Wondering why your dog is throwing up undigested food? Dogs have a knack for poor timing. You’ve just finished cleaning the house only to find a pile of vomit on the freshly vacuumed carpet or the water bowl spilled all over the kitchen floor. The reality of being a pet parent means dealing with these unfortunate occurrences and knowing when to be concerned.
If you’ve been a dog owner for a while, you know that sometimes vomiting happens with no rhyme or reason. So, how do you know if it’s just an upset stomach or something to worry about?
In this guide, we’ll talk about why dogs throw up and the difference between regurgitation and vomiting. We’ll cover the most common reasons it happens and signs that you should take your dog to the vet. Finally, we’ll provide some simple tips to help keep your dog from throwing up.
Vomiting vs. Regurgitation
Before getting into the details of why dogs throw up, let’s take a moment to discuss the difference between vomiting and regurgitation.
According to experts at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, vomiting is “the ejection of contents of the stomach and upper intestine.” Regurgitation, on the other hand, is “the ejection of contents of the esophagus.”
In other words, regurgitation typically happens right after eating before the food enters the stomach. If the food has had time to start digesting, it’s called vomiting.
Regurgitation is a fairly passive process. Your dog may lower his head and expel the food without much effort. Regurgitated food is typically undigested, so there may be visible chunks of food in a tubular shape. Vomiting is a much more active process. Your dog may display signs of apprehension before it happens then heave and retch to expel the food.
Dogs often regurgitate when they’ve consumed too much food or water too quickly. They may also do it when there’s a foreign body stuck in the throat. In some cases, however, frequent regurgitation can be a symptom of an underlying health problem.
Why Do Dogs Throw Up Food?
An isolated incident of vomiting generally isn’t a cause for concern in dogs. If it happens frequently or for an extended period of time, however, you would be right to be concerned. In these cases, it helps to have an understanding of what might cause your dog to vomit.
The experts at Hill’s Pet Nutrition suggest the following common reasons dogs throw up:
- Digestive upset
- Dietary sensitivity
- Acid reflux
- Stress or anxiety
- Physical activity
- Intestinal parasites
- Viral infection
- Ingestion of toxins
- Ingestion of foreign objects
Let’s take a closer look at some of these causes.
If vomiting is a one-time occurrence, it may be a simple matter of digestive upset – your dog ate something that didn’t agree with his stomach. In other cases, it could be related to food allergies or dietary sensitivity.
Some dogs develop acid reflux which can cause vomiting several hours after eating. If you feed your dog in the morning, he might not vomit until lunchtime. Likewise, if you feed him at night, it could happen closer to the time you’re getting ready for bed. Signs of acid reflux include vomiting partially digested food and yellow bile.
Stress is another potential cause for vomiting in dogs. Significant changes to your dog’s environment or routine can trigger stress and anxiety which may lead to vomiting.
Another potential cause of vomiting is physical activity after eating too much or after drinking water. If you’re engaging your dog in active training and using food as a reward, maybe avoid feeding your dog right before the training session.
A number of health conditions can also lead to vomiting. Intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms can cause symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Viral infections like distemper and parvovirus may cause vomiting along with other symptoms like weakness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. Other diseases that may have vomiting as a symptom include pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroenteritis, and kidney failure.
Finally, ingesting certain objects or substances could cause your dog to vomit. Toxins like pesticides, rat poison, antifreeze, or human medications can cause a serious negative reaction and should be treated as an emergency situation. If your dog ingests a foreign object like garbage or toys, it could cause a digestive blockage which might lead to vomiting.
Vomiting can affect dogs at any age, but it may occur more frequently at certain life stages.
It is not uncommon for a puppy to vomit, for example. Puppies have a tendency to eat non-food items, and many develop a habit of eating too much or too quickly. In a senior dog, vomiting is more likely related to underlying health conditions like liver or kidney disease.
When Should You Be Concerned if Your Dog is Throwing Up Undigested Food?
You care deeply about your dog, so you’re right to be concerned when he doesn’t feel well. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell the difference between occasional vomiting or regurgitation and something more serious.
Veterinary experts at the American Kennel Club (AKC), suggest “if your dog vomits more than once, or has recurring bouts of vomiting, you need to call your vet immediately.”
While occasional vomiting may be nothing to worry about, prolonged vomiting can lead to dehydration and other serious health issues. If your dog is displaying additional symptoms like lethargy, diarrhea, or loss of appetite, you should contact your veterinarian.
Another sign that it’s time to take action is blood in the vomit. Keep in mind that blood in the vomit won’t always be red. If your dog is throwing up something that looks like coffee grounds, it could be digested blood and might be a sign of a serious problem.
To summarize, here are some of the signs you should contact your vet:
- Your dog is vomiting repeatedly
- Your dog vomits after every meal
- Your dog has other concerning symptoms
- Your dog vomits blood
- You see signs of foreign objects in the vomit
What Will Your Vet Do?
Your veterinarian is the best source of advice for health issues concerning your dog. Sure, you can find helpful information on the internet, but you don’t have the training or experience to correctly diagnose and treat an issue that could potentially be serious.
So, what will your vet actually do?
First and foremost, your vet will want you to describe the problem including when it happens and how often. They’ll want to know if your dog vomits immediately after eating or if several hours pass. Tell your vet what the vomit looks like as well. Does it look like undigested chunks of food or is there yellow bile?
If the vomiting is a recurring issue, you might even want to take a video so your veterinarian can better determine whether it’s vomiting or regurgitation.
Once your vet has a better idea of what’s going on, the next step is to find out why it’s happening. The diagnostic process will likely involve a physical exam as well as various tests.
In a physical exam, your vet will feel your dog’s abdomen to check for foreign bodies in the stomach or digestive tract. Your vet may request blood tests to check for issues like pancreatitis or kidney disease as well as a stool sample to check for intestinal parasites.
If these tests don’t yield results, your vet may want to take an X-ray or ultrasound to check for obstructions. If your vet suspects some kind of issue with the esophagus, a barium swallow test can help provide a picture of how well your dog’s digestive system is working.
5 Tips to Help Keep Your Dog from Throwing Up
If vomiting occurs regularly, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian. Your vet can help you determine the underlying cause and provide recommendations for treatment. If vomiting is a rare occurrence, however, you may simply want to take steps to reduce the frequency – namely, avoiding the situations that might cause your dog to vomit or regurgitate food.
According to experts at Diamond Pet Foods, there are five things you can try:
- Remove your dog’s food and water bowls.
- Check the vomit for clues.
- Evaluate your dog’s behavior.
- Give your dog’s stomach time to rest.
- Slowly reintroduce easily digested food.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options and how they might help.
- Remove your dog’s food and water bowls. – The first thing you should do if your dog is vomiting is remove his food and water bowls. If he keeps eating or drinking, he may continue vomiting. Give your dog a good two hours and then give him a small amount of water. If he vomits again, you may want to call your veterinarian.
- Check the vomit for clues. – After taking steps to prevent further vomiting, it’s a good idea to check the vomit itself. What you see in your dog’s vomit can give you a clue as to what caused it to happen. If you find only food – especially undigested food – it may be nothing to worry about. If the vomiting occurs several hours after feeding, however, you may find nothing more than bile, mucus, or saliva.
In some cases, you might find evidence of ingestion for foreign objects or hazardous substances. Pieces of clothing, toys, or food wrappers indicate dietary indiscretion. Signs that your dog may have ingested something poisonous may include pieces medication or rodent bait – you might even see dye leftover from rodent poison.
Again, signs of blood in your dog’s vomit should be cause for concern and should be addressed with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Evaluate your dog’s behavior. – If examining your dog’s vomit doesn’t reveal any cause for concern, you should still evaluate his behavior to make sure he’s okay. Some dogs will be vomiting one minute and then act like nothing happened. They’ll be back to normally eating and drinking right afterward. Behavioral changes or changes in appetite, however, should be cause for concern. If your dog is acting lethargic or shows signs of pain, talk to your veterinarian.
- Give your dog’s stomach time to rest. – Whether your dog is acting normally or not, it’s a good idea to give his stomach time to rest and recover. Withhold food and water for at least two hours. In some cases, you may need to wait as long as 8 to 12 hours. Try giving him a small amount of water after two hours and, if he can hold it down for an hour, slowly reintroduce larger amounts of water. While your dog’s stomach is resting (and as you slowly introduce food and water) keep watching for behavioral changes and the development of new symptoms.
- Slowly reintroduce easily digested food. – As long as your dog is able to keep water down for at least an hour, you should be able to start slowly introducing food. It’s a good idea to stick to fairly bland, easily digestible foods at first. Things like boiled chicken breast and steamed white rice are good options. Just keep in mind that this kind of feeding should only be temporary – these foods won’t provide the nutritional balance your dog needs.
If vomiting is a regular occurrence and your vet suspects food allergies or intolerance to be the issue, they may recommend a therapeutic diet. As with any change in diet, however, it’s important to make the transition slowly. If you’re feeding your dog chicken and rice, start adding small amounts of the therapeutic diet and gently wean your dog off the bland diet onto the new food.
Finally, we’ll reiterate again the importance of consulting your veterinarian. If your dog is vomiting repeatedly, it’s important to find the underlying cause and start a course of treatment.
Any dog owners knows that our canine friends are always going to find ways to get into trouble. While they don’t intend any malice with their actions, dogs can’t tell the difference between harmless and harmful fun. Stealing a bag of dog treats from the counter is more amusing than concerning, but if your dog has a tendency to get into the trash or consume his toys, it could be trouble.
The best thing you can do for your dog is to be an active dog owner. Take the time to get to know your dog’s personality and get a feel for his “normal” behavior. In many cases, a change in behavior is the first sign that something is wrong.
When it comes to vomiting and regurgitation, it’s important to know the difference. You may not need to be concerned if your dog vomits on occasion, as long as you’re able to determine that he hasn’t eaten anything hazardous and he is otherwise acting fine. For repeated bouts of vomiting or if you see blood or foreign objects in the vomit, however, it’s wise to get your veterinarian involved.
Your dog’s health and wellness are your responsibility and, if you love your dog, it will also be your top priority. Understanding the potential threats to your dog’s wellness is essential but there’s no reason to become overly protective. Live in the moment with your dog and enjoy all the time you have together.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why does my dog keep gagging but not throwing up? – If your dog is gagging but not throwing up, it could be a sign of an obstruction. Another possibility is gastric dilation and volvulus, also known as bloat. This often occurs after consuming large amounts of water or food and it causes the stomach to fill with gas and twist, cutting off the blood supply.
- Why is my dog throwing up yellow liquid? – Yellow liquid in a dog’s vomit is usually bile. If your dog is throwing up yellow liquid but nothing else, it may be an indication that the stomach is empty.
- Why is my dog not digesting his food? – Problems with digestion can have any number of causes. Inflammation in the stomach or intestinal blockages are common causes, though it may also be related to viral infections or stomach ulcers.
- How can you tell if your dog has a blockage? – Intestinal blockage can cause your dog to vomit because the food can’t move through the intestines. On top of repeated vomiting, other signs may include weakness, diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, abdominal pain, and a hunched posture.