Vomiting in dogs can be a completely normal response to something benign, such as digestive upset, but can also indicate a more serious problem. What causes vomiting in dogs and how can you tell if your pet’s behavior is cause for concern? Neighborhood Veterinary Centers has the answers you need and can provide the friendly, knowledgeable care your dog deserves.

Is that vomit? Regurgitation versus vomiting in dogs

It may seem like semantics, but knowing the difference between regurgitation and vomiting can not only help you understand what your dog is experiencing, but also help you convey accurate information to your pet’s veterinary team.

These two processes have the same end result—expelled food or fluid—but different causes and active mechanisms.

  • Regurgitation — This is a passive action where liquid and undigested food are expelled from the esophagus with little effort or warning.
  • Vomiting — This is an active process involving abdominal muscle contractions and visible effort to expel stomach or upper intestine contents (i.e., undigested or partially digested food, bile, other fluids). Vomiting dogs may tense, crouch, drool, crane their necks, or make heaving abdominal motions. Vomiting efforts also include audible gurgling sounds that are known to wake dog owners from sleep. 

Cause for concern—when to seek veterinary care for your dog

Although the occasional isolated vomiting episode is typically nothing to worry about, especially if your dog is otherwise behaving normally, repetitive or continuous vomiting can quickly become serious.

Contact your nearest Neighborhood Veterinary Centers location if any of the following scenarios match your pet’s experience:

  • Recurring or excessive vomiting — Frequent vomiting episodes can suggest a deeper problem.
  • Heaving or unproductive vomiting — This may indicate a potential life-threatening emergency.
  • Senior, debilitated, or young dogs — Age and illness predispose dogs and puppies to rapid dehydration. 
  • Other signs — Additional signs, such as a swollen abdomen, blood in the vomit, diarrhea, lethargy, excessive weakness, or tremors, can indicate a more serious or emergent condition.

7 Common causes for vomiting in dogs

Vomiting is a clinical sign for countless veterinary conditions. Here’s a brief summary of the most common causes we see at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers:

  • Dietary indiscretion — Unfamiliar treats and foods can irritate your dog’s stomach lining and cause gastritis (i.e., stomach lining inflammation). Irritating foods generally include table scraps that are high in sugar, salt, or fat, as well as spoiled foods, and raw or undercooked items that your pet may find in the trash. Diet-related gastritis is often acute but may resolve on its own in 24 to 72 hours.
  • Illnesses — Chronic vomiting occurs over an extended period of time (i.e., weeks to months) and may be associated with underlying disease, including progressive conditions such as cancer and kidney or liver disease. 
  • Parvovirus or distemper virus — These highly contagious viruses are rapidly fatal in puppies and young unvaccinated dogs, and often are accompanied by other signs, such as diarrhea, inappetence, and lethargy. Life-saving hospitalized treatment is essential to ensure a positive outcome.
  • Gastric dilatation volvulus or bloat — Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the stomach fills with gas and then flips, causing unbearable pain and compromising circulation. Any dog can suffer with GDV, but the condition is more common in large, giant, and deep-chested breeds. Unproductive vomiting or retching is a hallmark GDV sign. 
  • Pancreatitis — Rich, unusual foods can inflame your dog’s pancreas and cause intense pain, frequent vomiting, and potential damage to surrounding organs. Acute pancreatitis is a life-threatening condition and requires hospitalized care.
  • Toxin ingestion — Vomiting is a common reaction to many household toxins. Depending on the ingested item, additional signs may include diarrhea, muscle tremors, extreme weakness, incoordination, rapid heart rate, seizures, and respiratory distress. 
  • Intestinal obstruction or foreign body ingestion — Bones, trash, and other inedible items can become trapped along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (i.e., esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines) and form a blockage. This life-threatening obstruction triggers repeated vomiting.
  • Parasites GI parasites can cause vomiting and diarrhea in puppies, but seldom in adult dogs. Live or dead whole worms may be visible in the vomit if the pet’s worm burden is severe.
  • Stress and excitement — As in humans, nervousness and excitement can trigger GI upset. Dogs who suffer from motion sickness or who feel apprehensive about their destination, often vomit in the car.

Neighborly care for your vomiting dog

If you’re concerned about your dog’s vomiting, contact your nearest Neighborhood Veterinary Centers location. Our experienced team can assess your pet’s condition and, if necessary, schedule an appointment or recommend emergency care. No matter the cause of your dog’s vomiting, our knowledgeable teams can provide fast, effective treatment and compassionate care.