While it would be nice if we were able to stick to only the heart-warming topics such as cute puppies and kittens, the not-so-pleasant subjects are also important, which is why we bring to your attention the things people would prefer not to discuss such as anal glands and vomiting. No one can accuse us of skirting around the less socially acceptable topics!
Vomiting is an unpleasant yet necessary response to various stimuli, and we are all familiar with that awful sensation that something is on its way back up. Eating and drinking too much - or the wrong things - can cause it, and as uncomfortable as the process is, we usually feel better afterwards. It’s the same for our pets too.
What is vomiting?
Vomiting is the expulsion of the contents of the stomach and small intestine, either partially or completely, as a result of a forceful reflex action. It occurs involuntarily due to spasms involving contractions of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, and is usually preceded by retching, repeated swallowing and excessive salivation.
Vomiting should not be confused with regurgitation which is when undigested food or liquid escapes from the mouth. Regurgitation is a passive process that doesn’t involve spasms and instead occurs without effort due to gravity, for example when an animal is lying down and their stomach is higher than their head.
Vomiting, or emesis, is the process that occurs when the brain receives a signal that there’s something in stomach that shouldn’t be there, and consequently triggers the process that makes the stomach contract and expel its contents. The simultaneous relaxation of the oesophagus allows for the material being ejected from the stomach with an upward and outward motion, to pass through and reach the mouth.
Do all animals vomit?
Not all animals are physically capable of vomiting. A small group of animals, which includes horses, rabbits, gui
nnea pigs and rats, cannot vomit. Because they have different brains, rats lack the part that generates the “vomit signal” but regardless of that, like horses, they have a separation between the oesophagus and the stomach which means that what they ingest can travel in one direction only. The problem this creates is that overeating, or eating something dangerous, can’t be eliminated by vomiting.
This can be significant problem for rabbits, because they often ingest fur similar to the way in which cats do. Cats can vomit up hairballs to avoid the other issues they can cause, but rabbits don’t have this safety mechanism.
Can vomiting be a good thing?
As pet owners, we don’t like to see our animals vomit because we know how unpleasant it is, and it is also a sign that something is wrong. No one wants to see their animal sick, or have to clean up the nasty mess afterwards. (Dogs often clean up their own mess, which adds to the “eeuw” factor.) The other thing that creates concern is that we don’t know why they’re vomiting.
As odd as it may sound, the ability to vomit is actually a virtue. We and our pets often save ourselves from illness by vomiting things that shouldn’t be ingested. We start vomiting as babies and continue to do it throughout our lives. Animals that aren’t able to, are often at a disadvantage because of it.
Vomiting is common in dogs and cats. Isolated cases of mild vomiting usually do not represent a major concern. Chronic or severe vomiting on the other hand, may be a sign of serious illness, and severe vomiting itself can be dangerous.
Common causes of vomiting
There are numerous reasons for vomiting but they are generally as a result of either:
- Dietary indiscretion,
- Ingestion of something foreign, or
Dietary reasons are the most common and problems occur when animals consume spoiled food or something toxic. Dogs often like to rummage around the garbage bin which is a sure-fire way to get sick, and some plants and/or insecticides they’re treated with, can cause vomiting. A simple intolerance to certain foods can cause it, and sudden changes to their diet can cause some animals to vomit as well.
In puppies and kittens vomiting may be caused by parasite infestations. Because they have weaker immune systems than adult animals, vomiting should be taken seriously. Call us for advice if you don’t know why your puppy or kitten is vomiting or it is severe.
Ingestion of foreign objects can lead to obstruction of the intestines and cause vomiting. Gastrointestinal obstruction is fairly common in dogs who are at a higher risk due to being generally less discriminating about what they ingest. Blockage may also occur in the stomach, and the accumulation of ingested solids and fluids can cause vomiting. This can lead to a subsequent loss of fluids and dehydration, lethargy, and weight loss. Objects that can cause obstruction include toys, balls, bones, rocks, and thread. Intestinal obstruction is a serious condition and can be life-threatening.
Diseases can cause vomiting. These include diseases affecting the pancreas and intestines such as infiltrative or inflammatory bowel disease and pancreatitis, as well as metabolic diseases, such as liver or kidney disease. Glandular (endocrine) diseases such as hyperthyroidism can also cause vomiting.
Cancer can cause vomiting, and in seniors, liver, pancreatic and intestinal cancers can often be the cause. Viral infections are another cause, and some such as parvovirus are highly contagious and can be life-threatening.
What to do if your pet is vomiting
An animal that has experienced an isolated vomiting incident, and appears to be well otherwise, will usually recover without issue. Check to ensure they remain alert and active, and continue to monitor them until you’re comfortable that they’re fine. Vomiting can lead to dehydration, so make sure they have access to water; Offering small volumes frequently is preferable to presenting them with one large bowl to gulp down. As a precautionary measure, withhold food for at least a couple of hours after an animal has vomited.
When veterinary care is required
- An animal that appears to be sick, or suffers repeated or drawn-out bouts of vomiting, should be taken to the vet. Lethargy or a loss of alertness are also signs that something’s wrong.
- Vomiting combined with diarrhoea puts animals at an increased risk of dehydration. This is another instance when veterinary treatment is necessary.
- Chronic vomiting is when an animal vomits regularly (potentially daily or multiple times a day), over extended periods of time, and it can be a sign of an underlying health issue. Chronic vomiting is another reason for a trip to the vet.
As with any animal health issue, when in doubt, seek veterinary advice. Older and infant animals, have less resistance to any health-related issue therefore additional care should be taken with them. While vomiting is often a normal reaction and a safety measure for your pet, don’t assume that it will pass without incident. Vigilance is always required, and being checked by a vet is always the safest course of action.