Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
What Exactly Is Dog Bile?
If your dog is vomiting yellow fluid, unless he lapped up something yellow, chances are it's your dog's bile. What exactly is dog bile, and why is it produced? Bile is something that dogs, humans, and other vertebrates produce. While it's commonly yellow, it's a bitter-tasting fluid and ranges in color from dark green, yellow-brown, brown, or bright yellow in some cases. It's bitter in taste, and most dogs will not re-ingest it.
It's a fluid produced by the dog's liver, and its main function is to help the digestion of lipids in the small intestine. It also helps neutralize excess stomach acid before it enters the upper intestinal tract. While it's produced by liver it is stored in the gallbladder and mainly consists of 85% water, 3% mucus and 1% fats and some salts.
You are hardly aware of bile and digestive juices in dogs until they vomit it up and stain your carpets. Bile vomiting, at times accompanied by a white, frothy liquid, typically happens when the dog vomits on an empty stomach or after repeated vomiting once all the food has been brought up. Bile is irritating to the stomach when no food is present, so it's best to find out why the bile is presenting in the first place. We will look more into this in the next sections.
Why Would a Dog Vomit Bile?
Vomiting is not a condition, rather it's a symptom. Therefore, there isn't a direct, universal cure for all types of vomiting because the vomiting may have many causes. You will therefore need to have your vet run diagnostic tests if your dog is vomiting continuously, so the underlying cause can be addressed. Below are some possible causes for vomiting bile in dogs. Obviously, you'll need to see your vet for an accurate diagnosis, so this list is not to be used for diagnostic purposes. Also, keep in mind that bile vomiting can take place any time a dog vomits on an empty stomach, or has vomited so much, the stomach has been emptied completely of food and now bile is being brought back up.
A dog with intestinal blockage will keep on vomiting for the simple fact that mechanically, food cannot make it past the blockage. Everything eaten therefore will be brought back up. At times, the vomiting can be forcefully expelled (explosive, projectile vomiting). Affected dogs may have repeated vomiting, severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, constipation.
As the term implies this is the inflammation of the dog's pancreas. This condition often occurs as a result of eating a high-fat meal such as bacon droppings or other oily and greasy foods. Affected dogs become very sick and develop severe vomiting, a painful belly and often an accompanying fever. The symptoms often occur within 24 to 72 hours after ingesting the fatty meal. Affected dogs often require a course of antibiotics and prescription food.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
At times, a chronic irritation of the dog's intestinal tract may trigger irritable bowel disease which may lead to bile vomiting. In this case, the solution may be as simple as switching to higher quality diet free of grains, fillers and by-products.
Bilious Vomiting Syndrome
In this case, the dog vomits bile because his stomach has been empty for too long. What happens is that on an empty stomach, the stomach secretes acids and mucus, and on top of that, bile is produced which flows into the small intestines. When the stomach is empty, there's nothing to absorb the stomach acids/bile which can be very irritating. Soon, the dog feels nauseated and a cycle of empty stomach-nausea-vomit-empty stomach-nausea-vomit is created.
This cycle often takes place in dogs during the night when the stomach is empty for over 8 hours or in dogs who are fed one meal per day only, leaving the stomach empty for longer periods of time. The treatment consists of antiacids such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid) or ranitidine (Zantac). Feeding more frequent and smaller meals also helps. A bed-time and early morning snack can also help break the cycle. Often, this condition is diagnosed once other causes for vomiting bile have been ruled out.
And of course, the list doesn't end here. Bile vomiting may be also caused by a vast array of other problems such as the presence of toxins, liver disease, infectious diseases, liver problems, pesky parasites, abrupt dietary changes, allergies, stress and more. To learn more about causes of vomiting read "why is my dog vomiting?"
The Problem With Chronic Bile Vomiting
An episodic case of bile vomiting may often resolve on its own and the dog remains bright and alert. However, repeated bile vomiting may soon become troublesome. The problem is mainly not the fact that the dog cannot keep food down, but the fact that the dog loses fluids quickly and risks to become dehydrated because bile is 85% water and salts and electrolytes are lost. Young puppies dehydrate quickly and should be seen immediately if they vomit repeatedly.
According to Bethlehem Veterinary Hospital you should as a general rule of thumb see your vet if:
- You have a young puppy or an old dog
- The vomiting is projectile and violent
- Your dog cannot keep water down
- Your dog vomits for more than 1 day
- Your dog vomits for more than 3 times in one hour.
- Your dog is lethargic and appears in pain.
- There's blood in your dog's vomit under the form of bright red or black coffee-ground
- You suspect your dog may have a blockage or was exposed to toxins
- Your dog appears dehydrated
As mentioned, dehydration and the loss of electrolytes is the main concern. If your dog is vomiting bile repeatedly you'll need to keep him well hydrated. The problem is that sometimes dogs with an upset stomach cannot hold down food or water when they're sick. Basically, their stomach is too upset and not ready for the workload. This is why vets often recommend to fast the dog for 12 to 24 hours (very young pups may be fasted for less, like 6 hours) and give water slowly and gradually. Gulping loads of water all at once may cause the dog to vomit again and again. For more on how to rehydrate a dog, read my hub on "How to rehydrate a vomiting dog".
This article is not to be used a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is vomiting, please see your vet for a proper assessment and diagnosis.
For Further Reading
- How to Stop a Dog From Eating Fast
A dog eating fast is not only a bad habit, but also a cause for concern since it may lead to several health problems. If you own a dog that wolfs down its food as soon as you put it down, be assured there are ways to address this problem and calm...
- Dog Health: Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs
What is canine pancreatitis? Why does the dog's pancreas get inflamed? What are treatments for pancreatitis in dogs? Learn more about this debilitating condition.
- Vet-Approved Dog Upset Stomach Home Remedies
Is your dog upset stomach becoming a problem? Learn some effective vet-approved natural home remedies to treat your dog's upset stomach at home. Easy to make dog bland diet recipe, straight from your kitchen's pantry!
Questions & Answers
Question: What does it mean if my dog’s bile is pink?
Answer: Pink bile may be due to something pigmented your dog ate, but most likely it's due to presence of blood. It is possible that your dog vomited so forcefully or so repeatedly that a small blood vessel may have burst. Usually, this is minor and should be short-lived. However, there are also some more serious problems that could cause blood in a dog's vomit and this includes exposure to rat poison, stomach ulcer, bleeding disorder etc. If your dog continues to vomit pink bile or acts lethargic, has loss of of appetite or just acts differently, it may be important to see the vet.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Febie ann calilao on June 25, 2020:
What will do I have to do to my dog vomiting yellowwsh thick fluid and not eating nor drinking water?
Megan on January 06, 2020:
Hello early yhis afternoon my pitt ul threw up foam and a good portion of it FROM OUR COUCH he has done thia before but never acting like shaking juss purely ill! I have induced vomiting as my friend a vet said to due bc hours later around 8 pm he started vomitting thick slimy white foam its still very thick bubbles that dont pop throw up that white thick like a smootie is it a blockage?
sassy70 on May 05, 2019:
Now many communities have emergency vet services. We've had to bring our dog into the vet in an ER visit. Our dog just started vomiting bile and in the middle of the night. I'll be keeping an eye on her to see if anything changes. There are forbidden foods but that hasn't happened.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 31, 2019:
Cathy, with stubborn cases as such, it may help to see a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine. We saw one not too long ago and we did a GI panel, ultrasound and x-rays just to rule out other issues. She put our dog who vomited bile at night on Prilosec and Reglan and we feed 4 meals a day and it has been helping. Of course, every case is different, but the specialist is really the only one who sorted out things.
Cathy Johnson on March 28, 2019:
My dog has been vomiting bile (clear white foam) on and off for months we have visited the vets many times after christmas he was give carafate (1mg) and we had no instances for 2 months then all of sudden he started again after a few days we took him the vet and he ended up on a drip for dehydration and pain relief he was sent home after 24 hours he was given medication for 2 weeks (Losec (10 mg , Metrogyl 200mg, Carafate 1g, Maxalon 10mg) he stopped the medication 2 days ago but continued on the carafate, we have also been feedign him a small amount before bed and this morning he started licking the carpet and then vomited bile again...... and ideas as what and where we should go from here. He has all home cooked meals and treats as he has very sensative stomach
Lou Beaudoin on November 14, 2018:
My dog was prescribed 60 mg a day of Ompreazole .Along with two antibiotics he would not eat and on occasion he would throw up a yellow mucus file with the acid reducing pills had stopped after two days he would eat everything still taking the anabiotic’s and no throwing up bile is this normal along with two and I biotics he would not eat been on occasion he would throw up a yellow mucus bile when the acid reducing pills I had stopped after today’s he would eat everything still taking the anabiotic‘s and no throwing up bile is this normal ? Thank you in advance
Marsha on May 25, 2018:
This site is so awesome !! Unfortunately, some emergencies happen in the evening hours when all Vet offices are closed and you are in a panic. Being able to come here and find answers is quite a piece of mind and relief.
Victoria Selene on February 18, 2017:
My dog has episoded of vomiting yellow bile accompanied by diarrhea about 2-4 times yearly. He'shad x rays and scans and there is no visible cause. He's also had bloodwork which does not show elevated lipase which may indicate oancreatitis. If it goes on more than a day I take him to our vet who gives him an injection of Cerenia and literally within a couple hours he's good as new.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 07, 2016:
Thanks for the tip of using raw milk for dogs vomiting bile.
nustimom on April 06, 2016:
Raw milk works wonders for my dog when she has bilious vomiting. Raw cheese is also helpful.
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on September 01, 2013:
This is a good deal of information you have presented. Great job. I have a family member with a dog which has been vomiting occasionally.
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on September 01, 2013:
Very good hub with information people who have dogs need. My dog's had pancreatitis in the past (her breed is predisposed to it), and the vomit was both yellow and foamy. If pancreatitis or any of the other conditions you wrote about are suspected, the dog should be taken to the vet quickly.
Voted Up++ and shared
Vomiting bile in dogs: causes, symptoms, treatment
Vomiting in dogs is not at all a sign of a deadly disease, as many think about it. In these animals (as in cats), the gag reflex is well developed. This is largely due to the nature of the feeding of dogs. By their nature they are predators who do not disdain carrion. If the animal ate something very “fragrant”, the protective mechanisms, expressed in vomiting, are included. In a word, this is a normal physiological reflex.
But it does not always happen. When the dog tears the bile, this is always a good reason for visiting a veterinary clinic.
A complete guide to the causes, symptoms and treatment for bilious vomiting in dogs…
Firstly if your dog starts vomiting bile you should take him straight to the vet for a full medical examination (just to make sure everything is ok). Having said this it is relatively common for dogs to throw up yellow bile…but what is this liquid and what function does it actually perform?
We all know that the liver performs a variety of critical functions in your dog or puppy, and the production of bile and bile salts is just one of these vital functions.
The digestive process starts as soon as your dog or puppy has eaten. After the food has been swallowed it will pass down a long muscular tube which passes directly from the dog’s pharynx, through the dog’s chest and then down into the stomach. This tube known as the oesophagus has the very important function of transporting food into the dog’s stomach.
The stomach (which works like a food mixer) is actually a muscular sac that stores and mixes up the food. The lining of the stomach will then produce acid and enzymes to help with the digestion of the recently eaten food. The food will then pass through the pylorus into the dog’s small intestine. The small intestine will continue breaking up the food into much smaller and more manageable components (which can be absorbed by the intestinal wall).
At this point the bile that has been manufactured by the liver and then stored in the dog’s gallbladder is released into the small intestine. The pancreas also produces enzymes which are then secreted (alongside the bile salts) then passed through the small ducts found in the intestine so that the food and it’s contents can be effectively broken up and utilised by the dog’s body.
So why is my dog vomiting bile…? The reasons why dogs vomit bile is not always clearly understood. However, we have listed some of the usual suspects that can lead to this problem…
1. Sometimes dogs will vomit bile when they have an empty stomach, are hungry and have not eaten recently.
2. Although all breeds can be affected and it can be seen in dogs at any age, it is a problem that seems to be more prominant in older dogs.
3. A dog suffering from gastritis or experiencing inflammation of the intestine can experience this condition.
4. If there is an over-production of bile this can also lead to bilious vomiting.
5. There is an interesting difference to how bile is produced in humans and dogs. Humans will actually produce bile after they have eaten a meal. However, dogs will actually produce bile before they eat. This happens when they anticipate that they are about to get fed, for example we have a dog called Gertie that knows to the minute when she is going to be fed, 18:00 PM exactly. Any later and she starts to really let us know she wants some food! So it is possible that Gertie (like other dogs) will start to produce bile ready for her meal.
The problem develops (i.e. the bilious vomiting) when the food is not provided after this bile has been produced so the dog will need to get rid of any bile to stop it from burning the stomach and causing more problems (so it is vomited to avoid this problem). Luckily we always feed Gertie at the same time (18.00 PM) so we reduce the possibility of this happening.
5. Some foods can also lead to your dog vomiting bile especially foods that your dog is not used to or if you have changed your dog’s diet recently.
6. Another possible reason for a puppy or dog to start vomiting bile can be through irritable bowel syndrome. This is because it causes problems with gastric mobility.
How can I stop my dog from vomiting bile…? As previously mentioned you should always take your dog or puppy to the vet if you have any concerns mainly because it could be the symptoms of a more serious illness or condition. Assuming that you have spoken to your vet and more serious conditions have been ruled out, the treatment will normally consist of some of the following…
1. The vet may prescribe medication to alleviate some of the bile and acid build-up (Pepcid is a common medication for this problem).
2. As previously mentioned dogs that are hungry or have not been fed for long periods (i.e. in the morning and evening) can lead to bile accumulating (and then vomited). Therefore it may be recommended by the vet that the food is spread out throughout the day and fed in smaller portions.
3. Try to avoid suddenly changing your dog’s diet. Always get medical advice first as the vet may be able to look at your dog’s medical history to see if there any possible previous health problems that may be exacerbated by a change in diet.
4. Avoid feeding your dog food that can soak up moisture and expand in your dog’s stomach, dry kibble can be a cause of this.
5. Check that your dog does not have any food allergies as this can lead to your dog vomiting bile.
1. Dog Vomiting Yellow
If your dog vomits yellow mucus, you should contact a vet at the earliest. The untold physical troubles can cause severe discomfort and in the process, the throat, esophagus, and stomach may become ruptured.
Yellow mucus vomiting may indicate the presence of bile juice in your dog’s vomit.
Reasons or Causes of Yellow Mucus Vomiting in Dogs
- Pancreatitis refers to the inflammation present in the pancreas. This condition can be either chronic or acute.
- Pancreatitis can lead to injury and can cause severe operational dysfunction of the pancreas.
- Due to an intestinal blockage, your dog can vomit yellow mucus.
- The empty stomach may cause bile to damage your dog’s stomach forcing the dog to vomit yellow mucus or bile juice.
Treatment for Yellow Mucus Vomiting in Dogs
The treatment for this condition in dogs actually will be based on the observation gathered by your vet.
- Giardia is managed with metronidazole or fenbendazole. Vets will recommend a complete clean-up of the dog to reduce any parasite eggs.
- Wash all your dog’s toys, bedding, and bowls in hot water.
- Disinfect and clean upholstery, carpets, and flooring.
- Patients suffering from gastritis may need food withdrawn for 2 days or less.
- Small quantities of food can be fed after 24 hours.
- Increase food intake slowly each day.
- Sucralfate medicine will help your dog feel good.
Bilious Vomiting Syndrome
- Dogs suffering from bilious vomiting syndrome may require smaller meals.
- Pepcid or Tagamet may be given to control acidic condition in your dog.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
In this case, your vet may suggest one carbohydrate and protein for some time- sweet potato and chicken. After some time, new items such as potato or lamb will be introduced.
IBD patients have been prescribed probiotics, antibiotics, drugs, and immunosuppressive drugs.
- The vet may suggest surgery after finding out whether there is a real blockage or not.
- Pain medication and antibiotics are given to reduce the severity of the condition.
2. Green Vomit
If your dog vomits very rarely, then there is no reason for you to panic. Many pets will vomit when they eat something unhealthy.
Causes of Green Vomit
Main causes of green vomit in dogs include:
- Inspection of the green vomit can expose the mix of digestive plants and fluids.
- Check your houseplants and verify what types of leaves are present in the green vomit.
- Most plants are toxic to dogs. If you suspect a plant to be toxic, please remove it from your house immediately.
If you find mucus in your dog’s vomit, then it could be due to a stomach infection. Take a vomit sample when you visit your vet.
Gastritis could also result in green vomit in dogs. Green bile is discharged in the gallbladder and thereby into the duodenum.
Treatment for Green Vomit
Even healthy dogs vomit and you should also look out for other signs such as diarrhea etc. Contact your vet for the best possible medical care.
3. Dog Vomiting White Foam
When you find your dog vomiting white foam, it will open a dozen questions ranging from “Is it that serious? Should I call the vet right now or not?” and much more.
Reasons for White Foam Vomit
This condition occurs when your dog’s stomach is filled with gas and remains twisted. Bloating means your dog is finding it difficult to expel gas.
Bloating puts severe pressure on your pet’s diaphragm, and ultimately reducing blood supply to your pet’s heart. Signs of bloat include an inability to pass stools, a consistent cough, pale gums, excessive drooling, and vomiting white foam.
Most dogs develop an infection known as kennel cough or infectious tracheabronchitis after been placed in a kennel. Dogs can simply develop this condition due to regular visits to doggie daycare.
Signs of infectious tracheabronchitis include vomiting white foam, nasal discharge, lethargy, and frequent cough. Bordetella vaccine can stop this kennel cough in dogs.
Acid reflux could also result in your dog vomiting white foam. Signs of pancreatitis include weakness, abdomen pain, loss of appetite, and dehydration. Dogs suffering from pancreatitis will display the “praying position.”
A very serious viral condition and signs of parvovirus include unexplainable weight loss, bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting white foam.
A dog showing signs such as disorientation, weakness, lethargy, and vomiting white foam, kidney trouble cannot be ruled out. Call your vet at the earliest or else the consequences could be life harming.
Indigestion is a regular occurrence and there is no need to ring the alarm bells unless you find it happening quite regularly.
Undigested food could also cause white foam vomit and contact your vet if you feel something is really bad.
Treatment for Vomiting White Foam in Dogs
If you feel your dog is undergoing a simple indigestion problem, then food restriction can produce good results. For continuous urination in dogs, a thorough analysis is only recommended.
Pancreatitis and bloat, depending on the severity of the condition can require further investigation.
4. Dog Vomiting With Blood
Hematemesis in dogs
Vomiting of blood or hematemesis can happen due to several reasons. If blood is present in your dog’s vomit, it should be treated with sincerity and care.
Your dog could also show signs such as blood in stool, fever, and diarrhea. Dark stools do not signify blood. Another point is that traces of blood may not represent gastro intestinally and then regurgitated.
Reasons for Blood Vomit in Dogs
Injury and illness
One of the main reasons for blood vomit in dogs is blood clotting disorder. It can happen as a result of medical or injury procedures. Kidney or liver disease, illnesses, improper surgical procedures, and injuries can also result in blood vomit in dogs.
Other factors such as cancerous tumors in the skin, esophagus, and stomach can also cause blood vomit.
NSAIDs are prescribed for inflammation and pain in general. Inform your vet about other medications you are giving your dog. Toxic materials can affect the gastrointestinal system, blood-clotting ability, central nervous system, and other organs.
Intestinal and stomach ulcers are acid-based injuries occurring due to the defect of the mucosa membrane. These ulcers are a result of neoplasia, and liver disease.
Treatment for Blood Vomit in Dogs
- In most cases, a vet will prescribe tests to study white blood cells, anemia, and coagulopathy.
- Urinalysis may also be carried out.
- The vet may order further tests if the exact cause remains unknown.
- There is no simple home treatment for blood vomit in dogs unless particularly mentioned by a vet.
5. Vomiting Pink Foam
Reasons for Pink Foam Vomit
- Dogs suffering from lung infections, lung cancer, and congestive heart failure are known to vomit
- Pink foam.
- If the vomited matter is frothy pink, it could have been discharged from the lungs.
Contact your local vet for further diagnosis.
6. Vomiting Brown Liquid
Vomiting brown liquid could indicate something more serious.
Reasons for Vomiting Brown Liquid in Dogs
- In this condition, you expect your dog to vomit digested blood.
- Hemorrhages can cause anemia or blood pressure in dogs
- Warning signs include excessive blood loss, pale gums, weakness, and lethargy
Consuming rat poison
If your dog consumes rat poison, it can lead to black stools and vomiting blood.
Something they ate is in brown color
If your dog has consumed feces, dirt, or chocolate, it can easily result in brown vomit.
Intestinal blockages can also cause brown liquid vomit. Things like marbles, toys, underwear, button, coins, and bones are some items collected from a dog’s stomach. A foul smell accompanies the brown vomit in most cases.
Ulcers could also result in your dog vomiting brown liquid. Black colored stools also indicate bleeding ulcers. The main causes of ulcers include shock, stress, pancreatitis, intervertebral disk disease, ingestion of foreign things, etc.
Stomach ulcers can be easily treated but in certain cases, it may require surgery and hospitalization. Some dogs may also need electrolytic support, blood transfusions, and proper supportive care.
7. Vomiting Mucus
If you find your pet vomiting mucus, it could mean that your dog is coughing and not vomiting. The ribs and chest of a dog move visibly while coughing.
Reasons for Vomiting Mucus
- When you inform your vet that your dog is vomiting mucus, your vet will eliminate coughing and regurgitation.
- Regurgitation happens due to a problem in your dog’s esophagus, throat.
- Coughing mucus happens when your dog’s heart, sinus, respiratory, or esophagus is not in the best of health.
- Other reasons include blockage, inflammatory bowel disease, toxins, and diet.
Your vet will study the complete medical history of your dog and may prescribe certain tests. Some of the tests include a sonogram, fecal exam, a total blood count, urinalysis, and x-rays.
The pet’s diagnostic test, physical examination, and dog’s medical history will guide your vet in deciding on the best possible treatment.
What Are the Causes of My Dog Vomiting Bile - pets
This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
Vomiting is a very common problem in dogs and cats. There are many causes of vomiting. Primary or gastric causes of vomiting are those that are due to diseases of the stomach and upper intestinal tract. Secondary or non-gastric causes of vomiting are caused by diseases of other organs that cause an accumulation of toxic substances in the blood. These toxic substances stimulate the vomiting center in the brain causing the animal to vomit. (Anatomy of the digestive system: dog / cat)
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. 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.
When you present your pet to the veterinarian because he or she is vomiting, the veterinarian will ask questions in attempt to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation and to try to determine if your pet is vomiting due to gastric or non gastric disease. Vomiting is an active process. The pet is apprehensive and heaves and retches 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 a slimy mucus. The pet will often try to eat the regurgitated material. You may bring a fresh sample of "vomit" for the veterinarian to examine. The pH of vomit containing food is acid, the pH of regurgitated materials is higher. 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. Over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen can cause severe stomach ulcers in dogs depending upon the dose and duration of treatment. The veterinarian may ask you to describe the appearance of the vomit, as well as describe how your pet looks when it vomits and the relation ship of vomiting to eating. If the vomit contains blood it may be fresh, red blood or look like coffee grounds if the blood is digested. Blood is most often seen with stomach ulcers, stomach cancer or uremia (a collection of signs including vomiting seen in pets with kidney failure). Stomach ulcers can be caused by drugs or the presence of a mast cell cancer in the skin. Mast cell cancers release histamine that leads to stomach ulcers. 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. Animals with a twisted stomach, gastric dilation-torsion, may make frequent attempts to vomit without producing anything. Pets with a hacking cough may retch and sometime vomit at the end of an episode of forceful coughing. An accurate description in this case would lead to an investigation of the causes of coughing, rather than vomiting.
If your pet vomits just occasionally and has a specific series of actions associated with vomiting, you may consider video taping an episode of vomiting to help describe the episodes to the veterinarian.
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. The mouth should be carefully examined as some foreign objects such as string can wind around the base of the tongue with the rest of the object extending into the stomach or small intestine. A nodule may be palpated in the neck of cats with hyperthyroidism.
The list of non-gastric causes of vomiting is long.
Pancreatitis in the dog causes vomiting that is sudden in onset and often severe. The dog may have a painful belly. Pets with pancreatitis often have a history of eating garbage or fatty table scraps. Tumors of the pancreas can cause similar signs to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis occurs in the cat but the signs are subtle and non specific and often don't include vomiting
Kidney failure is a common cause of vomiting in dogs and cats. The kidneys can be acutely (suddenly) damaged by poisons such as antifreeze or by severe dehydration. Waste products that the kidneys normally get rid of, rise to high levels in just a few days. The kidneys can also gradually lose their ability to remove waste products from the body as the pet ages. Early signs of kidney failure include drinking and urinating large amounts called polyuria and polydipsia or PU-PD. PU-PD may be present for months to years before the kidney failure is severe enough to lead to waste product accumulation and vomiting. Vomiting in chronic kidney failure may began as occasional episodes and progress to severe, frequent vomiting. The pet with chronic kidney failure will often lose body condition and may have pale gums due to anemia.
Non-spayed, middle aged female pets can develop a uterine infection called pyometra. Pyometra occurs within 2 months after a heat cycle and often results in discharge of pus from the vagina. The pet may frequently lick the vagina so discharge may not be seen. Dogs develop pyometra more often than cats. Other signs may include PU-PD and depression.
Liver failure causes vomiting as well as other signs depending on the type of liver disease. Other signs of liver disease may include seizures, jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the areas of skin not covered by fur), PU-PD and fluid accumulation in the belly or legs. Bladder obstruction or rupture will cause a sudden onset of vomiting. The urethra that leads from the bladder to the outside can get plugged by stones or tumors. The animal will strain and pass just a few drops of urine or none at all. They will also have a painful belly. Bladder obstruction if not corrected, is fatal in just a few days. The bladder can be ruptured by blunt trauma such as being hit by a car or kicked.
A form of diabetes called ketoacidosis will cause vomiting along with depression and PU-PD.
Addison's disease is a deficiency of hormones from the adrenal gland and causes vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Addison's disease occurs most commonly in young to middle aged dogs, most of which are female. Addison's is rare in the cat. The signs of Addison's disease may be intermittent or may be very severe and constant.
Diseases of the inner ear can cause vomiting accompanied by incoordination, circling and tilting of the head to the side. Motion during car rides stimulates the inner ear and can cause vomiting.
A sudden onset of vomiting in young, poorly vaccinated pets may be caused by infectious agents including canine distemper, canine parvovirus and feline panleukopenia virus.
There are many toxins including lead, insecticides, antifreeze and other chemicals that can cause vomiting.
Cats with elevated thyroid function, hyperthyroidism, may vomit in addition to other signs including, increased appetite, weight loss, hyperactivity and a poorly kept coat. Heartworm disease in cats may cause vomiting in addition to coughing, respiratory distress, weight loss and depression.
Primary causes of vomiting include acute gastritis often due to eating garbage or other types of dietary indiscretions 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.
Tests to differentiate primary causes of vomiting include x-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen and endoscopy. Endoscopy is the technique of passing a flexible scope into the stomach and upper intestine to examine the inside of these structures. It may be possible to remove a foreign body with endoscopy and small biopsies of the lining of the stomach and intestine can be taken for microscopic evaluation. Endoscopy requires general anesthesia.
If the pet vomits sporadically, the results of all tests may be normal. 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. 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 gradual 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.
If the pet is bright and alert and has had no previous health problems, episodes of acute vomiting may be managed at home, although veterinary consultation prior to home treatment is advised. 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. With this type of knowledge you will want to have your pet evaluated rather than waiting a few days. Dogs and cats who vomit for longer than a few days or are depressed or dehydrated should be presented for veterinary evaluation.
Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.
Did you find this information useful? Please consider helping us train the veterinarians of tomorrow by making a gift to the college.
The Pet Health Topics Web site is a free service provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University. Your donation will help support veterinary education and research.
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
PO Box 647010
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-7010
College Phone: (509) 335-9515
College Office: Bustad Hall, Room 110