Vomiting vs Regurgitation in Dogs: Is My Dog Actually Vomiting?

Vomiting is a common occurrence in dogs and can be a major concern for their owners.

There are many causes of vomiting. Vomiting can range from being an isolated incident of little concern to a major threat to your dog’s health.

But how do you determine the difference?  Firstly, you need to determine whether your dog is truly vomiting.

Vomiting vs Regurgitation in Dogs: Is My Dog Actually Vomiting?

Is vomiting really vomiting?

Vomiting is a very real symptom and one we frequently see in dogs. However, there are instances that can cause symptoms that appear very similar while not actually being vomiting in reality.

To accurately diagnose the cause of a symptom or illness, we need to understand what we are seeing.

Vomiting definition

Let’s start by defining vomiting. Vomiting the forceful expulsion of contents from the stomach. 

The contents “thrown up” when your dog vomits may be anything that is in his stomach, including:

  • undigested or partially digested food
  • yellowish-colored bile-tinged fluid
  • or even foreign objects your dog has swallowed.

Vomiting is typically an active process and you will usually see your dog’s abdomen heaving as he vomits.

At the same time, your dog may be nauseous, in the same fashion that you probably feel nauseous when you are vomiting. Nausea may result in excessive salivation or drooling, and your dog may feel nauseous even if he is not actively vomiting.

Vomiting Versus Regurgitation

Is is essential to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation.

Regurgitation describes the expulsion of the contents of the mouth, pharynx, or esophagus. In other words, regurgitation involves “throwing up” food and other content that has not yet made its way to the stomach.

Regurgitation is a more passive process than vomiting.

There is no abdominal heaving involved. There may be a little gagging involved, but basically, undigested food will pass back up through your dog’s mouth when he regurgitates. In most cases, the regurgitated material will be undigested food. It may be covered with mucus.

Respiratory symptoms and vomiting

Another scenario that may be mistaken for vomiting can happen when a dog is experiencing respiratory symptoms and is coughing up respiratory secretions.

This can usually be differentiated from true vomiting by the presence of other respiratory symptoms such as:

  • coughing
  • gagging
  • wheezing
  • and/or difficulty breathing.

When coughing up respiratory secretions, the “thrown up” material is likely to be white and frothy in appearance.

Diagnosing the cause

Naturally, if any of these symptoms happen regularly, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.

They will evaluate your dog by:

  • a thorough physical examination
  • and a good history of your dog’s physical symptoms.

This usually helps determine whether your dog is truly vomiting or experiencing some other health issue.

If you’re uncertain, bring a sample of the material your dog is “throwing up. ” It can help determine whether it’s stomach contents.

Because of the stomach’s acidic nature, stomach contents will have a pH value that is much more acidic than that of regurgitated food or other materials. It is easy to measure pH.

The list of possible causes of true vomiting is much different than the things that can cause regurgitation.

Similarly, if your dog is experiencing respiratory issues rather than gastrointestinal issues, the differential list changes dramatically.

Once the veterinarian determines whether your dog is vomiting instead of regurgitating, they will recommend further testing. a diagnostic plan can be pursued to find the cause and a treatment plan can be chosen to resolve your dog’s illness.

Related articles:
My Dog’s Vomiting: Why Is My Dog Throwing up?
Regurgitation in Dogs: Is It Different from Vomiting?

Further reading:
Regurgitation in Dogs

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