February 23, 2012
A tummy ache is never fun for people, but it can be life
threatening for your pet.
"It's not uncommon for most animals to have upset stomachs and
vomit from time to time, but there's usually a simple reason," says
Dr. Deb Zoran, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Vomiting may be caused by a hairball in the stomach or small
intestine or by other foreign material, such as plants, rocks or
bones. Diet could also be a cause.
"If a dog or cat has had a change of diet or if it has eaten
spoiled food, it can result in nausea or vomiting," adds Zoran.
"Just like when humans get food poisoning, the symptoms usually
go away within 24 hours. The digestive tract is cleared and
whatever was causing the problem is gone. However, if the
animal has repeated vomiting, won't eat, or the symptoms continue
for more than 24 hours, the animal needs to see a veterinarian
Zoran says frequent pet vomiting can be a difficult problem to
"The causes are numerous - food allergies, infection or
inflammation in the intestinal tract, foreign objects that obstruct
the bowel, ulcers, liver or kidney failure, diabetes, cancer - the
list can go on and on," says Zoran.
If the animal has been vomiting for more than 24 hours, the most
serious problems are dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
The animal has lost body fluids and they need to be replaced right
away, then the source of the problem can be examined.
X-rays can often detect the source of the vomiting, and as with
humans, barium liquid can be administered to the pet to outline the
digestive tract. Other tests that may be necessary include
ultrasound, blood work, and an endoscopic examination to determine
"One key question is, does the cause of the vomiting come from
inside the G.I. (gastrointestinal) tract or is it hidden elsewhere
in the animal?" Zoran adds. "If the problem is not in the
G.I. tract, it can be harder to detect."
If the pet owner detects blood in any food the animal has
vomited, that should be a warning sign that something is not
"If blood is present, it's a serious problem and possibly a
life-threatening problem," says Zoran.
"Unfortunately, it may not look like blood because the stomach
acids will digest any blood present and the blood may look
something like coffee grounds. The best answer is, if you
don't think it looks like food, the animal needs medical attention
as soon as possible," says Zoran.
Other signs that should alarm pet owners: if the animal vomits
every time it eats, vomits multiple times per day, or if the animal
won't eat at all and appears to be weak and depressed.
"All of these are warning signs that something serious is wrong
and the pet needs medical help immediately," says Zoran.
Frequent or persistent vomiting in any animal is not normal. If
the animal has been vomiting excessively, it's essential that it
sees a veterinarian.
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