While it can be normal for dogs to vomit once or twice a year, vomiting on a more frequent basis is cause for concern. And, while it’s tempting to think that vomiting means the problem is in the stomach, know that vomiting is a truly nonspecific symptom.
There are literally dozens of different diseases, many unrelated to the stomach, that can cause a dog to vomit. The most common causes of vomiting are listed below.
Eating something inappropriate
Dogs, particularly youngsters, are the kings and queens of eating things they shouldn’t. Whether it be raiding the garbage pail or getting into something nasty out in the yard, irritation of the stomach and intestines caused by eating such “yuck” can cause vomiting. Much like a case of food poisoning, this sort of vomiting typically resolves on its own after 12 to 24 hours.
Gastrointestinal foreign bodies
Bones, rocks, childrens’ toys, socks, underwear, corn cobs— you name it, and dogs have clogged up their bowels with it. Some foreign bodies ultimately pass through on their own, but others become lodged and cause persistent vomiting. Treatment requires removal of the foreign body, and this is best accomplished with surgery or a nonsurgical procedure called endoscopy.
Check out the label on a typical bag or can of dog food and you will find dozens of ingredients. Just as is the case for us, some dogs develop allergies to certain food products or additives.
Most dogs with food allergies develop itchy skin, but for some dogs, vomiting is the main symptom. Elimination diets (those with fewer ingredients) often solve the vomiting problem for dogs with food allergies.
How the cause of vomiting is diagnosed
Before any diagnostic testing, a veterinarian begins by collecting a thorough history, including details about the vomiting such as frequency, time of day, material found in the vomit, anything unusual that might have been ingested, normal diet and all other symptoms observed.
Next comes a thorough physical examination. This may be followed by blood and urine testing (to evaluate liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc.) and/or imaging studies such as X-rays and ultrasound of the abdomen. In some cases, biopsies from the gastrointestinal tract are needed to confirm a diagnosis. Biopsies can be obtained surgically or via endoscopy.
If such testing is not feasible, empirical therapy (treatment without a clearcut diagnosis) such as changes in diet and/or medications will be an option. A tentative diagnosis is then made based on the dog’s response to therapy.
If your dog is vomiting more than a few times a year, scheduling a veterinary visit to figure out the cause is a really good idea. As with most medical issues, the sooner the problem is addressed, the better the outcome is likely to be.
Questions for your veterinarian
- What is the most likely causes of my dog’s vomiting?
- What diagnostic testing is warranted?
- What is the prognosis?
- Should my dog see a veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine?
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.