Vomiting describes the active expulsion of food from the stomach. It is not a specific disease or a diagnosis in and of itself. It is a clinical sign that can occur with many diseases or conditions.
If you think growing dogs vomit a lot, you’re right. That’s because dogs have a well-developed vomiting center in their brains, which allows them to throw up much easier than most other animals. It’s partially a defense mechanism to the dog’s scavenger nature. They see something and eat it to find out if it’s edible. If it’s not, their body throws it back out the same way it came in.
I am Byron de la Navarre, a veterinarian as well as a fellow guardian of man’s best friend. Having grown up in a home where there was always a canine companion, I am very familiar with all their behaviors as well as their physical ailments. In my 25 years as chief of staff at Animal House of Chicago, Complete Veterinary Care, I have seen lots of vomiting in dogs.
But vomiting can also be a sign of a serious and even life-threatening illness in our pets. Here are facts you need to know about vomiting in puppies.
A Vomiting Puppy Is No Laughing Matter
Vomiting in puppies 6 months old or less, because of their smaller size and immature immune system, can be more significant than in older dogs.
In general, the occasional bouts of vomiting are not uncommon for dogs. They might have eaten something that upset their stomachs, or just have sensitive digestive systems. However, it becomes more significant when the vomiting does not stop and when there is nothing left in the stomach to throw up except mucus and bile (the yellow fluid). If this occurs, take your puppy to a veterinarian.
While vomiting may have a simple, straightforward cause, it may be an indicator of something far more serious. It is also problematic because it can have a wide range of causes, and determining the correct one may be quite complicated.
In puppies, one of the most devastating conditions that we see all too often at Animal House of Chicago is either coronavirus or parvovirus infection. The severe gastroenteritis often associated with these viral diseases can carry with it a very guarded prognosis in young pups, so it is critically important that your puppy is properly and completely vaccinated.
My current dog, Josie, is a French Bulldog/Boston Terrier mix who we were able to save from the ravages of parvovirus. Luckily, if the puppies are able to survive the life-threatening vomiting and diarrhea associated with parvovirus, they can usually make a full recovery and live out their normal life span.
Signs And Causes Of Puppies Vomiting
Some symptoms that the vomiting is becoming more serious are:
- Frequent vomiting (it will not stop, happens more than once a day or on consecutive days)
- Projectile vomiting
- Evidence of pain and distress
- Developing weakness and lethargy
- Bright blood in the vomit (hematemesis)
- Dark blood in the stool (melena)
- Vomiting occurring with diarrhea
- Vomiting hours since eating
- Abdominal bloating
What causes vomiting? The list is long, and includes:
- Dietary indiscretion
- Change in the diet
- Gobbling food/eating too fast
- Intolerance to a particular food (i.e., be careful feeding pets food intended for humans)
- Allergic reaction to a particular food
- Obstructing objects
- Acute bacterial or viral inflammation of the stomach (gastriitis)
- Acute bacterial or viral inflammation of the intestinal tract (enteritis)
- Parasites (e.g., whipworms, roundworms, Giardia)
- Bloat and/or torsion of the stomach (prone in deep-chested dogs; very critical)
- Metabolic disorders (e.g., liver, kidney disease, etc.)
- Heat stress/stroke
- Adrenal gland or other metabolic diseases
Finding Out Why Your Puppy Is Puking
To help your veterinarian to make the diagnosis, bring a sample of the vomit to the clinic. If there is a lot of mucus, an inflamed intestine may be the cause. Undigested food in the vomit can be due to food poisoning, anxiety, or simply overeating or eating too fast.
The presence of bile indicates an inflammatory bowel disease or inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). If bright red blood is found, the stomach could be ulcerated. However, if the blood is brown and looks like coffee grounds, the problem may be in the intestines. Finally, strong digestive odors are usually observed when there is an intestinal obstruction.
Your veterinarian, as part of the comprehensive physical examination, will look in your pet’s mouth for foreign objects that may be wedged inside, such as a bone. The pet’s temperature will be taken and an examination of the abdomen will be done. If it turns out to be no more than a passing incident, your veterinarian may ask you to limit the diet to clear fluids and to collect stool samples over that period as the underlying cause may be passed along in the stool. Occasionally, a puppy’s body may use vomiting to clear the intestines of toxins.
How To Stop Vomiting In Puppies
Treatment will be recommended according to the underlying cause behind the vomiting. Some possible remedies include:
- Dietary changes
- Medication to control the vomiting (e.g., cimetidine, anti-emetic)
- Antibiotics for bacterial ulcers and overgrowth
- Corticosteroids to treat inflammatory bowel disease
- Surgery, in the case of tumor-caused vomiting or ingested foreign objects
- Special medications for treating chemotherapy-induced vomiting
As far as what to do and future management, always follow the recommended treatment plan of your veterinarian. Do not experiment with medications or food at this time. Pay close attention to your pet. If he does not improve, return to your veterinarian for a follow-up evaluation.
When Vomit Isn’t Vomit
Another condition we see that can be misinterpreted as vomiting is regurgitation. Regurgitation refers to the process in which the dog’s stomach contents (i.e., food) move backward up the esophagus and into the mouth. This medical condition can be congenital (inherited) or acquired from a variety of causes. Fortunately, in many instances, modifications to the puppy’s diet, in conjunction with medication, often correct the condition.
Symptoms associated with regurgitation may include:
- Weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Ravenous appetite
- Swelling in the throat region and issues with breathing, including increased respiratory noise
Regurgitation can occur in any breed, although several breeds are predisposed to the condition, including the Wire Fox Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Great Dane, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland and Chinese Shar-Pei.
Medical conditions that can cause regurgitation include:
- Problems with the throat, often present at birth
- Congenital problems with the esophagus
- Acquired problems with the throat that can involve cancer, foreign bodies, rabies, poisoning or muscle diseases (myopathies)
- Acquired esophageal disease that can develop from an enlarged esophagus, tumor, cancer or hiatal hernia
- Narrowing of the esophagus,
- Problems with the autonomic nervous system
To arrive at a diagnosis, your veterinarian will first determine whether vomiting alone caused the symptoms associated with regurgitation. If the condition has been prolonged, an examination of the throat area will be performed to determine the extent of long-term damage. X-rays or other forms of diagnostic imaging may also be used to examine internally for damage.
As far as treatment, modifications with the puppy’s diet will likely be undertaken to see if the condition subsides with dietary changes alone. In some cases, the regurgitation will require ongoing therapy.
For continued therapy, ongoing administration of any necessary medications, as well as diet management will be important to control this condition. There are is variety of medications that can help prevent regurgitation, as well as antibiotics that can help with any symptoms or signs of pneumonia, which is also commonly present in cases of regurgitation.
Want to know more? Check out:
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Dogs and Cats
- Why Is My Dog Pooping Blood?
- Signs and Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs
Featured Image: patriciaduelly/Shutterstock
By: Dr. Byron de la Navarre