in the corner five minutes later, seeing her vomit can be worrisome. Is she suffering from an upset stomach or something more serious? And since she can’t tell you what’s wrong, it’s even more difficult to help her feel better and alleviate her confusion and pain.
If your dog is vomiting, there are a few things you need to do immediately.

Check the vomit. Yes – as if the act of vomiting isn’t bad enough – you need to inspect her vomit. Why? Because of that whole shoelace thing I mentioned before. Checking her vomit helps you figure out why she vomited in the first place. For example, if she vomits after she eats, she may be allergic to her food (especially if it’s a new brand) or she may have eaten too quickly. Looking at her vomit and seeing its color and content and knowing the circumstance and time of day will help you and your vet get a better understanding of why she’s sick.
Decide whether it’s vomit or regurgitation. Knowing the difference will help your vet better diagnose your dog: If your dog is hunched over and contracting her abdominal muscles, she’s probably vomiting. Vomiting usually stinks and tends to be a mixture of food and bile. But if she’s throwing up effortlessly – like it’s her dream in life – then she is probably just regurgitating something (usually in a tubular shape) that was never fully digested.
Take away her food and water. I have to admit, I was surprised when I read this tip about taking away water because when my dog Henry is throwing up or looks like he’s about to throw up, my first instinct is to give him water. However, giving your dog food or water after she vomits up can make things worse because it doesn’t allow her stomach to settle. Once her stomach calms down and she doesn’t vomit for an hour, you can start giving her water and food in small increments.
Contact the vet. When dogs suddenly vomit to get rid of something bad they ate or something that is irritating them internally, it’s called acute vomiting. However, if the vomiting is getting worse or happening more frequently (chronic vomiting), you need to contact the vet. Frequent, prolonged vomiting can be the result of something more serious like head trauma or a form of cancer. It’s also important to call your vet immediately if she’s in shock (pale skin or gums, odd behavior, collapse) or dehydrated (diarrhea, discolored urine, dry gums) from vomiting, especially if it’s severe, prolonged vomiting.

Now you know what to do if she’s vomiting, but you’re probably still freaking out and wondering what her vomiting means. Because vomiting is a symptom in pretty much every doggy disease and gastrointestinal problem, it’s okay to a) be grossed out; and b) worried about her health.
Fortunately, acute vomiting can be managed by withholding water or food for a couple hours and giving her a diet of chicken and rice for a few days. But chronic vomiting (vomiting that persists for two or three days in a row) can happen for a host of reasons – inflammatory bowel disease, viral or bacterial infections, problems with the pancreas or digestive systems, neoplasia, kidney disease, or liver disease – and needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
If your dog is taken to the vet for treatment, expect fluid therapy (especially if she’s dehydrated from all the vomiting) and antibiotics. Your vet will also ask if you’ve noticed other symptoms recently in your dog – lethargy, weight loss, change in appetite – that may help explain why she’s sick. Thankfully, chronic vomiting in dogs is very treatable as long as they’re taken to the vet as soon as symptoms arise.
Although vomiting is largely due to an upset stomach or poor digestion, it may also be the symptom of something more severe like pancreatitis, kidney disease, or liver disease. By maintaining regular vet visits and taking your dog to the vet any time his behavior seems odd, vomiting is something that can easily be treated. Good pet parents (like you!) know how to treat their pets and can expect long, happy lives with them, even if it means cleaning up a mess every now and then.

Image: Sasha the Okay Photographer