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Help! My pet vomited! Do I need to go to the vet?

Written by Dr. Sarah Martin

Well…maybe.

Let’s face it. If you live with pets, either dogs or cats, occasionally you will have to deal with some throw up.  Very intermittent and irregular vomiting episodes can be no cause for concern. For example the dog that throws up his breakfast but is otherwise perfectly happy, has no history of other issues or weight loss. In this case DO NOT give them more food because they threw up their breakfast. LET THEIR BELLY REST. If the day goes perfectly normally then you are probably fine to give him dinner.

Multiple vomiting episodes, vomiting after medications or vaccinations, vomit that looks like coffee grounds, vomiting associated with drooling—all of these could be of much more concern.

Until you can get to your veterinarian, what should you do?

Please do not feed a vomiting animal. While we want to know if an appetite remains, if you challenge an irritated tummy it will all come right back up and you need to start at square one. You can offer small amounts (maybe ¼ cup) of water every 30-60 minutes. Do not challenge that belly!!

What will your veterinarian do?

We will take a thorough history and perform a physical exam. From these we will formulate a differential list—the top things we think may be affecting your pet. From that list we may suggest additional tests such as bloodwork, x-rays and ultrasound. We may also institute therapy, medications that control nausea and vomiting and acid production in the stomach.

Some animals that have been vomiting have very serious things wrong with them and they need to be hospitalized, placed on fluids and supportive care. In the case where your pet has eaten something that has caused a blockage then they need emergency surgery.

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This is an x-ray of a 4 year old dog. She was lethargic and refusing to eat. She initially threw up 6-8 times and then would throw up if she drank any water. We gave her barium—it lets us visualize the stomach and intestines better. What showed up was the intestines were all bunched  (the stomach is on the left, the ball on the right side is a ‘knot’ of small bowel). When we see this we know we have ‘string gut’—the animal has eaten something that has become anchored in the stomach or the bowel and the rest of the intestine is trying to move over it. The string portion becomes very tight and the intestine contracts over top of it—then the string acts like a piano wire. In these situations there is often intestine that has been cut or is dying and we have to take some out. Having to take out a piece of intestine is a difficult and risky surgery.

Good news is the dog above did well!

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