It is always a worry when your puppy is unwell, especially when they are throwing up food, bile, or saliva. This article will run through common causes of vomiting, how to identify vomiting, how to help your puppy, and when to visit a vet.
As vomiting can be caused by both mild and serious conditions, we need to keep a close eye on our affected puppies. For most, a trip to the vet will be required to have them checked over. And in the meantime, it’s important to observe your puppy carefully to note any additional symptoms that might occur.
The Main Reasons Why Puppies Throw Up
There are many reasons that a puppy may throw up or be vomiting. These include:
- A viral, bacterial or parasitic infection
- An abrupt diet change
- Dietary indiscretion (eating something that they shouldn’t such as rich or spicy human food)
- A food intolerance or allergy
- A gastrointestinal obstruction
- Toxin ingestion
- Gastritis or ulcers
- Eating their food too quickly
- Motion sickness
- Heat stroke
And unfortunately, the list goes on!
With so many potential issues going on, diagnosing at home alone can be almost impossible, and so it becomes very important to receive help from your veterinarian.
Is Your Puppy Actually Vomiting?
It is important for owners to realise that not every time a dog gags and brings something up will they be suffering with ‘vomiting’. If unsure, it can be useful to video the event to show to your vet.
Regurgitating is similar to vomiting but has different causes. When a puppy regurgitates, they do not feel nauseous so should not salivate or retch. They bring back their food quickly and without any real abdominal contractions. Must pups are so unfazed by the event that they go ahead and eat up the pile of undigested food that’s in front of them!
While it may seem strange to think we could confuse coughing for vomiting, even vets can mistake the two at times. Dry, hacking coughs can sound similar to the retching and gagging that a dog may do before they vomit. Sometimes, a dog with a cough will bring up phlegm or thick saliva. In fact, a very harsh cough can even cause a dog to vomit, further complicating matters.
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Why Is My Puppy Throwing Up Undigested Food?
When a dog regurgitates, they will bring up food that is undigested. This food may still be in the cylindrical shape of the food pipe and will look the same way that it did when it went in (although it will have been chewed and mixed with saliva and gastric acid). This regurgitation usually happens quite soon after eating and is a ‘passive process’ usually preceded by a small burp.
⭐ Possible causes for regurgitation in a puppy include:
- Persistent Right Aortic Arch
- Foreign bodies
- Hiatal hernia
- Gobbling their food too quickly
If your pup is a fast eater, try to space out their meals and offer them their food in slow feeder bowls. Ensure there is no competition from other pets making them feel they need to clear their bowl quickly. For most, they will grow out of this bad habit once they get a little older.
If your pup vomits digested food, you will normally find that they have visible abdominal contractions and that they feel unwell. Many will drool and will be off their food. There is a wide range of causes for vomiting digested food, as discussed above.
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Why Is My Puppy Throwing Up White Foam?
White foam that is brought up may be saliva or stomach juices. This usually occurs because there is little (if any) food in the stomach. So, we tend to see this kind of vomiting when a dog is off their food or in the morning before they have eaten. It isn’t unusual for a pup to eat grass and then bring back up the grass alongside some white foam.
It is important not to get this confused with the foam and thick saliva that a puppy with e.g. Kennel Cough may bring up after a vomiting fit.
When To See a Veterinarian
A real concern is that puppies, especially when young, are less able to cope with being unwell. This is especially true if they are vomiting a lot or have been unwell for more than 12-24 hours. They have low body fat reserves and are less able to regulate their blood sugar levels and temperature. They are at an increased risk of dehydration and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), especially if they are eating less than they normally would or have concurrent diarrhea.
While a one-off vomit in an otherwise well pup isn’t always a concern, vomiting that persist or occurs alongside other symptoms should be looked into.
⭐ Other symptoms that we need to watch out for would include:
- A reduced or absent appetite
- A high body temperature
- A bloated abdomen
- Excessive thirst
- Blood specks or pink liquid within the vomit
- Dry or pale gums
- Failure to gain weight and grow as expected
What To Expect When at The Vets
When you bring your vomiting puppy in, the vet will ask you about the frequency, type, and duration of the vomiting. They will also check your puppy’s medical history, including when they were last vaccinated and treated for worms. Make sure to let them know about any recent travel history or potential toxin exposure.
The vet will examine your little one from nose to tail, assessing their hydration and checking for a fever. They will also have a good feel of the abdomen in case they can feel an obstruction or built-up gas. In some cases, your vet may order some additional diagnostic tests such as a blood test, urine analysis, stool analysis, abdominal scan, or abdominal X-rays. Which tests are ordered will depend on what diagnosis your vet suspects.
Treatment will depend on what is going on and how unwell your puppy is. Some may need to stay in the hospital on an intravenous fluid drip with intravenous medicine such as antibiotics, anti-emetics, and anti-acids. Others will be allowed to go home to recover and may have some oral medicine which they need to take. Your vet is likely to recommend a sensitivity diet and will schedule a check-up so they can reassess your dog and make sure that they have recovered.
How To Help Your Puppy In The Meantime
There are several things that we can be doing in the interim, while we await the vet appointment.
1. Bland Food Diet
It is sensible to feed your pup a bland and digestible diet. This should be given in small amounts every few hours. Foods such as boiled chicken or turkey, rice, potato, and scrambled egg are all highly digestible and easy for the gut to absorb. Conversely, we should stay away from treats, chews, and dental sticks which are likely to cause digestive upset in a poorly pup. Some advice fasting a pup who is vomiting but this isn’t always sensible, especially in those who are very young or small.
We must encourage water drinking. This is to reduce the risk of our little one becoming dehydrated. We should have fresh water left out and we can also add water to our pup’s meals. If your puppy is refusing to drink, consider syringing a little water on to the tip of their tongue for them to lap up. You can also add some dog-safe gravy to the water to make it more palatable.
If your pup is able to keep them down, starting them on a course of probiotics is a good idea. These can usually be added to their food bowl and can encourage a healthy gut microbiome to establish. This is especially important if you think your pup may have an infection or has eaten or drunk something which they shouldn’t have.
4. Potential Toxins
Take a good look around your home or garden for any potential toxins that may have triggered this stomach upset. Perhaps you have toxic plants or mushrooms growing in the area that your puppy plays. Maybe you will find a trash can with the lid off and rubbish strewn on the ground nearby. Remember, puppies are curious but undiscerning and will lick and eat most things that they find.
Encourage your little fluff ball to take a rest. It’s important not to expect them to keep up with their regular training and walk schedule if they are feeling under the weather. Just like you or me, when they have been vomiting, they will probably want to take five and nap more than usual. Ensure they have a cozy bed in a quiet area of the home that they can go to when they please.
If you see your puppy throwing up, try not to panic. Look out for any other symptoms and contact your local vet as they may wish to see your puppy for a check-up.
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Additional resource: VCA Hospitals