Vomiting in Dogs and Cats
By Dr. Karen Burgess
Vomiting is a symptom of an underlying problem not a disease in itself and should always be cause for concern. Infections (viral, bacterial, parasites), toxins, inflammation, or disease of the intestinal tract can all lead to vomiting, and while mild cases may resolve without intervention, vomiting accompanied by diarrhea, lethargy or any other behavioral changes should be treated as a medical emergency.
One of the most common causes of vomiting is GI (intestinal) upset from a sudden change in diet, giving an unfamiliar treat, or feeding table scraps. When caused by food changes, vomiting can often be resolved at home as long as it is not severe and the pet continues to act and feel normally. Withholding water for 12 hours and food for 24 hours allows the digestive system to settle down. After 12-18 hours, small amounts (1/4 cup or less) of water can be offered every 1-2 hours. If vomiting does not recur after 12 hours of water being offered, then small amounts (depending on size of pet a teaspoon up to a ¼ cup) of a bland diet such as white rice and chicken can be offered (see recipe/schedule below) every 1-2 hours. If no further symptoms are noted after being on a bland diet for two days, then regular food can be gradually reintroduced over a three to five day time period. If vomiting persists in spite of nothing being given orally or recurs, veterinary treatment is recommended.
In order to avoid intestinal upset due to a new diet, changes in food should always take place over several days. For the first three days of a food switch, feed ¼ of the new diet and ¾ of the old food. If your pet is doing well, then feed a half new food and half old food for another three days, then ¼ old food and ¾ new food for another three days. This slow transition will help to minimize intestinal upsets and decrease the incidence of food related vomiting and diarrhea.
Although many pets regularly receive table scraps care must be taken to ensure that these are not too rich for their system. Fatty foods in particular can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and may lead to pancreatitis (a potentially life threatening inflammation of the pancreas). It is also important to remember that pets should NEVER be given turkey, chicken, or rib bones as these can splinter into small pieces and puncture the stomach and intestines.
While the goal of treatment for vomiting is aimed at solving a specific underlying problem many times this is difficult to accomplish. Supportive or symptomatic care is often what ends up resolving the problem. If vomiting is present for less than 24 hours and there are no other signs of illness (normal energy level, no diarrhea), a conservative approach of wait and see may be successful. However, if there are any additional signs of distress or lethargy, increasing amounts of vomiting, or diarrhea a visit to the veterinarian is required.
Upon visiting the veterinarian a full history will be obtained including when symptoms began, frequency, volume, and consistency. It is helpful to bring a fresh stool sample to this visit. After a comprehensive physical exam, the following tests may be performed:
- Fecal examination-testing for parasite infections or bacterial overgrowth
- Blood work– evaluation of a variety of body systems (ex. kidneys, liver, hydration, red and white blood cells) to give a reading of basic health
- X-rays– radiographs may be recommended to diagnose potential intestinal obstructions or ingested foreign bodies
Treatment of vomiting may involve a bland diet, anti-nausea medication, or antacid therapy; severe cases may require hospitalization and intravenous therapy
Chronic intermittent vomiting (lasting for three or more weeks), while less common, is also reason for a visit to your veterinarian. Keeping track of vomiting episodes on a calendar can help determine frequency. If a pet is vomiting more than once weekly, this may be indicative of underlying issues. Chronic vomiting can lead to poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, low energy levels, weight loss, and poor quality hair coat.
Food allergies and intolerances are a common cause of mild chronic vomiting. Similar to lactose intolerance in people, dogs may have or develop allergies or sensitivities to a variety of ingredients in dog food leading to chronic inflammation in the intestinal tract. Pancreatic diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer are also causes of chronic vomiting.
Whether chronic or acute, vomiting is almost always a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed. Because vomiting in itself has the potential to be life threatening, any dog suffering from more than a short-term bout or showing signs of other medical problems should be seen by a veterinarian. In addition, because young animals are so susceptible to several potentially fatal viruses, the presence of vomiting in any puppy or kitten should be treated as a medical emergency until proven otherwise.
Bland diet recipes-8 ounces cooked white rice (baby rice cereal for cats), 4 ounces single protein source (ex. boiled beef, boiled chicken, low fat cottage cheese). Can boil together, use lean meat, 1# food mixture daily for a 30# dog.
Sample bland diet schedule
Frequency (adjust volume for size of dog)
|Day 1||No food||No food||No food|
|Day 2||Bland||1/2 of normal caloric intake||6-8 small feedings (ex. 1/4 cup every 2-3 hours)|
|Day 3||Bland||3/4 of normal caloric intake||4-6 small feedings (ex. 1/2 cup every 4 hours)|
|Day 4||Bland||Full caloric intake||4 feedings (ex. 3/4 cup every 6 hours)|
|Day 5||75% bland, 25% regular dog food||75% bland:25% regular food||2-4 feedings|
|Day 6||50% bland, 25% regular dog food||50%:50%||2-4 feedings|
|Day 7||25% bland, 75% regular dog food||75%:25%||2 feedings|
|Day 8||Regular dog food||Regular amount||Regular interval|