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Dog Vomiting – Common Causes and Treatment

Vomiting in dogs and puppies is a common problem that can have many different causes. While the occasional episode of vomiting in dogs is not necessarily a cause for concern, repeated episodes of vomiting, especially if the dog is experiencing diarrhea or lethargy should be considered a medical emergency necessitating a visit to your veterinarian.

Vomiting is the body’s own way of ridding itself of unwanted food or other ingested objects in the stomach. Irritation in the stomach causes stomach contractions, leading to the forceful expulsion of the contents of the stomach.

While the occasional episode of vomiting is not always a sign of a major medical problem, any time acute (sudden) vomiting occurs there is potential for a more serious cause to be the root of the problem.

Sudden changes in food can cause an upset stomach in dogs, leading to episodes of vomiting. So long as the dog is otherwise acting normally, these cases can often be treated at home by withholding food for 24 hours, then feeding small amounts of a bland diet (i.e. boiled chicken and rice) to reintroduce food to the dogs system.

Dogs and puppies that eat dry food too fast may experience episodes of vomiting and regurgitation shortly after eating. When ingested, dry food begins to absorb the moisture in the intestine, leading to irritation around the lining of the stomach and vomiting. This can be prevented by feeding smaller, more frequent meals to your dog, as well as soaking dry food for 5-10 minutes before feeding.

However, any time your dog has vomited several times, or if he or she is experiencing diarrhea , lethargy, refusing to eat or has any other signs of illness, prompt veterinary care is necessary to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of the vomiting.

Parasites are another common cause of vomiting in dogs. Puppies are especially at risk of developing parasites, though any age of dog can be infected with a variety of parasites. Some of the most common include:

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Roundworms- these spaghetti-like worms can reach sizes of up to 7 inches long, and can sometimes (but not always) be seen in the feces of infected dogs. Roundworms can be ingested from the soil, and an infected mother dog can pass the parasite on to her puppies through her milk. As a result, severe infestations can be found in very young puppies (who may appear pot-bellied, despite seeming thin overall), and these dogs are at extreme risk of developing intestinal obstructions (as the worms overtake the intestinal tract) and even pneumonia. Diarrhea is the most common sign of roundworm infections, but severely infected dogs may actually vomit large quantities of live worms.

A type of parasite that it not actually a worm, Giardia is a single-celled organism that is highly contagious from dog to dog as well as to people, spread by ingestion of contaminated feces and water sources. Giardia is extremely common in dogs that have been kenneled, or spend time at dog parks. Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms of Giardia. Many dogs infected with Giardia may not show symptoms right away, making routine fecal testing the best way to prevent and treat this parasite.

Also a single-celled organism, Coccidia infects the small intestines of dogs, leading to severe episodes of watery or bloody diarrhea, vomiting and depression. In puppies, dehydration as a result of the symptoms of coccidia can be cause severe illness and even death.

Dogs will eat just about anything- and many times, these dietary indiscretions can lead to vomiting. Eating garbage, plants, people food and other things not meant for dogs can cause an upset stomach, and many times these transient episodes can be cured by withholding food and letting the offending object be naturally expelled. However, some objects dogs swallow are too large to pass through the progressively narrow intestinal tract and become stuck. These intestinal obstructions may cause vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain and bloating, and even repeated, projectile vomiting. If ignored, the intestines surrounding the blockage can begin to die, leading to leakage or even rupture of the intestines, an extremely serious condition.

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Similarly, another condition known as bloat , or gastric dialation-volvulous is a serious, life-threatening condition for which vomiting, bloating and severe abdominal is a main symptom, especially when they occur shortly after a large meal. All dogs can develop bloat, but it is most commonly seen in large breed, deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes, German Shepherds and Dobermans. Bloat is an emergency situation, as the stomach in affected dogs twists, cutting off the esophagus and leaving the dog unable to expel gas or food in the stomach, and affecting the blood flow to many of the major organs including the heart, spleen, stomach and intestines.

Intestinal obstructions and bloat are generally diagnosed via abdominal X-rays, and sometimes by abdominal ultrasound. If either of these conditions is found to be present, emergency surgery must almost always be performed to locate and correct the blockage or torsion, and examine and if necessary, remove any intestines that may have been compromised due to lack of blood supply.

You can help prevent your dog from developing bloat by feeding your dog in several small meals throughout the day, instead of one large one. In addition, wait at least two hours after feeding your dog before allowing exercise, in order to allow food to pass through the stomach, making it more difficult for the stomach to twist.

Treatment for vomiting in dogs and puppies aims to diagnose the source of the problem and correct it. The initial physical exam your veterinarian performs can help to identify other potential problems, such as abdominal pain and dehydration. Based on the exam, your veterinarian may recommend some of the following tests be run to try and determine the cause of the stomach upset.

Fecal testing- a stool sample may be checked for evidence of parasites by careful examination under a microscope. In addition, an antigen test may be recommended to test for the presence of Giardia, as it is often not visible on a regular fecal test.

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Parvo test- any puppy experiencing vomiting should be checked for parvo, regardless of vaccination history. Maternal antibodies can interfere with the efficacy of vaccines, so it is possible for a puppy that has been vaccinated to still develop parvo if exposed to the disease. A rapid antigen test can be performed at your vets’ office, with results available within minutes. If the test is positive, treatment can be started immediately to give your dog the best chance of survival.

Blood work- Blood chemistries are a good way of getting an picture of your pets overall health, as they examine the function and health of many major organs, including the liver, kidneys and pancreas, as well as access your pets level of dehydration. Complete Blood Counts can help to identify infections as well as access the condition of your pets immune system.

X-rays and Ultrasound- Abdominal radiographs or even ultrasound may be recommended to rule out or identify potential foreign bodies or other intestinal obstructions. Surgery or other treatments may be recommended off the basis of abdominal X-rays. In addition, x-rays taken at regular intervals over several hours can help to determine if an object your dog ingested is successfully making it through the digestive tract.

Hospitalization- If the results of any of the above tests indicate a further problem, your vet may recommend hospitalization for monitoring, as well as IV fluids to help correct dehydration caused by vomiting. While hospitalized, your veterinarian can administer medications to help treat the nausea and vomiting, allowing your pet to recover more quickly from the illness.

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