All About Dog Vomit: Why Is My Dog Throwing Up?
Just Talking About Dog Barf
Dog vomit and dog ownership go together like peas and carrots, but still you may ask, Why is my dog throwing up? How can I prevent it? Do I need to take my dog to the vet?
In this article, I will discuss some of the common causes of vomiting in dogs, what you can do about it, and when you should be concerned about more serious conditions. I'll also be offering up some well-deserved levity (come on, it's DOG VOMIT) and anecdotes to make this unpleasant experience a tad more bearable.
Is your dog prone to throwing up?
My First Experience With Dog Vomit
When my dog Penny was a puppy, she threw up every morning and every evening for about a week, but only in the wee hours of the morning and in the middle of the night. She'd start making those terrifying hacking/snorting noises, waking me up, but (bless her heart) only giving me enough time to get her halfway to the door, where she'd puke all over the carpet. I read online that it might be because she was going to bed with an empty stomach, so I tried giving her a little bit of kibble before bed. Of course, this only resulted in EVEN MORE dog vomit. Needless to say, I had
I read online that it might be because she was going to bed with an empty stomach, so I tried giving her a little bit of kibble before bed. Of course, this only resulted in EVEN MORE dog vomit. Needless to say, I had that fleeting thought of "Good God, what did I get myself in to adopting this animal?"
You see, Penny is the first dog I've ever owned, and I wasn't used to this kind of thing. During those first months, I got a brief glimmer of what it must be like to have a baby. Oye. Bless you, mothers of the world. You are saints.
After multiple vomit sessions, I took her to the vet, who performed a blood test then suggested a higher protein diet. When going to the pet store to get her new food, a worker there gave me a much more logical diagnosis...
Dog Vomiting from Rancid Kibble
My puppy Penny had been vomiting for a week, only at night, and the vet told me it was because she wasn't eating enough protein. At the pet store, I lamented with a worker over my plight, and she offered some ridiculously simple insight:
Pet Store Worker: "Where are you storing her kibble?"
Me: "In one of those plastic bin things for dog food."
Pet Store Worker: "But where are you storing it?"
Me: "Outside. On the side of the house."
Pet Store Worker: "Is the bin ever in the sun during the day?"
Pet Store Worker: "That's your problem. The oils in the kibble can go rancid. It's probably what's making your dog sick."
Me: "Heh, heh... oops?"
Dumb move on my part. It turns out I was dosing my dog with rancid kibble that went bad because I stored it in the sun. It never occurred to me that dry dog food could go bad like that. So I bought one of those big bags of dog food from the pet store (because HELLO, it's cheaper) and poured it into a glorified trash can that I got from Big Lots.
Tips to Prevent Your Dog's Food from Going Bad:
- Store your dog's dry food in a cool, dry place. A garage is great for this, so long as it doesn't get too hot during the day. If your garage often turns into an oven, bring the food inside and store it somewhere out of the sun.
- If you have a smaller dog, buy a smaller bag of dry dog food. That way, the oils in the food won't go bad before you get to the bottom of the bag.
- Store your dog's food in an airtight container. Not only does it keep the bad stuff out, it keeps the bad smells in, and keeps the food longer. I've got a link to the exact one I use below.
- Clean anything that comes in contact with the dog kibble (the container it's stored in, scoops, your dog's bowl) on a regular basis, with soap and water.
- To avoid having to clean the big container you keep the dog's food in (which can be cumbersome and difficult), store the dog food in the bag inside the container: Cut the top of the bag off and put the whole thing inside of the storage container. The bag acts as a liner that will be thrown out every time you get a new bag of dog food.
Dog Food Storage
This is the exact container that I use to store my dog's kibble. The Vittles Vault does an excellent job keeping air, moisture and bugs out of dry dog food. A 15 lb bag (with the top cut off) fits in this container perfectly.
I use this guy when we travel with the dog. Since the Vittles Vault is a bit clunky, you could also keep smaller portions of kibble in one of these things and refill it each week. I recommend lining it with a trash liner and changing that out periodically – it's much easier than cleaning it with soap and water.
Common Causes of Vomiting in Dogs
As it is with people, there are some other illnesses, conditions, and situations that can cause vomiting in dogs.
- Allergies to Specific Foods — Some dogs don't tolerate certain common dog food ingredients. Your dog may be sensitive to grains, certain kinds of proteins, or additives/fillers. If you suspect this is the case, your best bet is to try a "limited ingredient" dog food (or foods with one protein source, like chicken or fish), or one that cuts out grains completely.
- Table Scrap-itis — Feeding your dog foods that it's not used to can cause vomiting, as well. Spicy foods can cause problems on both ends (wink wink). In general, I limit the people-food that I feed my dog to relatively bland meats and non-harmful veggies or fruits. I also save these treats for special occasions and only give tiny portions.
- "Food Poisoning" — I probably shouldn't put "food poisoning" in quotes because it can happen to dogs the same as it does in people. If your dog eats food out of the trash, rancid kibble, or old/expired food, there is the potential for illness and vomiting.
- Toxic or Poisonous Foods/Items — There are certain foods that we can eat, but dogs cannot. In addition, there are tons of plants, household objects, and chemicals that can result in poisoning or toxicity, causing your dog to throw up. Some of these items are more dangerous than others, so it's important to keep an eye on other symptoms and get your pet to the vet or animal hospital ASAP. I've written about things that are poisonous to dogs to help you determine the cause of your pet's illness.
- Digestive Obstruction or Blockage — Your dog could have eaten something that is obstructing or completely blocking off a portion of its digestive tract or even esophagus (which probably won't result in vomiting, but in dry heaving). If your dog is throwing up clear or yellowish frothy bile, there is a chance that this was caused by something your dog ate that is now lodged in its gut somewhere. The vomiting is the body's way of trying to expel whatever it is that is stuck. Obviously, veterinary intervention is needed in these cases.
- Stomach Issues — Other issues can cause the frothy bile throw up, including gastritis, pancreatitis, or peritonitis. Dogs afflicted these conditions need to be seen by a vet.
- An Empty Stomach — If your dog is throwing up the frothy bile at night or in the morning and isn't displaying any other symptoms, there is a chance it is because the poor thing is starving. Well, maybe not starving, but it certainly could be hungry. Try feeding a tiny portion of food or a few treats before bed. I've gotten into the habit of feeding my dog one of those dental cleaning sticks before bed each night.
- Motion Sickness — Aw. Dogs can get carsick! If your dog is throwing up only in the car or on a boat or something, there is a good chance it's got doggy motion sickness.
- Behavioral Issues — Your dog might be stressed out, eating too fast, or eating then exercising too vigorously. Are you picturing a dog with sweat bands on, running on its hind legs on a treadmill? 'Cause I am.
- Bloat — If your dog is trying to throw up, but nothing is coming out, there is a chance he/she has a condition called bloat (aka gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV). Bloat is a general term that refers to gas build-up in the stomach in cases where the stomach is also twisted (gastric torsion). It is a very dangerous condition most common in larger, deep-chested dogs (from Great Danes to Basset Hounds) and requires a vet's care.
- Other Serious Conditions and Illnesses — This list is not comprehensive, but the following serious illnesses and conditions can cause vomiting: kidney/liver problems, ulcers, enterocolitis, parvo, distemper, diabetes, and cancer.
My Dog is Vomiting, What Do I DO?
If your dog has thrown up once, doesn't seem to be experiencing any other discomfort, and isn't displaying any other symptoms, there are steps you can take to ease their stomach. If you are unsure about anything, call your vet for advice.
This is what I do for my dog Penny when she throws up:
- In general, whenever Penny throws up but is otherwise asymptomatic, I put her immediately on a bland diet of plain white rice and boiled chicken. I've also substituted rice for peeled boiled potato.
- You also want to make sure that your dog is well hydrated, as vomiting can cause dehydration. If you're having problems getting him/her to drink water, try ice cubes.
- Don't force your dog to eat and try to make it comfortable while its tummy is recovering.
- Also be sure to clean up the vomit immediately, as just about every dog I've ever met loves to chow down on its own barf. Gross.
If nothing is working or if your dog is refusing food, you should take your dog to get checked out at the vet to make sure there isn't a major underlying problem.
When to Take Your Dog to the Vet
As always, when in doubt, see a vet. If there's a serious medical condition, reading articles like this or others like it won't cure your dog. Likewise, reading stuff on the Internet is not going to definitively diagnosis a major illness. In addition to testing and treatments, your vet may be able to prescribe anti-nausea medications to ease your pet's discomfort.
If you observe any of the following symptoms, get your dog to a vet or animal hospital ASAP. It could be a sign of a serious problem that requires immediate medical intervention:
- Diarrhea or other irregular dog poops.
- Projectile vomiting.
- Vomit that has something unusual in it, like blood (it may appear red or look like coffee grounds which is actually digested blood), worms, or pennies (US pennies contain zinc, which is extremely toxic to dogs and people).
- Lethargy (an overall tiredness or lack of energy).
- Ongoing or continuous vomiting, or vomiting that goes on for more than one day.
- Vomiting despite the fact that your dog hasn't eaten recently.
- Bloating in the stomach or abdominal area.
An Important Video About Zinc Toxicity
Sources and Further Reading
© 2013 Shay Marie