Vomiting in dogs is a common presenting complaint and can be caused by numerous disease processes. Our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team knows how upset you can be when your canine friend vomits, so we provide information about vomiting causes in dogs, when you should be concerned, and how the issue is treated.

Dog vomiting basics

Vomiting should not be confused with regurgitation, which involves passively expelling the esophageal contents. Regurgitated contents are typically undigested and covered in mucous. Vomiting, on the other hand, is typically preceded by excessive drooling and retching and is a protective reflex that involves actively ejecting the gastric contents. The vomiting center is found in the bottom-most brain section (i.e., the medulla oblongata) that triggers vomiting when activated by certain stimulants. Several pathways can activate the vomiting center, including:

  • Peripheral sensory receptors — Peripheral sensory receptors in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can be triggered by GI distention and mucosal irritation to activate the vomiting center.
  • Chemoreceptor trigger zone (CRTZ) — The CRTZ area in the brain is not protected by the blood-brain barrier. Electrolyte imbalances, toxins, drugs, and waste accumulation in the bloodstream can stimulate the CTTZ, leading to vomiting center activation.
  • Vestibular input — The vestibular system is responsible for detecting head position and movement. Conditions such as vestibular inflammatory disorders and motion sickness can activate the vomiting center via vestibular input.
  • Higher central nervous system centers — Extreme anxiety and pain can trigger receptors in the brain cortex and thalamus, causing vomiting center activation.

Dog vomiting appearance

The vomit appearance can provide information about what caused your dog to vomit. Details include:

  • Yellow — Yellow vomit is often seen when your dog has an empty stomach. The yellow color is caused by bile secretions that can be caused by acid accumulation in the stomach, acid reflux, or any systemic condition that causes your dog to be nauseous on an empty stomach.
  • White — White foamy vomit is often caused by acid accumulation in the stomach that is sloshed around before being expelled.
  • Clear — Clear vomit can be seen when your nauseous dog drinks water.
  • Green — Green vomit usually results when your dog eats grass. Dogs often eat grass when they feel nauseous, which can sometimes induce vomiting.
  • Red — If your dog’s vomit is red or pink-tinged, they may be bleeding from their mouth or stomach.
  • Black — Black or dark brown vomit that has a coffee-ground appearance indicates your pet has old, coagulated blood in their GI tract. 

Dog vomiting causes

Dogs can vomit for numerous reasons—some benign, and some considered a veterinary emergency. Common causes include:

  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Eating too fast
  • Toxin or foreign body ingestion
  • Gastric dilatation volvulus (i.e., bloat)
  • Motion sickness
  • Kidney, liver, or pancreatic disease
  • Middle ear infection
  • Meningitis
  • Brain tumor
  • Extreme fear or anxiety

When dog vomiting is a concern

Pets vomit for so many reasons, how do you know when your dog needs veterinary care? Seek veterinary attention if you also see:

  • Other signs — If your dog is exhibiting other signs, such as fever, lethargy, inappetence, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or bloating, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Puppy or senior pet — A puppy or senior pet is at higher risk for dehydration and other serious complications and should be seen quickly by a veterinarian.
  • Toxin or foreign body — If you know or suspect your dog ingested a toxin or foreign body, they need veterinary care as soon as possible.
  • Multiple episodes — If your dog vomits several times over a short period, a veterinarian should evaluate their condition.
  • Pre-existing medical problem — If your dog has a pre-existing medical problem, the condition could be contributing to the vomiting, and they need veterinary attention.
  • Chronic condition — If your dog vomits multiple days in a row, they need veterinary care.
  • Weight loss — If your dog is losing weight from frequent vomiting, they may indicate a serious condition that a veterinarian should investigate.
  • Blood — Vomit that is red, or dark and granular may indicate GI bleeding and your pet needs veterinary care.

Dog vomiting at-home care

If your dog vomits once and otherwise appears normal, you can monitor their condition at home. Tips include:

  • Remove your dog’s food and water.
  • Offer your dog a small amount of water if they don’t have another vomiting episode in one to two hours.
  • Once your dog can keep water down for several hours, offer them a small amount of bland food, such as boiled chicken and rice.
  • Feed small portions of the bland diet for their next several meals.
  • If your pet has no further problems, they can be gradually transitioned back to their normal food over several meals. 

Dog vomiting prevention

Not every vomiting episode can be prevented, but you can take steps to lower your dog’s risk, such as:

  • Changing your dog’s diet gradually — Sudden dietary changes can cause GI upset. Change your dog’s food gradually over 7 to 10 days.
  • Avoiding table scraps — Many human foods are too rich for dogs, and some are toxic to your canine friend. Avoid giving your dog table scraps.
  • Choosing appropriate toys — Don’t give your dog toys that they can swallow or tear into pieces and cause a GI obstruction.
  • Keeping your garbage sealed — Keep your garbage in sealed containers to prevent dumpster diving.
  • Providing wellness care — Ensure your dog’s vaccines are up to date, provide year-round parasite prevention, and schedule an annual wellness examination, so our team can detect conditions in the early stages before they cause advanced signs, such as vomiting.

Contact our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team if your dog is vomiting too often, or you would like to schedule a wellness evaluation for your canine friend.