Causes of Dog Vomit: What You Need to Know

by Irene Hislop

24 October 2019



No sound propels a dog owner out of bed as fast as that distinctive canine retching. We can go from a deep sleep to our personal best speed in mere seconds when we hear it. Dogs tend to give a loud alarm before they vomit, creating the illusion we can reach them fast enough to get them off the carpet or sofa. We know the sound, but we don’t always know what causes a dog to vomit. Being able to determine if your dog simply wolfed down some stolen table scraps too quickly or if he is seriously ill means we know when it is safe to go back to sleep and when we need to find the vet’s emergency number.

Most of the time, dogs vomit for minor reasons such as eating too fast, being carsick or feeling anxious. But vomiting can also indicate a serious problem such as poisoning, pancreatic disease or even a brain tumour. Because vomiting is such a vague symptom, it is important to take note of the big picture.

It is not pretty, but it is important to look at what your dog has vomited. Notice what the vomit looks like. Is there partially digested food? Is it frothy? Do you see any grass? What about blood or anything that looks like coffee grounds? Any sign of parasites? Think about your dog’s day. Was she outside much? Have you been anywhere new? Did she have an opportunity to eat anything strange? Has she had any other symptoms of being unwell recently or did she throw up and then seem energetic and happy? Is she eating normally? The answers to these questions can clarify what causes a dog to vomit.

How to Tell if Your Dog Might Need Vet Care

With so many possible causes, it is important to know which signs indicate a more serious cause for your dog vomiting. Here are some of the main red flags that suggest your dog needs medical attention. Of course, when it doubt it is always better to be safe than sorry and phone your vet.

  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Staggering or head tilting
  • Blood in the vomit (It can look like coffee grounds.)
  • Change in appetite or thirst
  • Diarrhoea
  • Continued vomiting

These symptoms could indicate your dog has ingested poison, which can come from sources such as the carcass of a poisoned rodent, spilled chemicals or even chocolate dropped on the ground. They can also suggest an acute illness such as pancreatitis, kidney or liver failure, or a viral or bacterial infection.

Vomiting can also be a symptom of bloat, which is a life-threatening emergency. If your dog’s abdomen feels bloated or tight like a drum, get him to the vet as soon as possible. This is urgent, and every minute counts. Bloat is an extremely painful condition, and it has a high rate of fatalties.

While your dog might have a sudden episode of vomiting accompanied by one or more of these symptoms, that isn’t the only situation that merits a call to the vet. If you realise that your dog is vomiting more often, even weekly, that can indicate a problem is developing. And it is better to treat it sooner than later.

What Causes a Dog to Vomit Besides Illness?

Most of the time, what causes a dog to vomit is not anything really serious. Dogs are naturally scavengers, and they are not very picky. If you walk your dog around your neighbourhood or park, she is likely to encounter dropped food and gobble it up before you can stop her. She will also raid your kitchen bin if it is not dog-proof. That fact that those leftovers are well past edible will not deter most dogs.

Experienced dog owners are familiar with those soggy blobs of slimy grass that dogs throw up. Many believe that dogs eat grass to make themselves vomit, but veterinarians disagree. Most of the time when dogs eat grass, they do not vomit. And we probably don’t notice those times! Experts disagree about why dogs eat grass. Probably dogs have more than one reason. They might like it, or it may fulfil some nutritional deficiency. Remember that their wolf ancestors ate the entire body of their prey – including the contents of its stomach, which included partially digested grass. Eating grass is pretty normal for dogs, but be aware that if you use any kind of treatment or chemicals on your lawn they will be ingesting those too – and they are dangerous to your dog.

Some dogs simply have more delicate stomachs. They can be in generally good overall health and eating a quality dog food, and still vomit. For these dogs, a specialised food such as Leader Sensitive or Engage can help. Dogs can be allergic to various things, but some of the most common ingredients that upset their stomachs are beef and maize. It can be a matter of trial and error finding the right food for these dogs. Go Native offers wholesome, grain-free goodness for dogs that can’t tolerate grains.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Vomiting

Once you have ruled out a serious cause, your dog still needs your love and care. Vomiting can leave her dehydrated. Make sure she has access to water. Don’t try to get her to eat right away. Let her stomach settle and feed her a small amount of bland food. If she is happy and playful, you don’t have to try to confine her to her bed or anything, just keep an eye on her.

Most of the time when dogs throw up, the biggest worry is damage to the couch or rug. But every dog owners should understand what causes a dog to vomit and how to tell when it is a serious problem that needs a vet’s attention.

Irene Hislop

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