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:
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
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
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
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.