In every dog's life, there are bound to be some episodes of regurgitation. In fact, regurgitation serves as both a protective response and a strategy employed by canine mothers to feed their young during the period immediately following weaning them from breast milk and before they are capable of consuming freshly killed prey.
Regurgitation is simply a way of emptying the stomach of its contents before the initial stages of digestion have been completed. The reasons for this evacuation vary, but the one possibility that every dog owner and veterinarian should be most concerned about is an obstruction somewhere along the dog's digestive tract. In such instances, food and water cannot pass beyond the obstruction and have nowhere to go. The dog's system senses this and attempts to evacuate these materials in the opposite direction. Because the system is designed to try to correct the problem, increased muscular contractions of the gastrointestinal tract begin in an effort to move the obstruction along. Your dog may feel a cramping sensation and act restless and uncomfortable. Eventually, if these contractions are unsuccessful at moving the obstruction, the intestines can be perforated. Once intestinal contents are spilled into the abdomen, rapid infection and inflammation follow and the consequence is frequently fatal.
What to Look For?
In cases of regurgitation, it is best to proceed in a straightforward manner. Begin by examining the contents of what your dog has just regurgitated. Continue by conducting a thorough oral exam as outlined in “My Dog Is Drooling Excessively”. Moving on, feel your dog's neck and throat for swelling or lumps.
Next, with your dog standing, kneel beside him. Place one hand, palm facing up, on your dog's abdomen, just behind his rib cage. Forming a “U” shape with your thumb as one side and your remaining four fingers as the other, gently lift, squeeze, and slide your hand back and forth along your dog's underbelly in order to check for areas of discomfort or tenderness.
Finally, lift your dog's tail up check his anus for signs of swelling, irritation, blood, diarrhea, or parasites.
What to Do
Now ask yourself these questions:
- What did you see in the regurgitate? Because regurgitation is an effective way for a dog's body to reject what his appetite won't, you may find the reason for the episode right in front of you. Look for the usual culprits-inedible objects, plant or animal matter, and any evidence of spicy or unusual foods.
- Has your dog recently eaten anything that he shouldn't have? As stated above, new or unusual foods, especially spicy ones, and anything that might have been tainted with bacteria or chemicals, should be rejected by your dog's system shortly after it is ingested. If so, wait for an hour, then give your dog a dose of Pepto-Bismol to coat and soothe his stomach. As long as he continues to act well, he should be fine. If not, seek help from your vet.
- Did your oral exam reveal any abnormal findings? Pale to white gums are immediate cause for concern and a visit with your vet. Pain alone, if dramatic enough, can cause a dog to regurgitate, so a broken tooth or signs of any other oral trauma or infection could explain the regurgitation. Be aware, though, that signs of trauma to the inside of your dog's mouth could also suggest that he swallowed something large and/or sharp that could be lodged somewhere further down his digestive tract.
- When you feel your dog's throat, do you detect any lumps or swellings? If your dog's lymph nodes are swollen, you will feel them on either side of his throat, about where you would feel your own Adam's apple. These usually become enlarged when a dog has an oral or upper respiratory infection. If you find them to be enlarged, your vet should be consulted for possible antibiotic therapy.
- Did you detect any discomfort or tenderness when you felt your dog's abdomen? Not every dog with an obstruction feels enough discomfort to flinch or cry out when pressure is applied to his abdomen. Likewise, not every dog that exhibits a painful response to palpation is obstructed; bowel loops distended with gas can cause the same response. Usually, however, a painful abdomen is what we look for to suggest an obstruction. Take your dog to the vet for abdominal X-rays.
- Has your dog been suffering from congestive heart failure, a respiratory infection, or cough? Forceful coughing will often cause dogs to bring up whatever is in their stomachs at the time. Seek treatment for the source of the cough and the regurgitation should resolve in response.
When to Get to the Vet
If you suspect that your dog has an obstruction of the digestive tract, rush him to the veterinary hospital at once!