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Dog and Cat Vomiting: When to Worry

You wake up in the morning and pop your slippers on. You head downstairs only to find the messiest of all messy things: cat vomit (or dog vomit, depending on your pet—obviously). Since somebody has to deal with it, and your pet doesn't have opposable thumbs, this one's on you. Now, every once in a while is nothing to worry about. But if they've been sick a few times now, it can be a sign of poor dog or cat health.

Today, we're going to take a look at the difference between the occasional accident and more serious health conditions. The good news is that nine times out of ten, the problem isn't a big one: but if it is, you'll be prepared for it.

Ready? Let's get started.

Dog and Cat Vomiting: Vomiting or Regurgitation?

First of all, you have to understand the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. This might not be something that's ever occurred to you before: regurgitation is normally used as a synonym for vomiting. If your cat is vomiting, he is bringing partially digested food back up through the esophagus.

Regurgitation in cats and dogs, by contrast, is where food that never reached the stomach is brought back up. It's obvious when food is vomited rather than regurgitated: put bluntly, the food is partially digested and all mixed up. Regurgitated food is chewed but still mostly as it was when your pet first swallowed it.

You can also tell the difference between the two because regurgitation is passive, while vomiting is active. Before your pet vomits, they'll do everything that we do when we're in the same situation: drooling a little, heaving and generally looking nauseous. Regurgitation simply happens as the esophagus brings food back up.

Causes of Dog and Cat Regurgitation

So, why is any of this important? Because dog vomiting and regurgitation have different causes. Let's start by taking a look at the reasons why your pet might be regurgitating their food.

1.They ate too fast. Classic. There's really not that much explaining to do here. Regurgitation often occurs because the stomach is simply too full to digest any more, and the rest is brought back up. Voilŕ!

2. They ate something they shouldn't have. Again, we've all seen pets (especially dogs) eating food that's either gone bad, or wasn't ever supposed to be food in the first place. And we've all seen a dog sick after they ate something bad. Fortunately for dogs, their bodies know what's food and what isn't, even if they don't. They'll often immediately regurgitate anything they shouldn't have eaten. (They don't always, though - which is why you should always take your pet to the vet if you think they've eaten something suspicious.)

3. Megaesophagus. Megaesophagus is a condition that primarily affects dogs, although it can affect other pets too. The esophagus becomes enlarged: wider. In so doing, the muscles of the esophagus become far less effective than they should be. This means that food can't reach the stomach, and if it stays there for too long, the body brings it up again. The condition may simply be hereditary (passed down from the previous generation). However, it may also be the result of a problem like a tumor or similar in the esophagus that's causing it to malfunction. Unfortunately, this condition means that you have to treat regurgitation seriously. So, if your pet is regurgitating food frequently, take them to a vet.

Causes of Dog and Cat Vomiting

Dog vomit and cat vomit are distinctive. It looks partially digested: almost as if the food went through a blender. It might also look green, which is caused by bile (stomach acid). Vomiting is typically more of a cause for concern than regurgitation. As always, this is especially the case if your dog or cat is vomiting regularly. If they do, then the problem is likely to be a gastrointestinal disorder.

1.Gastroenteritis Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and the intestines, and it becomes a symptom of a whole range of problems, from infection to food allergies. That's why vomiting can be both chronic and acute.

2. Physical obstruction If your dog or cat is unable to digest something, your pet can vomit it back up. Hairballs are the most obvious example, but anything could cause a physical obstruction. Dogs especially eat anything: socks, balloons, toys and more. Keep an eye on them and see what they try to wolf down!

3. Parasites Intestinal parasites in dogs and cats like roundworms and tapeworms can also cause chronic vomiting. You'll need a strong stomach to diagnose them. Remember that roundworms appear in both vomit and stool. Tapeworms won't, but you might notice other symptoms like your dog appearing malnourished despite eating a lot.

4. CKD/Chronic Kidney Disease CKD in cats is long, drawn-out kidney failure. It's typically the result of a diet that's too dry. Cats don't drink that much: just a couple of teaspoons a day. If their diet is too dry, the kidneys can't function properly and are damaged. CKD, among other things, causes vomiting. If you notice weight loss, ulcers, and significantly bad breath alongside vomiting, then the problem may be CKD.

There are plenty more causes of vomiting in dogs and cats, but these are the most common. The issue might also be:
  • Side effects from common drugs
  • Exposure to chemicals and toxins
  • Cancer or pancreas/liver disease
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Diabetes

When is Vomiting a Serious Issue?

It's common for cats and dogs to regurgitate their food from time to time. If you've noticed your pet bringing up their food, don't panic straight away. It may not be a cause for concern. If the vomiting is an isolated incident, and your animal seems otherwise healthy and normal, they're probably fine.

There are some signs, however, that something more serious is responsible for the vomiting. In particular, watch out for:
  • Blood in the vomit This could indicate that your pet has an infection, parasite or stomach ulcer. It may also be a sign of trauma to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Pain If your animal is in pain, they may seem listless, miserable, or not social. They may lose interest in food, treats, or toys. They may sit very still or hunched-up. They may even hide.
  • Swollen abdomen This could be a sign of an issue with your pet's gastrointestinal tract. For example, a buildup of fluid, a tumor, a parasite or an obstruction.
  • Signs that they may have eaten something that they shouldn't. Look out for empty food wrappers, and damage to houseplants. Many human foods and plants are toxic to cats and dogs. If you're unsure, contact your veterinarian.
  • Fever  Cats and dogs have a higher body temperature than humans. Their temperature should not exceed 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything higher than that is indicative of a fever. If you haven't got a thermometer, watch out for signs such as listlessness, shivering and weakness. Your pet's ears may also feel hot.
  • Change in appetite or drinking pattern If your pet has lost interest in food or water, or is drinking excessively, this may be a sign of illness.
  • Toilet troubles Diarrhea and urinating frequently could all be a clue that something is wrong. In cats, relieving themselves outside of the litter box is also a bad sign. Cats often avoid the litter box if they're in pain or unwell.
Even if none of the above signs are present, frequent vomiting could also be a bad sign. If your cat or dog has vomited multiple times, or the vomiting has lasted longer than a day, there could be something wrong.

What Should I Do?

If any of the above signs don't accompany your cat or dog's vomiting, there probably isn't anything wrong. Vomiting once, but acting normal and healthy after that, isn't a significant cause for concern. They've probably just eaten too quickly!

However, any of the above symptoms could be a sign that your cat or dog is suffering from something more sinister. As vomiting can be a symptom of so many different issues, it's best to err on the side of caution and take your pet to the veterinarian.

Your vet will likely ask you lots of questions to try and determine the cause of the vomiting. Try to have all of the following information handy for your appointment:
  • When the vomiting started, and how many times your pet has vomited so far
  • Any other symptoms or unusual behavior you've noticed, and when they occurred
  • A list of any houseplants the animal has access to
  • Any recent changes to your pet's diet, routine, or environment (including any new toys or treats)
  • What the vomit looked like - its color and consistency
All of the above will help clue your vet into what might be going on. They'll then be able to examine your pet and hopefully shed some light on the situation.

About the Author Hi! My name is Jamie Fallon. I run, an online cat health, and cat behavior resource. If I'm not in front of my PC—and I usually am—then, I'm either spending time with my cats or my other half... Whoever jumps on me or asks me for food first!