Vomiting in animals

February 12, 2017

Disclaimer: This article is NOT a substitute for a proper veterinary consultation and is only intended as a guide. If you are worried about your pet’s health please consult your vet, or visit us for a check-up. 


Vomiting is one of the most common reasons that animals are presented to a veterinary clinic for examination. Unfortunately, vomiting is not a specific sign for any one problem. In fact, vomiting can be the result of many very different things including dietary indiscretion, metabolic diseases, motility disorders, obstructive diseases, inflammatory processes, neoplasia/cancer, food allergies, and parasites, among others. Thus, a thorough history and physical examination are necessary to gain important clues as to the cause of the vomiting and to determine what tests are necessary for an accurate diagnosis. 

Causes of vomiting:

1. Dietary Indiscretion and Overindulgence are probably the most common reasons for acute vomiting. Pets that have gotten into the trash or have been given table scraps or human foods commonly experience temporary vomiting. For some animals, any change from 
the normal diet can result in vomiting while other animals can handle foods outside of their normal regimen.

2. Hairballs are more common in cats due to their frequent grooming behavior. However, they can occur in dogs. Animals with hairballs may cough or retch with or without producing the offending hairball. If the hairball causes an obstruction, the vomiting will often worsen and the animal will become sick.

3. Physaloptera or the stomach worm is a frequent, yet under diagnosed, cause of chronic vomiting in dogs and cats. It is obtained when animals eat bugs, grubs, or beetles or frogs, birds, or rodents that are carrying the parasite. Animals with this parasite may have severe vomiting episodes despite otherwise normal behavior.

4. Constipation, if severe enough, can result in vomiting. Many animals will stop eating prior to the onset of vomiting from constipation but some will continue to try to eat despite the fact that their GI tract is essentially full.

5. Feline Hyperthyroidism can result in vomiting that is associated with a voracious appetite and weight loss. If it is left untreated, hypertension, blindness, liver damage, and heart disease can result. 

6. Foreign Bodies are non-food items that become ingested and can lodge within the GI tract. Some examples of commonly ingested foreign bodies include toys, rocks, strings, and clothing items. They can be partially obstructive or fully obstructive. Animals with fully obstructive foreign bodies are typically much sicker than animals with partial obstructions. 

7. Stomach or Esophageal Ulcers or Erosions can result from certain medications or chronic vomiting. Sometimes ulcers can result from unknown causes. An erosion is a superficial ulcer. Either can cause vomiting.

8. Helicobacter is a spiral shaped bacteria that can be found in the stomachs of normal and vomiting animals. In humans, this bacterium has been associated with stomach ulcer formation. This association has not been proven in animals at this time. However, 
animals with clinical signs and the presence of Helicobacter will often improve if the bacteria are eliminated.

9. Food allergy, food intolerance, and food aversion can all result in persistent or intermittent vomiting. Because there are no reliable tests for these problems, diagnosis can often be difficult. 

10. Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas can result from the ingestion of greasy meals, trash, or certain medications. It is often accompanied by diarrhea and can be acute or chronic.

11. Chronic Kidney Failure is a common cause of vomiting in older animals. Affected animals may or may not have a decreased appetite, weight loss, and increased thirst in addition to the vomiting. Chronic renal failure is often the result of years of repeated small amounts of damage to the kidneys but it may be associated with heart disease as well.

12. Acute Renal Failure is a common cause of vomiting typically in younger animals. Certain toxins, drugs, and infectious agents can cause acute renal failure.

13. Liver Diseases can cause vomiting in some individuals but not in others. There are many different liver diseases including but not limited to hepatic lipidosis, chronic active hepatitis, cholangiohepatitis, and cirrhosis. 

14. Idiopathic or Geriatric Vestibular Disease causes severe incoordination, dizziness, falling, head tilting, and nystagmus (rapid side to side eye twitching) in addition to nausea/vomiting. 

15. Addison’s disease or Hypoadrenocorticism is an uncommon, life threatening condition in which vomiting can be one of several signs. It is usually diagnosed in young animals and can be successfully treated if diagnosed properly.

16. Morning Sickness in the earliest stages of pregnancy is uncommon but can cause vomiting in some animals. 

17. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a collection of conditions that can result in chronic vomiting. More often, animals with inflammatory bowel disease have diarrhea. 

18. Cancer or Neoplasia of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestine, or brain can result in vomiting. Intestinal obstruction by a mass or tumor can also result in vomiting.

19. Megaesophagus or an enlarged flaccid esophagus results in regurgitation of undigested food. Regurgitation is technically different from vomiting in that with regurgitation, the food is brought back up the esophagus and through the mouth without it ever reaching the stomach. In vomiting, the food reaches the stomach, may be partially digested, and is forcefully ejected up the esophagus and through the mouth. 

While this is a fairly large list of common causes of vomiting in animals, it is not a complete list. There are other causes. Because vomiting has so many different causes, there is not a single diagnostic test that will yield a firm diagnosis in all cases. 

It is quite likely, especially in chronic or complicated cases, that several diagnostic tests will be necessary to identify the source of the vomiting. Different diagnostic tests give different types of information. 

Source: Blakeley, K., DVM, MPH. (2005, June 7). VOMITING IN ANIMALS. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://www.allpetsmacomb.com/vomiting.html. Content by All Pets Veterinary Clinic.

Image: ewa pniewska / pixabay


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