March 12th, 2012
Vomiting in domestic pets
Vomiting is a problem that can vary in severity from no big deal to life threatening emergency. Occasional vomiting in dogs and cats is often mentioned by owners because it is not viewed as a problem but they want reassurance that it is okay. Most of the time, just like with us, it is no big deal to have occasional GI upset.
Occasional vomiting in pets may be from “dietary indiscretion” from eating something outside of the normal diet or just the occasional gastrointestinal upset from having eaten too much or too fast. One common cause of vomiting, most often in dogs, is from being fed once a day. The typical signs are of this problem are often found an hour or two before eating. The vomit is often yellow to foamy vomit. In pets fed once a day, they may experience hunger before the next meal and vomit from lack of food. Often, feeding twice a day resolves vomiting from this cause.
With vomiting that is occasional, talking to your veterinarian about practical solutions to decrease the incidence of vomiting is a good solution. In pets who vomit undigested food shortly after eating, most often it is from eating too much, too fast or both. Sometimes after eating too fast or too much, the pet suffers from discomfort much the same way we do when we eat too much, and vomits because of it. Finally, hairballs are a common occurrence in cats who groom regularly or excessively. Hairballs can occur even with hairball control food, although the amount and size of them tends to be smaller than without the food. There are many products that can decrease the size and severity of hairballs. Feeding cats wet food often helps with this problem.
The typical presentations mentioned above are often not associated with any medical problems, but these symptoms should be mentioned to your veterinarian. However, when vomiting occurs more frequently than occasionally, the pet needs to be evaluated. One cause of frequent vomiting is a potentially a food intolerance. Food intolerance is not normally considered, but can be investigated by you. If your pet vomits after a specific type of food only, it may be due to not tolerating the food well. This is not a food allergy where the immune system reacts to the food; it a condition where the food irritates the stomach and causes vomiting. Food allergy can also occur but the symptoms for it are not generally associated with vomiting. With vomiting, the above possible causes can be addressed by you with the help of your veterinarian. Other causes of vomiting are often more concerning and should be addressed by your veterinarian.
The most concerning signs with vomiting are continual vomiting, frequent vomiting, vomiting that is dark, has blood in it or appears odd to you should be investigated. Projectile vomiting, vomiting that occurs with no notice, or anything else that concerns you should be looked at as soon as possible by your veterinarian. If you know or even suspect that your pet has ingested a foreign object – such as clothing, string, metal, glass or anything else- the situation should be considered an emergency and your pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Unfortunately, vomiting may be associated with many problems including metabolic, endocrine or immunologic conditions. One other final and very important cause of vomiting is a reaction to vaccines. Dogs who experience a vaccine reaction from a “distemper” or rabies vaccine may vomit, have diarrhea and collapse. The above reasons may be life threatening causes of vomiting.
When vomiting is being investigated, your veterinarian will assess the situation by performing a physical exam including looking at your pet’s appearance, especially to check for dehydration. He or she may want to run blood tests to check internal organ functions, check immune function and possibly run specific enzyme tests associated with certain causes of vomiting. Depending on what your veterinarian suspects, x-rays, ultrasound and/or other tests may be requested.
Vomiting can be a very vague symptom in our pets. Unfortunately, vomiting is often associated with various problems from eating too much or too fast to cancers and foreign bodies. Therefore, if your pet vomits and you are concerned, discussing these concerns with your veterinarian and providing as much information as you can possibly remember is very important to help with a diagnosis. If you notice that a trend is starting, write down when the vomiting started, its frequency, color and texture. This information will be invaluable to your veterinarian in quickly assessing the situation and determining the best way to address it.
S. Mason, DVM