Regurgitation in Dogs: Is It Different from Vomiting?

Regurgitation is not vomiting. What is the difference between the two and why does it matter?

Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of stomach contents. A dog will be nauseous—they might drool or lick their lips right before they throw up. You will typically see dogs heaving as they vomit.

Regurgitation refers to a more passive process and involves the expulsion of the contents of the esophagus.

Regurgitation in Dogs

Regurgitation versus vomitting

There is no heaving with regurgitation.

Jasmine vomited plenty of times but regurgitated only once or twice. There was a distinct difference. When she regurgitated, it was almost immediately after she finished her meal. The food came out the same as it went down (well, in kind of a sausage shape). She just opened her mouth, and there it came.

When Jasmine vomited, it was always preceded by the well-known heaving sound. She would then make a dash to open the door to let her out. She always tried to take it outside, so it was up to me whether or not I made it there on time.

Is there bile?

The presence of bile (a yellowish-brown tinged fluid) means that what you’re looking at is vomit.

But not all vomit contains bile. JD would overdo it at the farm munching on horse poop and grass now and then. What he would vomit the following day looked almost like poop. You could clearly see what he feasted on the previous day, and there was no bile in it at all. There was a lot of heaving, though.

Causes of regurgitation

Obstructions

The most common regurgitation causes are partial or complete obstruction of the esophagus or an esophageal motility issue.

Potential causes of esophageal obstruction include:

  • a foreign body
  • stricture (narrowing)
  • vascular abnormality (blood vessels that form a tight ring around the esophagus),
  • or a tumor.

Problems with motility can stem from inflammation, Addison’s disease, neuromuscular disorder, or toxins. Megaesophagus – a condition with several potential underlying causes – is a common cause of regurgitation in dogs.

Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus is a disorder of the esophagus.

A healthy esophagus is a muscular tube that expands and contracts to move food and water from the mouth to the stomach. With megaesophagus, this tube dilates and becomes flabby, causing it to malfunction. As a result, food and water do not make their way into the stomach. Instead, they build up within the esophagus and eventually come back out.

Frequent regurgitation puts your dog at risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is a result of accidental inhalation of food into the lungs.

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)

Regurgitation can also be one of the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

This condition stems from the reverse flow of gastric or intestinal fluids into the esophagus.

So you might be looking at inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic pancreatitis, infections, parasites, liver problems … basically, anything that causes prolonged vomiting.

Other causes include::

  • Hiatal hernias (movement of abdominal contents through the diaphragm around the esophagus)
  • anesthetic procedures during which dogs are positioned on their backs for long periods

The causes of regurgitation are quite different from those behind vomiting.

Treatment then will be very different also. But, as always, proper diagnosis is the starting point.

Genetic predisposition to esophageal disorder

Megaesophagus is a complex of disorders resulting in dysfunction of esophageal motility. There are breeds that are genetically predisposed to getting this condition, including:

  • German Shepherds
  • Newfoundlands
  • Great Danes
  • Iris Setters
  • Shar-Pei
  • Greyhounds
  • Labrador Retrievers

The problem might present from birth, or develop later in life.

Beside regurgitation, other symptoms of megaesophageal disorder include:

  • bad breath
  • symptoms associated with pneumonia
  • wasting from slow starvation

Dogs can develop megaesophagus secondary to other problem:

  • Myasthenia gravis
  • neurological issues
  • blockage
  • severe inflammation
  • hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism or Addison’s disease
  • poisoning

Further reading: Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus in German Shepherds

As you can see above, German Shepherds lead the list of affected breeds. When puppies suffer from megaesophagus, they are often unable to survive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if breeders could test for the predisposition?

Genetic variation associated with megaesophagus in German Shepherds discovered

The researchers at Clemson University discovered the genetic variation that is behind esophageal disorder in German Shepherds. Breeders now can test to reduce the risk for future litters. The problem lies within hormone receptor affecting appetite, weight, and the way food moves through the GI tract.

As well as it turned out that male dogs are more likely to suffer from megaesophagus than females.

It also turns out true that the active ingredient in Viagra–sildenafil, improves survival and recovery in puppies.

At this time, it is not clear whether the same variation is at play in other susceptible breeds.

Related articles:
Vomiting in Dogs: Is He Actually Vomiting?

Categories: RegurgitationSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

8 Comments
  1. That’s so interesting! I never knew there was a difference, but now I clearly see it. If it ever happens to my dogs I’ll know it needs Vet attention immediately

  2. I always thought they were the same so this is an eye opener for me, thanks for the great post as I once again have learned something and need to keep my eye out with Layla

  3. Very informative article! I had no idea that dogs could have a predisposition to Megaesophagus. Well, or even what exactly Megaesophagus was, especially in dogs. Now, I know what to look for should it appear. I also, know that my rescue cockapoo is not in the most likely group to acquire it, although he is male. It is interesting to learn the difference between regurgitation and vomiting. My dog has vomited I think 3x since I adopted him. It always gets my attention. Each time it was determined that he must’ve eaten something he shouldn’t have when I was looking. Really great read for any dog parent!

  4. I always thought that regurgitation and vomiting were the same thing. I have seen my dogs regurgitate occasionally, I thought it was a result of them eating too quickly. I will be sure to pay more attention if it happens again.

  5. I did not know there was a difference and I wonder if many dog owners are the same! This is a must read for every dog owner!

    I know with cats there is a heaving (and this is most common) but knowing there is a different way for a dog to be vomit could be important. Knowing what is happening will make any vet visit much easier if you head to the surgery prepared to describe what happened in clear and helpful terms (not vague “well he was just sick…”)

    Marjorie

  6. I remember, in the past, learning about the differences between vomiting and regurgitation. This post is a great outline of the differences between the two, and the potential causes of regurgitation – Something every dog owner should be aware of! I shared on Twitter.

  7. Very interesting! I didn’t know that there was a difference between vomiting and regurgitation. It makes a lot of sense now that I’ve read your article. As a human that suffers from GERD, I can definitely see how regurgitation plays into the disorder. I’m glad that they’ve found a way to test for predisposition to Megaesophgus in dogs. That would be such a heart breaking thing to experience with a little of puppies!

  8. I had no idea about esophageal disorder in German Shepherds and the genetic variation between males and females. This was an insightful read. Although I’ve never owned a dog I can attest that much of what you described, I’ve experienced with cats regarding vomiting vs. regurgitation. I’ll be sharing!

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