Help! My dog is being sick! Free vet advice

Being sick (or vomiting) in dogs is much like the same human condition except that dogs can, and do, vomit much more readily. Dogs can vomit as part of their normal digestive function to get rid of the sort of things that humans wouldn’t have eaten in the first place – so a single episode of vomiting doesn’t mean your dog is ill.

What causes it?

Being sick is usually just a sign of gastric irritation – inflammation of the stomach lining, otherwise known as gastritis. As such vomiting has a lot in common with diarrhoea – it’s the same process that’s going on in the animal but just in a different place – higher up the digestive tract in vomiting, lower down in diarrhoea, and in both places if the dog has both conditions.

An uncommon cause of vomiting in adult dogs, but a common one in puppies is parasitic worm infestation. Young pups, if not properly wormed, may vomit up roundworms – these look like strands of spaghetti and are a rude reminder to you to get some worming medicine!

Many dog owners think that when they see their dog eating grass it’s a sign of worms – this is not necessarily the case as many dogs will eat a bit of long grass, given the chance, and of course if you see grass in the sickness it’s tempting to think that the grass caused it. It’s not as simple as that, though it’s true that eating grass seems to help a dog to be sick, but the underlying thing that made the dog feel sick in the first place could be any one of a number of things.

Dogs given small toys or balls, or which are determined stone carriers, sometimes end up accidentally swallowing these things and end up vomiting repeatedly as the foreign body (as it is called) gets lodged in their stomach or upper intestine. Such cases tend not to be able to keep anything down, vomiting repeatedly and quickly beginning to look quite unwell.

A common exception to gastritis as a cause of vomiting is motion sickness, which is an exact parallel of the condition in humans – travel sickness in all its forms.

Another thing that we vets always consider is whether the vomiting is in fact a stomach problem, as it would seem, or if it’s a sign of a problem elsewhere – conditions affecting such organs as the liver, kidneys or uterus being high on the list of contenders.

If your dog is not properly vaccinated and he starts being sick, particularly if he’s got diarrhoea as well, and there’s any blood in either, then he may have an important serious infection such as parvovirus.

Just as in humans, some animal medication can cause gastric irritation and vomiting – commonly implicated are various treatments given for arthritis.

What can I do to help?

By now you’ll realise that vomiting can be due to a host of different and sometimes alarming things, but experience shows that the majority of cases are just simple gastritis and will respond to a period of dietary rest, simple gut-protecting medications and unrestricted access to water (to replace fluids lost in the vomit). Simple cases of vomiting in otherwise healthy dogs usually respond to 24 hour starvation (but with constant access to water) followed by three or so days on a bland diet of white meats, e.g. white fish (i.e. not mackerel, salmon, herring, etc) or chicken, together with boiled rice or pasta, fed a little and often. This should be fed until the vomiting has ceased and the normal diet introduced gradually over a period of about three days.  When re-introducing food, the secret is to give ‘a little and often’ to avoid stretching the stomach as to do so will often trigger further bouts of vomiting. Likewise it’s important to have water constantly available so that your dog doesn’t take a stomach-stretching big drink – to help manage this you can put ice cubes in your dog’s water bowl so that he gets just a little to drink at a time as the ice melts.

There are a number of helpful medications available

You can buy a number of very helpful over-the-counter treatments for vomiting dogs and other dog health products available without veterinary prescription in the UK. There are a number of products to help sooth the stomach lining and absorb any toxins which may be present and also things to help restore salts and electrolytes which may have been lost, and yet more to help establish a proper mix of ‘good bugs’ in the gut – so called pro-biotics and pre-biotics. As for worming, dogs over six months of age should be wormed four times a year to ensure they stay effectively worm-free, whilst a puppy should be wormed at least monthly. Excellent wormers for adult dogs and pups are available without prescription.

When should I call my vet?

It’s an important principle of pet care to know when you should take your pet to your vet as opposed to doing things for yourself. Here’s a list of reasons to consult your vet if your dog is vomiting:

  • If your dog loses his normal brightness and vigour.
  • If the condition worsens – for instance if after a couple of days of vomiting he develops diarrhoea.
  • If your dog stops eating or drinking.
  • If he becomes dehydrated (if you notice his eyes sink in their sockets, his skin becomes less moveable over his body, his mouth becomes dry or tacky).
  • If he’s not properly vaccinated and up to date with his boosters and he’s looking ill, particularly if diarrhoea is present – especially if you’ve heard there’s Parvovirus in the district.
  • If your dog is a stone-carrier, or if a regularly chewed toy has gone missing.
  • If your dog is on any medication, particularly for treating arthritis.
  • If your dog has recurring bouts of vomiting, even if mild.

In general, most dogs get over an episode of vomiting fairly quickly and without the need for expensive veterinary involvement, and as long as you as an owner recognise what needs to be done for your pet then the whole thing usually settles down within a couple of days.

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