Vomiting: When Is It An Emergency For My Pet?

By: Paula Plummer, LVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

TVMA Member
College Station, TX

Published October 2015

When is vomiting considered an emergency?

Deciding when vomiting is considered an emergency can be challenging for an owner. Vomiting is a clinical sign of an underlying medical condition, but it can also indicate an emergency issue. If you are concerned at any point after your pet vomits, you should always call your veterinarian or an emergency clinic. If your pet continues to vomit after eating or drinking, becomes weak from excessive vomiting, is vomiting substantially undigested food, has a chronic medical condition or is attempting to vomit but not producing any, it should be considered an emergency.

What causes vomiting?

Vomiting can be caused by many different medical conditions of varying types and severity, such as:

  • Chronic illnesses such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, cancer or gastrointestinal parasites. Sometimes, with such serious conditions as diabetes, vomiting may be one of the only indicators that pet owners can see.
  • Conditions that come on quickly such as ingestion of a toxic substance like household cleaners or plants.
  • Hypersensitivity reactions from drug administration or if your pet eats something inappropriate.
  • An object lodged in the esophagus or stomach is an emergency situation and may need surgery for resolution.

How does a veterinarian diagnose and treat vomiting?

Your veterinarian may recommend running laboratory tests on blood and urine in an attempt to understand why your pet is vomiting. Imaging of your pet’s internal organs using a radiograph (X-ray) or ultrasound is a helpful tool in determining the cause of vomiting. The veterinary team also will try to determine the cause based upon your observations of the pet’s home environment.

Some questions they might ask are:

  • How long has your pet been vomiting?
  • How many times has your pet vomited?
  • Did he or she eat anything inappropriate?
  • Has he or she been outside unattended recently?
  • Does your pet have any previous medical conditions?
  • Is your pet on any medications?
  • What does the vomit look like?

Therapies are tailored to the specific cause of vomiting. Some examples of treatment can include removal of the foreign body with an endoscope or surgery if an object was ingested and cannot pass on its own. An intravenous catheter may need to be placed if the patient is dehydrated and hydration needs to be restored. Medications can be given to help stop the vomiting and nausea.

Can vomiting be avoided? If so, how?

Keeping your pet away from harmful toxins such as medications, trash, household cleaners and plants can eliminate the risk of them ingesting the substance. However, as mentioned earlier, your pet may have a chronic condition that is associated with vomiting, which usually cannot be avoided.

What would happen if the vomiting went untreated?

Even if your pet only vomits occasionally and it is not considered an emergency, a veterinarian should perform an exam on your pet. If left untreated, the underlying condition could worsen, making your pet more ill as time passes. Dogs and cats also can become weak, lethargic and dehydrated if vomiting continues without treatment. Acids from chronic vomiting can lead to further problems involving the esophagus and oral health.

Is there anything about this topic that is unique to Texas?

Dogs and cats experience vomiting worldwide. However, Texas does contain toxic insects, snakes and plants that are not in other geographical locations. As a responsible pet owner, one should become familiar with potential toxins in your pet’s environment.

If your pet is vomiting, please notify your local veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Do not give any medications to your pet without consulting a veterinarian first.

Paula Plummer, LVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM), is a registered veterinary technician who graduated from Murray State College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Ms. Plummer works in the Feline Internal Medicine Department at the Texas A&M University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in College Station, Texas.