Ask ILV: Why Do Dogs EAT Their Vomit? Concerning or [Not]?

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Should I Let My Dog Eat His Vomit?

Picture this: your dog vomits, you feel sorry for them, hoping they aren’t sick. But then, a second later, they start eating it! Why do dogs eat their vomit? It’s an unpleasant habit of some dogs, but it is nothing to worry about in some cases.

why do dogs eat their vomit

In this article, we are going to discuss the unfortunate behavior of dogs eating vomit, whether it’s safe and what you can do to stop it.

What is Regurgitation?

Regurgitation in dogs is the expulsion of material (i.e., food, water, and saliva) from the mouth or throat. When a dog regurgitates food, it is undigested as it hasn’t reached the stomach yet. 

Why do dogs regurgitate? A dog might regurgitate food if they have a problem with their mouths (e.g., dysphagia) or their esophagus (e.g., stricture or foreign body), which may be preventing the normal passage of food to the stomach. Another common reason for a dog regurgitating is they eat too fast, and the body struggles to manage the large quantity of food.

In some situations, regurgitation is normal; in fact, some mother dogs will regurgitate food to feed their pups. This is a behavior that has extended from the dog’s ancestors, wolves. For example, when a mother dog is weaning her pups, she will chew up and regurgitate food to allow for easy ingestion by their pups. It has been found that approximately 60% of dams still perform this activity despite being domesticated for over ten thousand years! 

Since it is so common for pups to eat regurgitated food from their mother, you can understand why they don’t think twice about eating any food they expel.

The Difference Between Vomit and Regurgitation

Vomiting is the expulsion of material from the stomach or intestines. The food will often be partially digested and have an acidic pH. A dog may vomit because they have eaten something toxic the body is rejecting, they feel nauseous from a disease (e.g., liver disease), motion sickness, or they have eaten something that can’t be digested (e.g., a sock).

It is vital to differentiate vomiting and regurgitation because they can be caused by different things and require different treatment. 

There are a few differences between vomit and regurgitation. Some examples include:

  1. Nausea: Typically, a dog who vomits will show signs of nausea prior. This can include gagging and salivating. However, there is no nausea before regurgitation.
  2. Retching: This will also often occur in a dog who vomits and doesn’t in a regurgitating dog.
  3. Food: The food brought up in vomit is typically partially digested versus regurgitated food which is undigested.
  4. Acidity: Vomit is usually acidic (pH of less than five) or basic (pH greater than eight,) depending on if it comes from the stomach or intestines. Regurgitated material is typically a neutral pH. pH can be tested using a dipstick, and your veterinarian might recommend this.

Did You Know That Vomit Smells and Tastes Good to a Canine?

Vomit and regurgitated food will often still smell like food, and if a dog isn’t nauseous, they might be excited to find something to eat, even if they already had eaten it once! A dog may also want to eat the vomit to see how it tastes. If it tastes food, they might decide to continue.

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Vomit?

Other than vomit smelling and tasting like food, there are some other theories as to why they choose to eat their vomit.

One theory is that they could be regurgitating to offer the food to someone or something like a mother dog does to her pups. Then if no one eats it, they do not want to waste a meal, so they eat it.

Another theory is to remove the smell of a meal that might attract other animals to come near them and remove evidence of sickness, which might highlight them as a target.

Is It Safe for My Dog to Eat Their Vomit?

Unfortunately, there is no clear yes or no answer here. Ultimately, it depends! It depends on why your dog vomited. Suppose your dog suddenly regurgitates because it gorged on its dinner too quickly. In that case, it’s likely safe for them to eat their dinner again, hopefully, more slowly this time  (but also consider a slow down bowl to prevent this behavior).

However, if a dog vomits because they’ve eaten a toxin, it’s obviously a bad idea for them to eat it again. This occurs commonly in the vet clinic where vomiting is induced in a dog that eats chocolate (this is very toxic), and suddenly they want to eat it again. 

It may not always be clear why your dog has regurgitated or vomited, so in general, it is recommended to play it safe and prevent them from eating it.

What to do if Your Dog is Vomiting

Typically your dog will not require assistance as it vomits, so in general, it is best to keep a safe distance but monitor them. The dog’s body will prepare itself to vomit by producing excess saliva to protect the delicate tissues in the throat and mouth. In addition, the airways will be protected by the epiglottis to prevent aspiration.

If your dog has collapsed or is unconscious, these protective mechanisms will not be functioning, so if possible, there are some helpful things to do to protect its airways. If you notice your dog vomiting, they should be placed into a sternal position (on their stomach), ideally with their head lower than the rest of their body to help direct vomit down and out of the mouth. In this situation, also try to seek veterinary help as soon as possible.

dog vomit on floor

How Can I Stop My Dog From Eating Vomit?

If you want to prevent your dog from eating vomit, then there are a couple of things to try.  Firstly, once your dog has finished vomiting, remove them or the vomit from the situation. In veterinary clinics, we do this by pulling away any bedding or newspaper the dog is on, but at home, it might be easier to take your dog outside or put them in a different room while you clean it up.

Secondly, training your dog to listen to the command “leave it” will help prevent them from eating vomit. This is a valuable training skill for many aspects of a dog’s life and may come in handy in other scenarios. 

Often the easiest way to train “leave it” is through positive reinforcement by encouraging them to not eat something by rewarding them with a “high-value item” like their favorite treat. Repeating this regularly will encourage them to listen to you and be crucial to stopping them from eating their own vomit.

When Should I Take my Dog to the Vet When It Vomits?

A dog vomiting once is unlikely to be significant. However, there are some signs that there could be a problem and you need veterinary help:

  1. If you think your dog has eaten something toxic: if you notice something abnormal about the vomit, such as the color or smell, or you can see packaging from medication or toxic food or plant material, then this is an emergency, and you need to get your dog to a veterinarian.
  2. If your dog is unwell and vomiting. If your dog is lethargic or has collapsed, this is very serious, particularly if they are also vomiting. If you think your dog is unwell, contact your veterinarian for advice.
  3. Your dog won’t stop vomiting. Intractable vomiting is serious, and dogs can quickly become dehydrated and develop electrolyte abnormalities. If your dog doesn’t stop vomiting, then they need to be seen by a veterinarian.
  4. If you see blood in your dog’s vomit. Blood can be a sign of damage to the stomach or esophagus and needs to be managed by a veterinarian.
  5. This is a long-term problem. For example, if your dog regularly vomits but is otherwise well, it could still be a sign of disease and needs to be treated.
  6. If you are concerned. Trust your gut feeling and get your dog seen if you are worried. Veterinarians should never make you feel bad for being careful and getting your dog checked out. If you are concerned, then contact your vet for advice.

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Helen's journey in veterinary medicine is marked by her dedication to small animal practice and a thirst for diverse experiences. She graduated from Massey University in 2016, embarking on her career at a rural clinic in Canterbury, New Zealand, before venturing to the UK in search of new challenges. Helen's love for animals has always been at the core of her passion, and her dream of working with them has become a fulfilling reality.