Your normally happy-go-lucky pup grimaces, whimpers, and heads into a corner. Then you spot it: The remains of the dinner he wolfed down earlier. Even if he's smiling, tail-thumping (and yup, trying to eat the vomit seconds later) seeing your dog get sick is always a disconcerting experience for pet parents. Vomit can be a result of many things, from a pup who indulged too much at a humans-only picnic to a more serious condition. We spoke with Maranda Elswick, a veterinarian and founder of The Meowing Vet, to find out how to handle it healthily:
Sniff out the situation
Does your pup slurp down a bunch of ice cubes, only for them to come back up right away? While unpleasant, this is known as "regurgitation." It's not vomit, and an occasional episode is NBD. "Regurgitating food or liquid occurs when ingested food never reaches the stomach," explains Elswick. Very cold foods or eating too fast may trigger this effect. Active vomiting causes abdominal constrictions and may occur hours after your pup has eaten.
Do some more digging
Throwing up isn't always an indication that something is wrong with your pup. "Some types of vomiting episodes are not particularly worrisome and resolve without treatment," says Elswick. So assess any recent changes in your dog's routine: Did your pup eat table food or go on a long car ride? These could be contributing factors. If your pup otherwise seems happy and has a fairly normal appetite, the vomiting episode is considered 'self-limiting' and he's likely fine. Still, it never hurts to check with your vet.
Take away triggers
After the first bout of vomiting, clean up the mess as fast as you can so your pup isn't tempted to eat it. Take away her food bowl and remove her water bowl, as well—guzzling too much H20 can irritate your pup's GI tract even further. Instead, offer a few laps or ice cubes every few hours, suggests Elswick.
Give some belly rubs
"Gently rubbing his or her abdomen when your dog has an “upset tummy” may provide some comfort," says Elswick. It can also help clue you into a more serious issue: "If your dog acts very painful or yelps when you gently touch the abdomen, take your dog to the vet for further examination as pancreatitis, gastric ulcers, intussusception, or obstructing foreign bodies can be particularly painful causes of vomiting," she explains.
Reintroduce food slowly
You've likely heard of the BRAT diet—bananas, rice, applesauce, toast—as a common diet for humans to follow after a bout of GI distress. Dogs can also benefit from a variation: Boiled chicken (no seasonings or skin) and rice is gentle on the GI tract, says Elswick. Introduce this combination slowly. A small piece of ginger root or ginger powder sprinkled on food may also help soothe his stomach, although some pets don't like the taste. If your pup doesn't vomit after the first few feedings, it's fine to go back to his normal food. Otherwise, consult your vet.
Consult the professionals
Of course, you should call the vet whenever you're concerned, but there are a few cases when you should always contact them: it's important to seek treatment if your pup is vomiting and you think he may have swallowed a foreign object, such as a sock or ball. Puppies and geriatric dogs are more susceptible to electrolyte imbalances due to dehydration, so they should be checked if the vomiting is more than a one-off episode. If your pup is urinating frequently, excessively thirsty, acting disoriented, if the vomit looks bloody or black, or if your pup has other medical issues like kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease or others, call your vet ASAP.
Assess your role
Since the majority of acute vomiting cases are caused by dietary indiscretion, many upset tummies can be avoided by not feeding your dog human foods that may induce GI upset. Things to avoid, according to Elswick: Rich, oily, greasy foods, fatty meats like ham, or fried foods. All can induce pancreatitis, an extremely painful inflammation of the pancreas that can cause vomiting.
Above all, it's imperative that you trust your gut and make a vet appointment if you're worried. "Seek veterinary attention for any vomiting episodes that last longer than a few days or if it seems like your pet is in discomfort," says Elswick.