Dogs are like people in that, when they are not feeling well, they may vomit. And like people, the reason for vomiting can be anything from a mild upset stomach to a sign of something serious. So how do you know if and when it's time to go to the animal hospital?
Clues to Note
Your dog may throw up for a myriad of reasons. Often, the cause is a simple case of gastric upset or irritation and the dog recovers on its own in a day or two. Or your dog may have gobbled his food down too quickly or eaten too soon after strenuous exercise.
Typically, if your pup vomits once or twice and then seems normal, it's not a serious condition. Monitor him or her for further signs of trouble and withhold food for a few hours to settle the stomach. However, if your pup continues to vomit or shows other symptoms or signs of distress, it's time to call your vet. Be prepared to answer the following questions, which may help to determine the seriousness of the situation.
- Have similar episodes happened frequently in the past?
- How soon after eating did the vomiting occur?
- Was the vomit barely digested dog food, clear liquid, or foam? Did it contain blood?
- What might your pup have ingested—people food, bones, rawhides, rat poison, cleaning chemicals, antifreeze, toxic plants?
- Is he on any medications or undergone recent treatments?
- Are there accompanying symptoms such as diarrhea, panting, lethargy, fever or unusual behavior?
A Visit to the Vet
The answers to the above questions will help your veterinarian determine whether you should bring your dog in for an evaluation. However, if you do bring your dog in, don't expect an immediate or definitive answer. Because of the many and varied reasons for a dog to vomit, diagnosing the underlying cause is often difficult. Your vet will ask about your dog's recent history as well as medical history, then conduct a thorough physical exam that includes checking his or her gums, heart rate, temperature and color of the eye sclera as well as palpating the throat and abdomen to check for foreign objects or blockages.
If the doctor rules out an acute emergency such as an obstruction or poisoning, he or she may simply send you home with medication for the emesis, instructions to feed a bland diet such as rice and chicken broth and to monitor for further signs and symptoms. Or the vet may decide further tests are indicated. Blood and urine tests may reveal a bacterial or viral infection, organ inflammation or failure, or ingestion of a toxic substance. Fecal tests can point to internal parasites or problems in the digestive system. Radiographs may show foreign objects or blockages in the abdomen.
Don't be disappointed if you and your dog leave the vet's office with a few instructions and no definite answers. More often than not, such diagnostic tests simply rule out certain causes of the vomiting, which is important as well for future similar incidences and your peace of mind.