Causes of Vomiting
Vomiting is the forcible ejection of stomach contents up through the esophagus and out through the mouth. It is medically called “emesis.” Vomiting is almost always accompanied by retching, gagging and forceful abdominal contractions. Vomiting is not the same as regurgitation, which is the passive expulsion of undigested food or fluid from the esophagus that is not accompanied by abdominal effort. Vomiting is common in domestic dogs and usually is a sign of some other underlying problem.
Many things can cause a dog to vomit. One of the most common causes of vomiting is dietary indiscretion. Dogs often vomit after eating rancid food, foreign bodies, trash, poisonous plants or other toxic or unpleasant things. Chronic vomiting, especially if accompanied by profuse or bloody diarrhea, is a serious medical condition that may be attributable to food or environmental allergies, gastrointestinal disease, dietary imbalances, infections, adverse drug reactions, kidney or liver disease, ingestion of toxins or neurological abnormalities. Vomiting can also be triggered by stress, excitement or exposure to loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks.
Vomiting of undigested or partially digested food more than 12 hours after it was eaten reflects an abnormal delay in the proper emptying of stomach contents into the intestinal tract. Frequent vomiting can cause dehydration/volume depletion, electrolyte disturbances, nutritional deficiencies, poor body condition, weight loss, inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) and/or aspiration pneumonia. Chronic vomiting, regardless of the cause, can lead to severe dietary deficiencies if the problem is not addressed. Dehydration can be life-threatening, and electrolytic imbalances can cause muscle weakness, tremors and neurological problems.
While an occasional bout of vomiting can be normal, frequent episodes should be assessed by a veterinarian. Vomiting that is accompanied by severe, bloody or mucoid diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, depression, pain, fever or confusion warrants an immediate trip to the veterinary clinic. If a dog can’t hold down even small amounts of food or water, something is seriously wrong. The dog could be suffering from poisoning, an intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis, bloat/gastric dilatation and volvulus, or an infection with parvovirus. All of these conditions are life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.
There is no magical way to prevent a dog from vomiting. Prevention requires identification and removal of the underlying cause of the condition. Because there are so many diverse causes of vomiting, there is no one protocol to recommend. In general, dogs should not be exposed to potentially toxic substances. They also should have regular veterinary examinations to ensure their good health. High-quality nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, with moderate exercise, lots of fresh air, warm and comfortable housing and plenty of human companionship, are also important to maintaining the good health of our beloved canine companions.
Treating recurrent vomiting in dogs requires identifying and removing the initiating cause and then providing the appropriate fluids, electrolytes and medications to soothe the stomach. Owners should not panic over an occasional episode of vomiting, but they probably should take their dog to the veterinarian if it is vomiting repeatedly.