Skip NavigationSkip to Primary Content

My Dog Vomited—Should I Be Concerned?

Pet Health

Medium sized white and brown dog being examined by veterinarian with stethoscope

Vomiting is one of those issues that dog owners must accept as a possibility when they welcome a dog into their family, but not all vomiting episodes are innocuous. Most situations are likely caused by a dietary indiscretion that will be resolved without veterinary intervention. However, some conditions are serious, and can be life-threatening, if not treated promptly. Our team at Animal Health Care of Marlboro (AHC) poses several questions to help you determine when your dog needs veterinary attention.   Did Your Dog Vomit? The first step in deciding if your dog needs veterinary attention is determining if they vomited or regurgitated. For the uninitiated, these actions seem similar, but they can be distinguished by considering these factors: 

  • The lead up— When dogs vomit, they first experience nausea, and exhibit signs including nervousness, drooling, and retching. Regurgitating dogs do not exhibit these signs.

  • The event— Vomiting is an active process, involving abdominal contractions, followed by expulsion of the stomach contents. Regurgitation is a passive process, involving the expulsion of the esophageal contents.

  • The content— When a dog vomits, the resulting product typically contains digested material or bile. When a dog regurgitates, the resulting product contains undigested food, and usually has a cylindrical shape.

  If your dog regurgitates frequently, they should be evaluated by a veterinary professional, to determine what is causing the issue. Possibilities include esophageal ulcers, inflammation, tumors, and megaesophagus, a condition that affects esophageal motility.   What Caused Your Dog to Vomit? Your dog’s vomiting reflex can be triggered by four areas, including the cerebral cortex and thalamus, chemoreceptor trigger zone, vestibular region, and gastrointestinal tract. 

  • Cerebral cortex and thalamus— When a dog experiences extreme stress or pain, these areas can be activated, resulting in vomiting.

  • Chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ)— The CTZ is located in the brain, and this area stimulates vomiting when activated by drugs or hormones. Many drugs can induce vomiting, including heart medications and chemotherapeutic drugs. Liver and kidney disease in dogs causes toxins to accumulate in the blood, which can also activate the CTZ, and cause vomiting.

  • Vestibular— Your dog’s inner ear, vestibulocochlear nerve, brain stem, and vestibular cerebellum portion make up their vestibular system, which is responsible for maintaining their balance and equilibrium. When the vestibular system is affected, signs include vomiting, head tilt, leaning or falling to one side, odd eye movements, and circling. Conditions that affect the vestibular system include:

  • Motion sickness— Riding in a vehicle can disturb the vestibular system.

  • Stroke— When blood supply to the vestibular region is interrupted or reduced, vestibular signs can rapidly occur. Older dogs are at higher risk.

  • Ear infections— Dogs who swim regularly, or who suffer from, are prone to ear infections. Initial signs include ear odor and discharge, and head shaking. If the infection progresses to affect the vestibular region, vomiting and head tilt may occur.

  • Cancer— When cancer affects the brain stem or vestibular cerebellum, vestibular signs can occur.

  • Idiopathic vestibular disease— In some cases, the cause cannot be determined. Typically, these cases resolve on their own in about two to three days. These patients may need some supportive care during that time.

  • Gastrointestinal tract— Issues that irritate your dog’s gastrointestinal tract can trigger their vomiting reflex. Issues include:

  • Dietary indiscretion— Any change in your dog’s diet can result in gastrointestinal upset. These occurrences are mostly self-limiting, and may resolve on their own without treatment.

  • Infection— Puppies are especially susceptible to gastrointestinal infections, such as parvovirus and distemper. Affected dogs will have additional signs, including fever, diarrhea, and lethargy. Keeping your dog up to date on their vaccines is the best way to prevent these diseases.

  • Gastrointestinal blockage— Your dog’s GI tract can become blocked if they ingest a foreign object, or they experience gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), a condition causing gas accumulation and intestinal twisting. Dogs affected by these conditions typically have signs including unproductive vomiting, abdominal distention and pain, and increased respiration. Any condition that results in a gastrointestinal blockage will likely require.

  • Poisonous substance— Many common household items, including rodenticides, antifreeze, grapes, onions, and chocolate, are toxic to pets. If you suspect your dog has ingested a poisonous substance, call AHC or Animal Poison Control as soon as possible.

  • Gastrointestinal inflammation— Dogs affected by inflammatory processes, such as gastric ulcers or pancreatitis, will frequently vomit. Additional signs include abdominal pain and blood in their vomit.

  • Parasites— If your dog has a heavy parasite load, they may vomit, and worms may be found in the vomit.

  When Is Your Dog’s Vomiting Concerning? If your dog has one vomiting episode and seems normal afterward (i.e., their attitude, appetite, and activity level are normal), you can likely monitor them at home. Conditions that warrant veterinary attention include:

  • Suspected ingestion of a foreign body or poison— An ingested foreign body typically involves surgical removal. Poison ingestion can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

  • Continuous vomiting— Multiple vomiting bouts are cause for concern and should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Vomiting blood— Blood in your dog’s vomit indicates their stomach or intestines are bleeding.

  • Additional signs— When additional signs, such as lethargy, diarrhea, fever, abdominal distention and pain, are present, your dog needs immediate veterinary care.

  • Unsuccessful vomiting— Unproductive retching could indicate foreign body ingestion or GDV.

If your dog is vomiting, our team will gather a detailed history, obtain blood work, and use diagnostic imaging, to determine the cause. We will then develop a treatment plan, based on your pet’s diagnosis, and will work to alleviate their distress, and get them back to feeling well. Never hesitate to contact our AHC team if you are concerned about your dog’s vomiting.