Vomiting and Diarrhea

Many first-time dog owners panic the first time their dog vomits, but it may be normal — even if it happens once or twice a month. Vomiting or diarrhea that occurs with greater frequency is a problem that should be treated. With vomiting and diarrhea comes dehydration — an excessive loss of bodily fluids and electrolytes.

Dehydration is serious. When left untreated, it can cause many health problems and even death. If a dog is dehydrated, his fluids need to be replenished by drinking small amounts of water rather than gulping large amounts. If he refuses to drink he needs to see the veterinarian immediately. Serious signs of vomiting and diarrhea that you should bring to the attention of your veterinarian include:

  • Blood in vomit or stool. The dog could have an obstruction, bleeding ulcers, a toxin, or a bacterial infection.

  • Protracted vomiting or diarrhea for more than a few hours. If the dog continues to vomit despite withholding his food and water for twenty-four hours, it is important to see the vet. If the vomiting and diarrhea are profuse and the animal seems otherwise ill (lethargic, in pain, or weak), it is considered an emergency. Dogs in these situations may become dehydrated.

  • Dry heaves, distended abdomen, or restlessness because of discomfort. Bloat may be a possibility and your dog needs to see the veterinarian immediately; bloat is life-threatening within hours.

  • Mucus in the stools. This signals an imbalance in the colon.

  • Panting, shaking, or whining. May signal exposure to a toxin or possibly an intestinal obstruction.

  • Straining to defecate. May signal a possible obstruction in the colon.

  • Unusual color changes in the stools. Gray stools signal trouble in the liver or intestines (inflammatory bowel disease) or pancreas (pancreatic enzyme insufficiency), while black or tar-like stools indicate bleeding in the upper intestinal tract. Bright yellow or green usually indicates that food is moving through too quickly to be absorbed, and orange might indicate blood abnormality or gallbladder disease.

  • Vomiting or regurgitating water. If this lasts for more than twelve hours, notify your veterinarian.

  • Weight loss. Any weight loss due to vomiting or diarrhea indicates either severe or chronic disease and should be discussed with your veterinarian.

  • Vomiting is a symptom, not a disease. When there are problems with digestion, severe stomach irritation or spasms will cause vomiting. This is how the body rids itself of the offending substance.

    Treatment for Vomiting

    When a dog vomits, withhold all food and water for twelve to twenty-four hours. This gives the stomach a chance to rest. After twelve to twenty-four hours, begin giving your dog a small amount of water. If she does not vomit again, add a little food a few hours later.

    Vomiting is not the same thing as regurgitation. Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of stomach contents. It is characterized by heaving or retching, and dogs shows signs of nausea with drooling, pacing, or whining. Regurgitating is the passive expulsion of esophageal contents, similar to spitting up. Dogs do not heave or retch and there are no other signs prior to the episode.

    Feed small amounts of a bland diet, consisting of two-thirds rice, sweet potato, and oatmeal and one-third cooked fish, cottage cheese, or boiled chicken. Feed only half the amount of a typical meal a few times a day, rather than one or two large meals a day. Add herbal products to soothe the stomach. Contact your veterinarian if your dog begins vomiting again.

    The veterinarian should take a complete medical history, including information about the dog's regular diet, any recent medications she has been taking, if she's had any exposure to toxins or has eaten anything unusual, recent vaccinations, and a description of her symptoms. He'll also want to know what the expelled matter consisted of.

    To identify the underlying cause the veterinarian can perform routine blood work and fecal analysis to rule out problems such as kidney disease, Addison's disease, or parasites. If a second visit to the veterinarian is necessary he may recommend a second round of laboratory tests to include abdominal X-rays and/or ultrasound.

    Diarrhea

    A healthy stool is the sign of a healthy dog. Diarrhea clears the body of unwanted toxins and often indicates disease. An attack of acute diarrhea comes on suddenly and usually lasts for a few days to a week or two. Technically, the definition of diarrhea includes bowel symptoms ranging from a watery stool, to any abnormal stool that is softer than normal, or very soft stools with an abnormal color or odor. Straining to defecate but only passing gas is also a symptom of diarrhea.

    Should a dog with diarrhea go to the veterinarian?

    There's no need to take your dog to the vet if he seems strong, happy, and active. Do go if he is lethargic, acts sick, or has a rectal temperature above 103.5°F. Rush if he looks bloated or has persistent vomiting, is passing large amounts of blood in the stool, or is dehydrated.

    If your dog seems okay, treat him at home by reducing the amount of food you are feeding him by half. Instead of a commercial bland diet, give him one-third cooked meat low in fat, such as chicken or boiled hamburger without the fat, and two-thirds white rice or cooked oatmeal. Add one to three tablespoons of yogurt, a probiotic, and two to four tablespoons of boiled sweet potato. Slippery elm will heal and soothe the intestines. Add one to three capsules of this herb to some broth twice a day, or just sprinkle onto the bland diet.

    Long-standing chronic diarrhea can be debilitating. The body becomes malnourished, which affects the immune system and the body's ability to repair itself. A visit to the veterinarian will be necessary to alleviate the problem.

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