Why Is My Dog Vomiting? Reasons Dogs Throw Up

How much should you worry about your dog’s vomiting and when to see a vet?

Nothing gets an owner moving faster than the sound of their dog heaving. If you’re lucky, you manage to let your dog out in time. Or you might come home from work to a puddle of vomit by the door.

Why Is My Dog Vomiting? Potential Causes

Dogs are built to vomit

Which is a good thing, considering the kinds of stuff they get into. If something doesn’t sit right after it’s gone down, back out, it comes. That is a good thing, particularly when there is an apparent reason you can either think of or discover in the vomit itself.

The signs of impending doom might include your dog drooling, licking their lips (or the furniture, the rugs, themselves), and swallowing excessively. Some seek to eat grass.

If my dog vomits just once, looks and acts normal, and I can put my finger on the cause, I don’t get overly worried.

Throughout their lives, my dogs threw up dead mice, pieces of sticks, rocks, pieces of plastic, a sock (we dodged a bullet there), grass, and horse poop mixed with hay …. Yes, I do worry when I find assorted inedible items in the puke. But as far as I can tell, it all came back out and didn’t cause further trouble.

I don’t encourage my dogs to eat these things, but I can’t watch them every second of every day either.

“Drop it” or “leave it” commands are great if you’re at the right place at the right time. But this had even backfired on me when Cookie discovered that grabbing sticks is a way to acquire more treats. She’d drop one and accept her treat only to turn around and grab another one. Eventually, it turned out that ignoring her stick-grabbing behavior was more successful.

With inedible items, you have to worry about obstructions or perforations.

This was one of the reasons we got pet health insurance. Having a lot of free time outside, it is inevitable that the guys will ingest something inappropriate from time to time. As long as it safely makes its way back out, you’re in the clear.

If your dog keeps vomiting and/or exhibits signs of distress, it’s time to be on your way to the vet.

When to see a vet with your vomiting dog

Signs that you should call your vet include:

  • vomiting more than once or twice
  • projectile vomiting (a sign of possible gastrointestinal obstruction)
  • poor appetite
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • weight loss associated with chronic vomiting, inability to keep food down, or lack of interest in the food
  • changes in drinking and urinary habits
  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal enlargement or distension especially concerning if happening quickly over an hour
  • blood in the vomit (partially digested blood looks like coffee grounds; fresh blood is bright red)
  • attempting to vomit but nothing comes out
  • evidence of poison in the vomit (e.g., packaging or bright green dyes that are included in some types of rat poison)

While there is a serious gross factor involved, examining your dog’s vomit might give you important clues about what’s going on. See the article What’s in the Vomit.

Dogs seem to conduct scientific studies on the edibility of almost everything in their environment. Still, it’s important to remember that their vomiting might have nothing to do with what they recently ate.

Things that can cause your dog’s vomiting

While vomiting is often caused by a problem in the GI tract itself, the issue might be originating somewhere else altogether.

Problems within the GI tract that cause vomiting include:

  • dietary indiscretion
  • foreign bodies
  • intestinal obstruction
  • food intolerance/food allergies
  • parasites (roundworms, hookworms, Giardia, coccidia, etc.)
  • viral infections (canine parvovirus, coronavirus, canine distemper, etc.)
  • bacterial infections (Salmonella, E. coli, etc.)
  • intussusception (telescoping of the intestines which causes a functional obstruction)
  • tumors/growths in the GI tract
  • ulcers in the GI tract

Issues outside the GI tract that can cause vomiting include:

  • kidney disease/kidney failure
  • liver disease/liver failure
  • heart disease
  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • pyometra (infection of the uterus)
  • severe diabetes mellitus
  • Addison’s disease (a disease of the adrenal gland)
  • toxins/poisons
  • medications

How does your dog feel?

If JD or Cookie vomits something inedible, acts normally, and is hungry, I might not even withhold food and let them eat shortly after. I leave it up to them whether they want to eat or not. Our guys are usually good at making the right judgment about that.

If you pay close attention, your dogs will tell you how ill they feel.

With her IBD, Jasmine threw up fairly frequently. She’d refuse food. Her stomach would make gurgly noises, and eventually, she’d throw up some bile. Shortly after, she’d start feeling better and look for food.

When Cookie got a bout of pancreatitis, she vomited only once, and we were on our way to the vet. Why? Because she was looking sick even before she threw up. She was refusing food and looked tired and lethargic. So when she threw up, we thought that getting it out of her system would make her feel better. But because it didn’t, we didn’t wait any longer.

Know when it’s an emergency

Projectile vomiting, repeatedly vomiting, trying to vomit but nothing coming out, blood (whether fresh or digested) … mean you need to see a vet ASAP.

A vomiting dog who is lethargic, weak, shaking or otherwise obviously in distress, needs to see a vet immediately.

With severe vomiting, your problem isn’t only the underlying cause but also the dehydration, acid-base imbalances, and electrolyte disturbances caused by the vomiting.

Waiting too long before seeing a vet could even be fatal.

Related articles:
What’s In the Vomit?
Why Examine Your Dog’s Vomit?

Further reading:
Dog Vomiting: When Should You Be Concerned?

Categories: SymptomsVomiting

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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.

  1. FiveSibesMom

    Ah, vomit. I am very, very (almost too) familiar with various styles from my five Huskies. Two had IBD and one vomited from medication for his epilepsy. Examining the vomit may be yucky, but it really is something I always did. One time, my one Husky puked up a squirrel tail (Huskies are notorious small game fiends).Yup, yucky, but totally glad I did and a quick call to the vet! Thankfully, she was fine. Pinning to share!

  2. This is great information for any dog parent. It’s amazing what our dogs will find to put in their mouths and you are so right we can’t watch them every second. My dog, Henry apparently ate a tiny piece of rubber off a shoe last night. That couldn’t have tasted good. AND he already ate dinner. Nut job! What worries me at times with him is that he LOVES to dig on the property. I don’t really discourage him since there’s room and he’s not doing any harm. BUT the problem is that he always digs like a deranged gopher for several minutes with his mouth open. Then he stops and hacks (never vomits) because he got a mouth full of dirt. I’m certain he doesn’t need those kind of minerals. He quickly recovers, gets water, and seems fine. The vet just laughs at him. I guess I’m just a worried dog mom and will continue to tell him every night, “shut your mouth!”

    Thanks for going into this topic. I really appreciate it.

  3. Our dogs are pretty healthy in general. However, one night Theo threw up several times and became extremely restless. As I tried to figure out what was going on, we discovered that he had eaten a fairly large quantity of M&Ms. I immediately took him to the emergency vet and they treated him with activated charcoal. Thankfully, he was okay and able to come home that night.

  4. There are so many things you need to be alert for when a dog is sick and brings op things it has chewed and swallowed. I am guessing that you need to know what normal is for your dog then you know when they dip below the line and how ill they seem to be. Your list of things to look out for is important reading.

    I had not thought about things damaging a dogs internal organs and digestive system though. That gave me pause for thought. Yes a dog can me sick and bring up stuff but if it stys down it can cause damage.

  5. These are excellent signs to look for. It is amazing what a dog’s body is built to do. Just think about all of the issues you would have if your dog didn’t vomit so many things right back up! My kitties vomit ocassionally too, but it is ususally hairball related. Cats just aren’t as interested in eating non-food items as dogs are (it does happen though).

  6. Thanks for sharing these warning signs and tips regarding dog vomiting. I never owned a dog however can attest that similarly in cats, when they vomit frequently there is an issue. So seeing your vet promptly is great advice. Habitual vomiting can be a sign of something more serious like cancer.

  7. I don’t think there’s any dog owner who hasn’t had to deal with their pet vomiting at one point or another! I’ve been luckily in that my personal dogs vomiting has never been caused by anything too serious. And after sharing my life for many years with house rabbits, who are not able to vomit, it’s actually a relief when either of my dogs vomit up something they shouldn’t have eaten in the first place!

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