Vomiting in Dogs
Vomiting is common in dogs. All vomiting is the result of activating the vomiting center in the brain. The vomiting center is well developed in dogs, so dogs vomit more readily than most other animals. As a dog perceives a need to vomit, he becomes anxious and may seek attention and reassurance. He then begins to salivate and swallow repeatedly.
Vomiting begins with a simultaneous contraction of the muscles of the stomach and abdominal wall. There is an abrupt increase in intra-abdominal pressure. The lower esophagus relaxes, allowing the stomach contents to travel up the esophagus and out the mouth. The dog extends his neck and makes harsh gagging sounds. This sequence should be distinguished from the passive act of regurgitation.
Causes of Vomiting
The most common cause of vomiting is eating indigestible substances, such as grass, that irritate the lining of the stomach. Another cause of vomiting is overeating-dogs who eat more than their daily amount of food, perhaps because they have gotten into the dog food bag. Also, puppies who gobble their food and exercise immediately after are likely to vomit. This after-meal vomiting is frequently caused by feeding a group of puppies from a common food pan. Since they are all competing for food, each one eats as much as he possibly can. Separating puppies, or feeding them frequent small meals, eliminates the problem of gorging.
Dogs may vomit when they are upset, excited, or suffering from a phobia (for example, during a thunderstorm). Phobic dogs also drool, whine, paw, and tremble.
Vomiting occurs with most acute infectious diseases. It also occurs with many chronic diseases, including kidney and liver failure, Cushing's syndrome, Addison's disease, and diabetes mellitus.
To determine the cause of vomiting, note whether it is repeated, and if so, whether it is sporadic or persistent. How soon after eating does it occur? Is it projectile? Inspect the vomitus for blood, fecal material, and foreign objects.
If the dog vomits or retches repeatedly, bringing up a frothy, clear fluid, this suggests a stomach irritation such as acute gastritis. However, persistent vomiting also occurs with life-threatening diseases such as acute pancreatitis, gastric outflow obstruction, intestinal obstruction, and peritonitis.
Persistent retching without bringing up any vomitus is typical of bloat. Repeated vomiting along with diarrhea suggests acute infectious enteritis.
Sometimes a dog vomits off and on over a period of days or weeks. There is no relationship to meals. The appetite is poor. The dog has a haggard look and appears listless. Suspect liver or kidney disease, or an illness such as chronic gastritis, stomach or duodenal ulcer, a heavy worm infestation, or diabetes mellitus.
A foreign body in the stomach is another possibility. In an older dog, suspect a gastric or intestinal tumor. A veterinary checkup is in order.
Red blood in the vomitus indicates active bleeding somewhere between the mouth and the upper small bowel. (Blood from the nasopharynx and esophagus may be swallowed.) Common causes are stomach and duodenal ulcers, gastrointestinal foreign bodies, and gastric tumors. Material that looks like coffee grounds is old, partially digested blood. This also indicates a bleeding point between the mouth and upper small bowel. Any dog who vomits blood should be seen by a veterinarian.
A dog who vomits foul material that looks and smells like feces is most likely suffering from intestinal obstruction or peritonitis. Seek immediate professional treatment. Dogs who eat feces may also do this, but it will be an isolated incident.
Projectile vomiting is forceful vomiting in which the stomach contents are ejected a considerable distance. Typically it occurs in a dog with gastric outflow obstruction. Diseases that cause pressure on the brain (tumors, encephalitis, blood clots) also cause projectile vomiting.
Home Treatment of Vomiting
If there is any question about the cause or seriousness of the vomiting, seek veterinary help. Vomiting dogs can rapidly become dehydrated as they lose body fluids and electrolytes. Home treatment is appropriate only for normal, healthy adult dogs who show no signs other than vomiting. Puppies, dogs with preexisting health conditions, and old dogs are less able to tolerate dehydration and should be treated by a veterinarian.
An important initial step is to rest the stomach by withholding food and water for a minimum of 12 hours. If the vomiting stops with stomach rest, the dog can be permitted to lick a few ice chips every three to four hours. If the vomiting has stopped, offer 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water (63 to 125 ml), depending on the size of the dog, every two to three hours. A pediatric electrolyte solution can be given in small amounts, in addition to the water. After 12 hours with no vomiting, start the dog on a bland diet.
Stop all food and water and obtain immediate veterinary assistance when:
- Vomiting persists despite the fact that the dog has received no food or water for several hours.
- Vomiting recurs during attempts to reintroduce food and water.Vomiting is accompanied by diarrhea.
- The dog vomits fresh blood or material that looks like coffee grounds (partially digested blood).
- The dog becomes weak and lethargic or shows other signs of systemic illness.
This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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