Tummy Ache

A tummy ache is never fun for people, but it can be life threatening for your pet.

A small brown dog laying in the grass, pet cancer

“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.

A pet’s 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 immediately.”

Zoran says frequent pet vomiting can be a difficult problem to pinpoint.

“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 the problem.

“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 right.

“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 pet is not normal. If the animal has been vomiting excessively, it’s essential that it sees a veterinarian.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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