As an emergency critical care specialist, vomiting is the #1 reason why I see dogs presenting to the animal ER. So, if you notice that your dog keeps throwing up, how many times is too many before you decide to bring him in for a veterinary visit?
In a previous blog, Dr. Nancy Kay discussed what you need to understand about your dog’s vomiting. She talked about some important observations to note including:
- Time of day
- Material found in the vomit
- Anything unusual that might have been ingested
- Normal diet
- All other symptoms observed
When is a vomiting dog an emergency?
I’ll add in a few other rules for vomiting that make it a “must” to bring your dog into the ER (even in the middle of the night!). While this list isn’t all-inclusive, if you notice any of these signs, get to a veterinarian stat!
- Multiple attempts to retch without bringing anything up. This is one of the most common signs for the life-threatening condition, gastric dilatation volvulus (or “bloat”).
- Vomiting with A distended abdomen
- Vomiting and not wanting to get up
- Vomiting and collapse
- Vomiting and pale gums
- Vomiting and a racing heart rate
- Not able to hold water or ice down for more than 12-24 hours, sooner if it’s a puppy or neonate
- Vomiting more than 6X in a day
- History of getting into something that can cause a foreign body (like eating a sock or corn-on-the-cob 2 days before!)
Also get to the veterinarian if:
- You’re concerned your dog ate something poisonous
- Your dog wakes you up at night vomiting, acting anxious and can’t settle down
- Your dog exhibits any abnormal behavior
What if my dog ate something he shouldn’t have?
Now, my dog vomits once in a while – maybe every few months. My dog only does so when I give him certain dental treats that he swallows in larger chuncks; this causes occasional rare stomach upset, only to find him vomiting up a part of the treat hours later (typically between 2-5 AM – boo!).
So, if your dog is vomiting, make sure to do the following:
- Scour the house – did you find any pieces of toys missing, trash chewed into, or any socks missing? If so, it’s always safer to bring in your dog for x-rays as soon as possible. If a foreign body is still in the stomach, sometimes we can induce vomiting to get it out immediately – which is much cheaper than surgery (which can cost several thousand dollars!)
- Check your dog’s gum color to make sure that his gums don’t appear too pale – if they do, or if your dog’s clinical signs are getting progressively worse (like those listed above), get to a veterinarian stat.
- Remove any access to water for 6-12 hours – I hear about many pet guardians making a mistake with water. Their dog vomits and then they promptly give a big bowl of water. No good, folks! They’ll vomit that right back up!
- Remove all access to food for 24 hours unless your dog has a medical reason that prohibits this (such as diabetes mellitus, an insulinoma, a history of getting hypoglycemic, etc.)
- If your dog is still vomiting, get to a veterinarian stat, especially if you notice other signs of lethargy, decreased appetite, or weight loss.
That’s because your veterinarian will need to start with a thorough physical exam (focusing especially in the mouth and the abdomen), blood work and/or x-rays. Depending on how severe it is, your vet may recommend fluids under the skin with an anti-vomiting injection (e.g., maropitant) or hospitalization for intravenous fluids and more aggressive therapy.
Remember, when it comes to vomiting, the sooner a medical problem is identified, the sooner we can treat it and often the better (and less expensive) the outcome!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.