Vomiting is a common complaint in many of our patients—whether dogs or cats. The list of things that can cause vomiting is endless and it can sometimes be challenging to pinpoint a specific diagnosis.
Sometimes the cause of vomiting is obvious. A young dog that got into the garbage, for example, is clearly suffering the consequences of dietary indiscretion. The cat that had been chewing on a houseplant likely has gastrointestinal irritation from ingesting parts of the plant.
Typically, once we remove the offending cause, the vomiting in these examples resolves quickly and uneventfully. But what about the dog or cat that continues to vomit without known cause?
Most owners want to know at what point they should bring their pet in for an exam, and whether there any home remedies they can try beforehand.
If an animal has NO other outward signs of distress or illness, we may be more comfortable taking a conservative approach. We typically advise people to withhold their pet’s food for 6 to 8 hours after vomiting. After that time, small amounts of water and bland food may be offered every few hours as long as no more vomiting occurs. Symptomatic treatments such as gastro-protectants or an anti-vomiting injection may also be helpful.
Sometimes vomiting is caused by food intolerance. Often a pet can develop intolerance for an ingredient–even when they have been eating that ingredient for months or even years. We recommend doing a simple in-home food trial using a limited ingredient/novel protein diet, such as venison and pea, or duck and potato, in order to rule this out as a cause.
However there can be other more serious causes of vomiting…
Vomiting associated with lethargy, anorexia, blood in the vomit, diarrhea, or other signs of illness should prompt an immediate visit to your veterinarian–without taking a “wait-and-see” approach.
Pets that have a tendency to eat non-food items (such as rocks, socks, or small toys) should also be examined sooner rather than later to determine if they have a gastrointestinal foreign body or bowel obstruction.
Vomiting can also be caused by primary gastrointestinal disease, or it may be a secondary symptom of a metabolic disease involving the liver, kidneys or other organs (such as pancreatitis, liver disease, or endocrine /hormonal disease).
If your pet does not want to eat, continues to vomit, or has other signs of illness, you should contact us immediately.
Our analysis typically begins by carefully assessing the pet’s “signalment” (age, breed, spay/neutered), and gathering a thorough history from the owner about when the vomiting started, its frequency, the pet’s lifestyle, diet changes, recent activities, other housemates, etc..
We then conduct a physical exam to gather additional essential information, including presence of abdominal pain, fever, pale gums, signs of dehydration, weight loss, etc.
Laboratory testing, imaging (x-rays and/or ultrasound), and tissue biopsies may also provide us with additional clues to determine the cause of vomiting and guide the treatment plan.
In the case of possible gastrointestinal disease or a metabolic disease, the signalment of the pet is often helpful since age determines lifestyle and certain diseases can be more common in particular breeds. Blood work and urinalysis help us rule out metabolic causes, while radiographs (x-rays) allow us to see what might be going on in the digestive tract and associated organs (such as gastritis, the possibility of a bowel obstruction, evidence of pancreatitis, or presence of a tumor).
In some cases where vomiting is chronic or non-responsive to symptomatic treatments, ultrasound or endoscopy is necessary to better assess the digestive tract and potentially obtain biopsy samples. This is an important way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease or some cancers in which lab work and x-rays may appear somewhat normal.
When in Doubt, Give Bothell Vet a Call!
As you can see, vomiting can sometimes be a complicated issue that doesn’t always have a straightforward approach. When vomiting is associated with other signs of illness or becomes recurrent, veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible. This will not only help to avoid additional treatments and expense for secondary problems such as dehydration, electrolyte disturbances and anorexia, but it will help you get your pet back on the road to health as quickly as possible.