Is Your Dog Dry Heaving? Then READ This Informative [Article]

Kaylee Ferreira

Published by Dr. Kaylee Ferreira

Updated on

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Why is My Dog Dry Heaving? 

If you are concerned about your dog dry heaving, but you don’t know how to bring it up, then this article may help settle your concerns. Dry heaving occurs when the diaphragm contracts and the airways close off, but no stomach contents are ejected. There are a variety of causes for dry heaving. 

Coughing dog

What Does it Mean if My Dog Keeps Dry Heaving?

Chronic dry heaving can be an indicator of possible health issues. Nausea can be a temporary symptom that results in dry heaving, but it is crucial to address any underlying potential problems.  

Dry Heaving vs.…

Here is a comparative look at different types of upper respiratory or gastrointestinal issues that may resemble dry heaving:

ActionDescriptionSymptomsCauses
Dry HeavingA whole-body spasm starts from the stomach and extends up to the throat but does not produce any vomit.Non-productive emesis Nausea, gastric irritation, grass consumption, Foreign body, gastric ulcers, hunger, or respiratory irritation.
CoughingNon-productive, rapid expulsion of air. Reflexive action of clearing mucous or foreign bodies from the trachea.Airway irritants like a foreign body, respiratory disease, allergens, or pulmonary pathology  
GaggingThroat spasm that limits breathing or swallowing while opening the mouth.Harsh open mouth spasm with distinctive “choke” sound.Airway disease or irritants, inhaled food particles, internal parasites, heart disease or foreign bodies 
Reverse SneezingSudden rapid, repeated inhalation through the nose followed by snorting or gagging.Honking sound accompanied by accelerated respiratory effort. Nasal irritants, foreign bodies, hypoplastic trachea, or excessive soft palate.
RetchingSimilar to dry heaving, reversed action of the stomach or esophagus.Non-productive emesisNausea, grass consumption, or hunger pangs 

6 Common Causes of Dog Dry Heaving Explained

1. Gastrointestinal Upsets

Nausea

Nausea is the most common cause of a dog’s dry heaving or gagging. Dietary indiscretion, pathogens, intestinal parasites, pancreatitis as well as immune-mediated gastrointestinal conditions can cause nausea. Dry heaving can be a precursor to nausea or an indicator of an empty stomach due to excessive vomiting. 

Nausea can be accompanied by pale gums, excessive salivation and lip licking, depressed appetite, abdominal pain, and lethargy. If these symptoms persist for more than 12 hours, it is best to consult your veterinarian.  

Stomach Ulcers

Gastric ulcers can lead to your pet feeling very uncomfortable and chronically dry heaving. They can be caused by stress, renal disease, or bacteria. It is best to discuss your pet’s history with your vet to include possible gastric ulcers in their clinical workup.

2. Foreign Body or Obstruction 

Gagging and dry heaving are natural reflexes to expel a foreign body or dislodge an obstruction in the alimentary canal. In addition, a foreign body is highly irritating, which causes them to heave or hack in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort.

If your dog is dry heaving unproductively for more than 30 minutes, it is best to take them to the vet as they may be at risk of obstructing their airway.  

Internal parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms, or heartworms can migrate or cause chronic irritation in the alimentary canal. The irritation can cause coughing, dry heaving, gagging, and potentially even expulsion of live parasites.

Internal parasites are pretty common, and infection is relatively easy due to environmental contamination. Consuming a flea-infested with tapeworm or contaminated grass is a few ways pets can pick up worm eggs. Worms are not always visible to the naked eye, so it is best to keep up with internal parasite control to avoid serious health complications.

Heartworm can be a fatal condition, and severe roundworm infestations can also lead to life-threatening anemia or hypoproteinemia (lower than normal levels of proteins in the body). Therefore, your vet will order a blood sample to test for heartworm and a stool sample to test for other potential internal parasites. 

3. Respiratory Pathogens

Respiratory pathogens can cause extreme coughing episodes that trigger dry heaving if significant inflammation in the upper airway. Fever and depressed appetites can also cause nausea that may lead to dry heaving or vomiting. 

The following respiratory pathogens can cause severe coughing:

Bordetella or Kennel Cough 

Kennel cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is spread easily by the coughing of infected dogs. Dog parks, grooming parlors, or kennel facilities are hot spots for Bordetella infections, so it is essential to vaccinate your pet annually if they regularly visit the aforementioned places. 

Distemper

Distemper is an airborne virus that affects the respiratory, musculoskeletal nasolacrimal systems. Dogs can develop muscle fasciculations as well as dry cough and heavy nasal and ocular discharge. There is no cure for distemper, only the symptoms can be treated, and dogs will have to be isolated to avoid spreading the disease. 

The best way to prevent distemper is to vaccinate your pet annually and avoid areas with high distemper infections. 

Pneumonia (Bacterial or Viral)

There are several causes of pneumonia, but it can cause fever, severe coughing fits, and dry heaving or gagging may result as a secondary symptom. Pneumonia needs to be addressed by a veterinarian as it can lead to severe illness in your pet.

Fungal Infections 

Fungal infections which settle in the lungs and airways can be very uncomfortable and challenging to treat. They can lead to coughing or dry heaving if left untreated. Your vet will need to perform a battery of tests to diagnose a respiratory fungal infection. 

4. External Mass or Tumor

A mass or a tumor can grow in such a way that it impinges on the esophagus or trachea. This can lead to dry heaving or chronic coughing and needs to be addressed before it becomes too large to deal with. 

Not all lumps are cancerous. A biopsy or MRI will be necessary to determine the mass’s type, exact size, and anatomical distribution. If you notice your pet is losing weight and struggling to swallow or has respiratory sounds or if you notice any lumps or growths, it is best to take them to see the vet sooner rather than later. 

5. Bloat

Bloat is a term used to describe a severe condition known as Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV). This is an emergency condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. The stomach is suspended in the abdomen, and this means it can move freely. However, if it moves and flips on itself, it constricts the blood flow and traps the stomach contents and gas within. 

Large breed dogs or deep-chested dog breeds have a high predisposition to bloat and gastric torsion or volvulus. 

GDV requires emergency deflation of the stomach and surgery to correct the twisted stomach. There are many complications, and GDV recovery requires intensive care and management post-operatively. 

Dry heaving due to trapped air as well as panting, extreme pain, weak pulse, and collapse are all symptoms that can only be treated at a veterinary hospital. 

6. Gulping Food Down

If your pet is a greedy eater, it can result in dry heaving due to several reasons. First, sometimes dry food can become lodged in the esophagus, which causes irritation and gagging or coughing. 

Eating too quickly can also result in regurgitation, bloat, and lack of satiety. It is vital to address gulping to avoid these side effects. Some options to help your pet slow down when eating include:

  • Slow feeder bowls.
  • Feeding smaller portions more frequently. 
  • Feeding pets in separate areas to avoid the feeling of “food competition.” 
Dog eating in a bowl

I Love Veterinary’s Top Tips to Treat Canine Dry Heaving

Treating your dog’s dry heaving will depend on the etiology of the problem. Here are a few top treatment options for various potential causes: 

Respiratory Infections

Treating respiratory infections can include a short course of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or cortisone, and cough suppressing medication. 

It is essential to vaccinate your pet if they frequent public places with high pet traffic or population density. Kennel cough is highly contagious. It is also one of the leading causes of dry heaving, coughing, or gagging in dogs. Treating kennel cough includes anti-inflammatories, cortisone, an antitussive, or a short course of antibiotics.

Kennel cough home treatment can include adding a humidifier to the room your pet spends most of its time in. Cough medicine like Robitussin DM at a dose of 1 teaspoon per 10 lbs of the dog’s weight can also allow for some temporary relief if you cannot get to a vet immediately.  

Bloat 

Bloat is an emergency situation that needs to be treated by a veterinarian. The cause of the bloat can be due to a twisted stomach, an entrapped spleen, or an obstruction. The stomach needs to be deflated under sedation, and the cause is usually addressed surgically.

Treatment requires 24-hour monitoring at a veterinary hospital to ensure that any complications are picked up early. It can be an expensive surgery with an occasionally guarded prognosis, so time is of the essence when GDV is suspected.  

Gastrointestinal Irritation or Infection 

If your pet has only recently started to show mild symptoms, then the best way to treat mild gastrointestinal upsets is to fast your pet for 8 hours and then slowly introduce small bland meals to them over the course of 6 hours. If your pet does not continue to dry heave, they can return to their normal feeding regime within 12 hours. 

Some over the counter remedies for mild GIT issues can include:

  • Peptobsimol at a dose of 1 teaspoon (5ml ) per 20 pounds of dog’s weight. Do not give to cats as it is toxic to them.
  • Pepcid AC or Zantac can be used to help reduce stomach acidity or alleviate ulcers, reflux, or stomach pain. The dosage is ¼ tab for dogs under 20 lbs, ½ tablet for dogs 20-60 lbs, and 1 tablet for dogs over 60 lbs.

Never administer any medication to an actively heaving dog as it may lead to aspiration of the drug producing severe complications. Infections will need to be diagnosed by a veterinarian, and they will dispense the appropriate medication.

When Does Dry Heaving in Dogs Become an Emergency?

The following conditions may be indicative of an underlying emergency condition:

  • If your pet is gagging or dry heaving and not continuously throwing up for more than 1 hour, there may be a foreign body or obstruction at play.
  • If dry heaving is accompanied by a distended abdomen and severe pain, there is a high risk of stomach torsion.
  • If your dog’s gum color becomes dark red, purple, or blue and gags, they need immediate veterinary attention. 
  • If there are visible worms produced after coughing or dry heaving, a vet must address this.

How to Prevent Dry Heaving in Dogs

To prevent dry heaving, the underlying cause needs to be addressed. Your veterinarian will check your dog’s overall health, take a thorough history as well as possibly perform some diagnostic tests. 

A thorough consultation will help your vet determine the possible cause of your dog’s dry heaving, coughing, or gagging.

Some preventative measures to avoid recurrent dry heaving or coughing can include:

  • Annual kennel cough vaccinations. 
  • Regular internal parasite prevention or control. 
  • Strict supervision of toy or chew toy access.
  • Elevated feeding, post-meal exercise avoidance, and slow feeders in large or deep-chested dog breeds.
  • Prophylactic gastropexy is a procedure that secures the stomach to the abdominal lining. This helps to reduce the possibility of gastric torsion. It is a good idea to consider a gastropexy if you have a large or deep-chested dog breed. Some clinics combine sterilization procedures and gastroplexies under a single anesthetic. 
Small dog receives vaccination

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself wondering, “Why does my dog keep coughing and gagging?” it might be time to bring it up with your vet. Be sure to act quickly in cases of acute and severe symptoms to ensure your pet gets access to help right away. 

The act of chronic dry heaving or gagging is very uncomfortable. With several potential underlying causes, it is always best to attend to your pet’s problems as soon as possible.  

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Kaylee Ferreira

AUTHOR

Dr. Kaylee Ferreira, a South African vet from Johannesburg, excels in diverse veterinary roles. Founder of Kubuntu Veterinary Services, she's a dedicated animal lover and adventurer.

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