Vomiting is a common problem in dogs and cats, and there are many causes, some of which can be managed at home and others that can be quite serious and require veterinary care.
A problem that can be confused with vomiting is regurgitation. Vomiting is the ejection of contents of the stomach and upper intestine; regurgitation is the ejection of contents of the esophagus. Regurgitation often, but not always, happens right after eating and the pet will try to eat the regurgitated food. Vomiting occurs a variable time after eating or may occur in a pet who is off food.
The esophagus is a narrow, muscular tube that food passes through on its way to the stomach. In health, food moves quickly through the esophagus to the stomach. If the muscle of the esophagus loses tone, the esophagus dilates, a condition called megaesophagus. A dilated esophagus does not effectively move food to the stomach and the animal will regurgitate food usually shortly after eating. The food may also be inhaled into the airways, causing pneumonia and cough.
How do I know if my pet is vomiting or regurgitating?
Vomiting is an active process, and your pet will be apprehensive and heave and retch to vomit. If food is present in vomit, it is partially digested, and a yellow fluid, bile, may be present.
Regurgitation is fairly passive. The animal lowers its head and food is expelled without effort. The food brought up by regurgitation is usually undigested, may have a tubular shape, and is often covered with slimy mucus.
What are some of the reasons my pet may be vomiting?
Your pet may be vomiting for many reasons, ranging from a reaction to medications, exposure to toxins, cancer, foreign objects in the stomach, or even motion sickness. Your ability to answer questions about your pet’s activity, habits, and environment will help the veterinarian decide which causes of vomiting are most likely in your pet. A history of any drugs your pet is receiving is important.
A veterinarian may ask you to describe the appearance of the vomit, as well as how your pet looks when it vomits and the relationship of vomiting to eating.
The physical examination of the vomiting pet can also provide information to narrow the list of possible causes. The presence of fever, abdominal pain, jaundice, anemia, or abnormal masses in the abdomen will help the veterinarian make a more specific diagnosis.
Other causes include: pancreatitis, kidney failure, infections, liver failure, bladder obstruction or rupture, diabetes, Addison’s disease, diseases of the inner ear, infectious agents (including canine distemper, canine parvovirus, and feline panleukopenia virus), toxins (including lead, insecticides, antifreeze, and other chemicals), dietary indiscretion,; the ingestion of large amounts of hair during grooming, ulcers of the stomach, stomach or upper intestinal cancer, parasites, food allergies, the presence of a foreign body stuck in the stomach or upper intestine, twisting and dilation of the stomach, and intussusception, which is a telescoping of one part of the intestine into another piece of intestine.
The stomach is usually empty 6 to 8 hours after eating. Vomiting of food when the stomach should be empty suggests an obstruction of the stomach or abnormal motion of the stomach muscles that normally grind food and push the ground food out of the stomach.
Many healthy dogs and cats vomit occasionally without identifying a cause. Sometimes the cause of vomiting is as simple as the pet eating too fast.
What should I do if my pet is vomiting?
If the pet is bright and alert and has had no previous health problems, episodes of acute vomiting can be managed at home, although veterinary consultation prior to home treatment is advised. To consult with a veterinarian at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, call 509-335-0711.
The treatment for vomiting depends upon the cause. Nonspecific treatment for vomiting includes fasting and fluids to correct or prevent dehydration. In episodes of sudden onset of vomiting, food is withheld for 24-48 hours and water for 24 hours. Water should never be withheld from an animal with known or suspected kidney disease without replacing fluids intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin).
If vomiting stops, small amounts of a bland, low-fat food are fed 3 to 6 times daily for a few days, with a gradual increase in the amount fed and a transition to the pet’s normal diet. Water is also reintroduced in small amounts on the second day. You may start with ice cubes and then gradually increase the amount of water over the day if vomiting does not reoccur.
Consultation with a veterinarian in your region may reveal a recent outbreak of an infectious disease-causing vomiting or identify a cluster of recent poisonings.
Dogs and cats who vomit for longer than a few days or are depressed or dehydrated should be presented for veterinary evaluation.
This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.