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Middlehope Veterinary Hospital
Middlehope Veterinary Hospital

Vomiting in Dogs and Cats: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

As a pet parent, it’s impossible to escape the odd pile of vomit every now and then! It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to vomit occasionally, and usually this isn’t anything to worry about. However, vomiting is a symptom rather than a disease, meaning it can be caused by many things. Some will be more serious than others. So, it’s important to be aware of the possible causes of sickness in dogs and cats and to know when you should contact your veterinarian.

What causes vomiting in cats and dogs?

Vomiting, or being sick, is an active process whereby the contents of the stomach are forcibly evacuated. It must be distinguished from regurgitation, where food passively and effortlessly travels back up from the food pipe. With vomiting there are usually signs of nausea first, such as lip smacking, lip licking, and drooling. Your pet will retch with true vomiting. The causes of vomiting and regurgitation are different, so it’s important to know which is happening. If you aren’t sure, don’t worry! It can be really tricky to tell, and your veterinarian will be able to advise you.

Causes of sickness in dogs and cats can be classed as primary (gut related) or secondary (non-gut related). Primary, or gut-related, causes include:

  • Eating, or scavenging, inappropriate or spoiled food,
  • Gastritis, which is inflammation of the stomach,
  • Toxins, or eating something poisonous,
  • Parasites, such as puppies with roundworm infestations,
  • Infections,
  • Foreign bodies, or eating something indigestible that blocks the gut,
  • Hairballs, especially in cats,
  • Constipation,
  • A twisted stomach (GDV or gastric-dilation-volvulus), which can be life-threatening and is an emergency,
  • Stomach ulcers,
  • Food allergies,
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),
  • Cancer.

Secondary, or non-gut related, causes include:

  • Liver disease,
  • Kidney disease,
  • Urine or kidney infections,
  • Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas (an organ that sits near the stomach and intestine),
  • Hormonal conditions, such as diabetes and Addison’s,
  • Hyperthyroid (an overactive thyroid, which is a common condition in older cats),
  • Heart disease,
  • Cancer,
  • Travel sickness,
  • Pyometra (a womb infection),
  • Reaction to certain medicines.

As you can see, there is a long list of possible causes! Some of these causes are potentially very serious, so it’s important to know the warning signs to watch for.

My pet is vomiting, when do I need to see my veterinarian?

Most cases of sickness will get better on their own within 24 hours. However, some causes of sickness can be very serious if not treated quickly. So if your pet has vomited, here’s when to call your veterinarian:

  • your pet is repeatedly being sick,
  • your pet is sick for 24 hours or more,
  • they are trying to be sick but not bringing anything up,
  • your pet seems unwell in themselves or is in pain,
  • their tummy is bloated,
  • there is blood in the sick, or it is black like coffee grounds,
  • your pet isn’t drinking or has a loss of appetite,
  • they are also passing bad diarrhea,
  • they have pale gums, dry gums, or collapse,
  • they have been drinking and/or weeing more than usual recently.

If you notice any of these warning symptoms, then you should call your veterinarian straight away. Of course, you know your pet better than anyone! If you have any other concerns at all then you should contact your veterinarian for advice.

How is vomiting in cats and dogs treated?

If your pet is sick once or twice but seems fine in themselves, then they may not need treatment. It’s not unusual for a cat to bring up the odd furball, or a dog to have eaten something they shouldn’t! You could try withholding food for a few hours and then offering bland food little and often. This could be purchased from your veterinary clinic, or some boiled rice and chicken or white fish.

Never withhold water but do try to encourage your pet to drink little and often. It’s always a good idea to call your veterinarian for advice before trying treatment at home. Better safe than sorry!

The treatment for vomiting will depend on the cause. Your veterinarian will take a detailed history, so that they can determine if the sickness is primary or secondary. This just means they will ask lots of questions to see if there are any other symptoms, when it started, and how poorly your pet seems at home. They may recommend blood tests, x-rays, or ultrasound to try to determine the cause of the vomiting. If your pet is very poorly or dehydrated, then they may need to be hospitalized for treatment.

Common treatments include medicines to prevent sickness and to protect the lining of the stomach. A bland diet is a crucial part of the treatment, until the gut has recovered. A fluid drip is often needed if the sickness is not resolving. This is to treat or prevent dehydration and to allow the stomach to rest. Pain relief is usually given in the hospital, for tummy ache.

Antibiotics would be needed for some infections, but this is uncommon. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed. If the cause of vomiting is “secondary”, the underlying condition would need to be treated. This may involve treatment for life.

How can I prevent my pet from vomiting?

Often, unfortunately, you can’t! Whether or not you can prevent, or reduce, vomiting will depend on the underlying cause. With some causes you can easily reduce the chances of sickness. For example, there are pastes you can give to your cat to help them pass furballs more easily. If your dog is a scavenger, then preventing access to food bins, storing food out of reach, and using a muzzle on walks can help. If your pet has food allergies, avoiding those foods should prevent vomiting. If an underlying medical condition is the cause, then treating and controlling that condition should prevent, or at least reduce, the sickness.

Keeping up to date with your pet’s vaccinations and parasite preventatives will prevent some causes of vomiting. Regular health checks will help too, since early detection of a medical condition usually means it will be easier to treat.

Your veterinarian may advise a long-term prescription diet in some cases, specifically designed to support gut health. They may prescribe medicines to reduce stomach acid, over a long period of time.

Summary

Vomiting in dogs and cats is common and has many possible causes. Most of the time, sickness is mild and will get better within 24 hours on its own, or with some basic treatment. However, some causes of vomiting are very serious. Contact your veterinarian straight away if you notice any of the warning symptoms listed here, or you have any concerns about your pet’s condition.

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