Diarrhea and Vomiting

Vomiting and diarrhea may come together as a pair of gastrointestinal problems, or they may show up separately. These problems can be mild and minor or serious and life-threatening.

Do dogs eat grass to vomit?

Dogs with an upset stomach do sometimes eat grass. Other dogs graze for a “salad.” See what type of grass your dog is chewing. Salad-lovers prefer new grass, while older, tougher grass is more likely to help the dog vomit.

What Is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea occurs when food and fluid pass through your dog's intestinal system faster than normal. The cells lining the intestinal tract don't have time to resorb the water and other fluid they routinely would. Your dog passes what would be a normal stool except for the extra fluid. Diarrhea can occur after eating unusual foods — think of yourself when you eat an unusually spicy meal — or from an infection that disrupts the cells lining the intestines. Parasites such as hookworms may also interfere with the normal digestive process and cause diarrhea. A mild case of diarrhea should clear in a day or so.

Diagnosing the Problem

Diarrhea may smell and look different depending on the cause. For example, puppies with parvo may pass some digested blood, which gives their diarrhea a distinctive odor. A dog with a pancreatic problem that is not digesting fats well may have grayish, smelly diarrhea. No matter how gross and disgusting the stuff is, you should save a sample for your veterinarian. A fecal sample can help your veterinarian identify parasites, test for diseases such as parvovirus, and check for blood in the stool. A small amount is all that is needed — about a tablespoon at most.

Chronic diarrhea (lasting more than a week) can be a sign of a metabolic disease such as pancreatic insufficiency or can be related to cancer. Work-up for a chronic diarrhea problem can require blood work, special X rays, and possibly biopsies and endoscopy (examination of the stomach and intestines with a special scope).

Causes of Vomiting

Some vomiting is triggered in the brain centers where nausea originates. Dogs that get carsick have this type of vomiting — they aren't truly sick, but their bodies aren't happy, either. Most vomiting originates in the gastrointestinal tract — usually the stomach. If your dog eats something bitter or irritating, his body may want to get rid of it, causing him to vomit. Illnesses that disrupt the tract, such as parvo, will also cause vomiting. Vomiting can also occur as part of a generalized problem such as a neuromuscular disease. Dogs may vomit occasionally just from a mild upset stomach.

Some medications are designed to stimulate vomiting when your dog has eaten a foreign object or something unhealthy such as chocolate or certain poisons. Always check with your veterinarian before making your dog throw up. There are certain poisons that do more damage if they are vomited back up, such as petroleum distillates and certain acids and alkalis.

Retching without throwing up anything may be a sign of bloat or gastrointestinal volvulus. Bloat is a medical emergency, and if your dog shows the classic symptoms (described in Chapter 17), you should head for your veterinarian right away.

Treatment for Vomiting and Diarrhea

If your dog vomits once or twice but can keep water down and feels fine otherwise, you can keep an eye on him at home. Holding off on food for a day or so may help your dog recover from vomiting and diarrhea. He needs fluids, though, so if he can't keep water down, you need to contact your veterinarian. This is even more crucial in puppies and older dogs. After a day with no food, you should start back with a bland diet and gradually work over to your dog's regular diet. Your veterinarian can provide special prescription bland foods or guide you to homemade substitutes.

A dog that is vomiting only or has diarrhea only will be slower to dehydrate than a dog who is dealing with both at the same time. Along with fluid loss, your dog will lose important electrolytes and minerals that are important for normal body functions. Your veterinarian will be able to help you decide what treatment is necessary, and will guide you if he feels home care is all that you need.

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