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What does it mean when your dog vomits?

Vomiting is characterized by nausea and active expulsion of stomach contents
Vomiting is characterized by nausea and active expulsion of stomach contents

What does it mean when your dog vomits? There are over 400 reasons why a dog will vomit ranging from severe illness to an upset stomach. Vomiting is a protective reflex initiated by the body to actively remove noxious and harmful substances from the body.

Vomiting is an active process characterized by signs of nausea, heaving and forceful expulsion of stomach contents. If you see your dog licking their lips, drooling or swallowing followed by active movement of their abdominal cavity prior to vomiting- then they are truly vomiting rather than passively regurgitating their food. The color, texture and contents of vomit can range from chunks of food, white colored foam, yellow semi-liquid and brown-green semi-solids. Ideally, the character of the vomit can help identify where in the gastrointestinal tract the food is being expelled from but is not always helpful.

There are many causes of vomiting ranging from eating something that disagreed with the dog’s stomach or bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal tract to intestinal parasites. Sometimes vomiting can indicate much more severe diseases such as heartworm, ingestion of toxic substances, pancreatitis and acute kidney or liver failure.

Causes of vomiting include:

• Dietary indiscrimination (eating rotten food, too much food or too fast)
• Food allergies
• Ingestion of toxins
• Foreign bodies such as bones, toys or chewies in the gastrointestinal tract
• Intestinal parasites
• Bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal tract
• Viral infections
• Car sickness
• Pancreatitis
• Ingestion of certain medications
• Viral infections
• Post-operative nausea
• Infected uterus (in non-spayed females)
• Acute kidney failure
• Acute liver failure
• Cancer

Deciding whether your vomiting dog has a significant underlying condition that requires medical attention or can easily fixed by securing the garbage can- may be difficult. In some cases simply observing your dog eating or changing their food may cure their vomiting. However a dog that vomits continuously or vomits any quantity of blood most likely has a more severe underlying condition and should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.

Your veterinarian will inquire into the frequency, character and timing of your dog vomiting episodes. Questions your veterinarian may ask include:
• How long has your dog been vomiting?
• How often does your dog vomit?
• Is the vomiting before or after eating, how many hours will lapse after eating before your dog vomits?
• What type of food is he eating- including table scraps and treats? How long has he been eating the same diet?
• Has he lost weight?
• Describe the vomit- what’s the color and consistency, is it watery, and does it have a smell? Is there any blood in the vomit?
• When was your dog’s last vaccination?
• Is your dog on monthly parasite and or heartworm prevention?
• Has your dog ever had a heartworm test?

Veterinarians will often order a series of tests to better identify the source of the vomiting. This tests include but are not limited to a test that counts the number of various cells in the blood (complete blood test), a test that quantifies the concentration of specific electrolytes and specific protein markers of internal organ function (internal chemistry), fecal examination and radiographs prior to make a diagnosis.

Vomiting if severe enough can cause severe dehydration and life threatening electrolyte imbalances. It is also uncomfortable to be nauseas or have an upset stomach whether you are a dog or a human. Because there are so many causes of vomiting, it is important to take your dog to a veterinarian to definitively identify and treat the cause of your dog’s vomiting.

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