Vomiting is a common problem in dogs. It can be a minor inconvenience that quickly resolves; other times it could be a severe disease resulting in death. By being able to figure out how serious it is, you can determine if you should treat at home or if you need professional help. I'll help you do this by reviewing several diseases that cause vomiting.
At my hospital, dietary indiscretion is the most common reason for vomiting. Also known as "garbage gastritis," it is due to dogs eating something while rummaging through garbage or ingesting something on their walks. This is food poisoning and, thankfully, it normally resolves by itself. I often suspect this condition if a dog is vomiting and there is a possibility of access to "toxic" food. They usually only vomit a few times and then start to feel better.
This happened to my dog. We had a barbecue and ended up with a few extra meat patties. I promptly put them in the trash. A few days later, I was mowing the lawn on a hot day and left the garage door open. My Lab mix found the garbage and dove in. I knew because she brought one of the green patties to me. We had a problem.
I grabbed the bottle of hydrogen peroxide and gave Courtney a tablespoon. She promptly vomited some awful-looking beef patties along with their waxed-paper wrappers. The fast treatment saved her from a painful session of nausea and vomiting from the toxic beef.
Sometimes dogs swallow not food but something that we refer to as a foreign body. These indigestible objects can be socks, stones, underwear, balls, or bones.
The first way one of these objects causes damage is by cutting or scraping the lining of the gut as it passes through. If the foreign body is sharp enough (such as a pointy or serrated bone) it can perforate and intestinal contents leak into the belly, causing death through perironitis.
A foreign body can also block the intestine, and the backup of ingested matter triggers vomiting. A radiograph can sometimes reveal a foreign body. For this reason, any dog with a penchant for chewing on things who has continued vomiting should be checked with an X-ray.
Gastrointestinal infections can also cause vomiting. If you had a 14-week-old puppy who suddenly started vomiting, your veterinarian would immediately he worried about parvovirus. These puppies are usually flat out with a fever, displaying unrelenting vomiting and diarrhea. This killer virus can cause death in just days. Intensive treatment with fluids and antibiotics is required.
Other types of infections also trigger vomiting. For example, an unspayed female who begins vomiting two months after her heat could have pyometra. Toxins manufactured by bacteria growing in the uterus stimulate "vomiting" centers in the brain. The dog will get weaker unless we treat the primary condition by spaying her.
Pancreatitis is an underdiagnosed cause of vomiting. Inflammation in the pancreas gland arises when a dog overindulges on rich food, or eat food he is not used to. Pancreatitis symptoms range from mild vomiting or lack of appetite to life-threatening disease. It is diagnosed by blood tests.
How do you decide what to do? If the vomiting is infrequent and your dog still feels good, you can try home treatment. Withhold food for at least 12 hours and if water triggers vomiting, offer ice cubes instead. If this works, you can then offer small amounts of water every few hours.
Once water is held down, offer a highly digestible food such as over-boiled rice with a little chicken, or a prescription food made for stomach upsets.
If your dog won't drink or is getting depressed, be concerned. That's when it's time to see your veterinarian. Your doctor can decide if radiographs or blood tests are needed to get a diagnosis. Treatment then depends on the cause.
If your dog has swallowed something, surgery may be in order. Stones are likely the most common foreign body I take out. I once removed a cassette tape (no casing, but the entire tape). On the radiograph, I could see it because of the metal-impregnated rape. There was also the Golden Retriever who ate a dish rag, the Dalmatian who swallowed a fishhook, and several dogs who ate pieces of tennis balls. There is no end to what dogs will eat.
If a dog has pancreatitis, or liver- or kidney disease, blood tests are needed to get a diagnosis. Liver disease might be treated with antibiotics. Kidney disease may need supplemental fluids and a special diet.
Pancreatitis is treated supportively with fluids, painkillers, and sometimes antibiotics. Vomiting can be minimized with a new medication called Cerenia. This drug suppresses the vomiting center in the brain. The same medication can be used in dogs for motion sickness. Unlike sedatives, it stops vomiting without making dogs sleepy.
The key with vomiting is to first figure out if it is serious or not. If your dog has vomited only once or twice and is happily running around, try home treatment. But if he is vomiting continually and can't hold anything down, or won't eat or drink, seek help.