When your dog vomits: What to do and what not to do

Similar scenarios to ones listed below can occur within hours to days, or in just a few seconds. Whether you have a 5 lb Chihuahua or a 150 lb Great Dane, it's extremely important to know what to do immediately if your pet is vomiting. Remember, vomiting and regurgitation can look VERY similar, but are in fact quite different (as well as other completely unrelated processes such as retching or coughing).

WHAT TO DO

If your dog has vomited at home, the first thing to do regardless of the cause is to: 

  • TAKE AWAY his/her food and water immediately.
  • Then, LOOK at the vomitus and document its volume, consistency, and anything else you can gain from what it is composed of (Ex. food - digested vs undigested, mucous, blood, foreign objects like plastic toils or clothing, color, etc) and frequency of the vomiting/how many times.
  • And, MONITOR for any subsequent vomiting, energy levels, and any loose stool.

A Good Scenario That Can Potentially Be Managed At Home:

Example 1: Max, a 5 year old Yellow Lab.

Max has vomited once or twice about 5 minutes ago. You've taken away his food immediately (for 6-8 hrs), and observed normal energy levels and no vomiting since. At this point (6-8 hrs later) it is okay to feed very small amounts of a bland food (such as boiled chicken or hamburger meat and rice - Roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of what Max normally gets per meal when he is healthy and not vomiting). If Max has still not vomited for 6-8 hrs after eating this bland meal and his energy levels are normal, you may continue feeding Max at his normal meal times and gradually increase the amount of food from 1/3 the amount of his “normal diet” to full amounts of his normal diet/food over a period of 3-4 meals (1-2 days total). Always monitor Max’s bowel movements as well. If ever concerned or have questions about this transition back to Max’s normal routine, please ask your local veterinarian.

A Bad/Worse Scenario That Will Definitely Require Veterinary Care And Potential Treatment, IMMEDIATELY.

Example 2: Max, a 5 year old Yellow Lab.

Max has vomited more than twice and his energy levels are slightly decreased. In general, if seeing any of the following, TAKE AWAY ALL FOOD AND WATER IMMEDATELY AND Call Your Veterinarian for the next step(s).

  • Max has vomited more than 2 times.
  • There is blood in any of Max's vomitus.
  • Max is more lethargic than normal.
  • Max also has diarrhea.
  • You notice any foreign objects (ex. Plastic toy parts, sock, etc) that he may have eaten.
  • You are at all concerned about Max's well-being/health at this time and need additional advice.

These scenarios listed above can be signs of something more serious and possibly lead to serious fluid loss and electrolyte imbalances, especially in very young and very old animals. Vomiting in dogs can range from mild gastroenteritis to very serious concerns such as intestinal foreign bodies that require a surgery to remove or cancer in older pets.

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • NEVER administer any “over the counter” medications or prescription medications without asking your veterinarian first. 
  • DO NOT keep feeding your dog if he is vomiting. His GI tract may be disturbed or inflamed and need some time to recover before being able to normally digest any small treat or even bland food. You will not “hurt” your dog by taking away his food for 6-8 hrs.

Most importantly, keep in mind that not only every situation is different, every dog is different. Small dogs can get very dehydrated very quickly so always err on the side of caution and seek a veterinary opinion if ever concerned. 

–Dr. Marlon