In the past, the wild ancestors of our pet dogs had to be opportunistic when it came to food in order to give themselves as much nutrition as possible. It wasn’t certain when the next meal would be along! Perhaps this helps explain why our modern day canine friends are prone to eating… well, lots of things they shouldn’t! This can sometimes make them unwell – and “dog being sick” shows up with depressing frequency on every vet’s waiting list!
What if my dog has eaten something he/she shouldn’t have?
Often dogs will be quite happy to eat or lick things that seem disgusting, or that don’t turn out to agree with their guts very well! This can include food scraps snatched from the table or scavenged from bins, the faeces of other animals and non-food objects or materials to name a few. This “dietary indiscretion” to give it its proper term, is a very common cause of gastrointestinal signs in dogs. It usually presents with vomiting and diarrhoea.
Some dogs are more prone than others to eat things they shouldn’t. However any dog can potentially fall foul of this problem even if they’ve never presented with the problem before.
How do I know if I need to be worried about my dog’s vomiting and diarrhoea?
If your dog starts to vomit and/or has diarrhoea, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is he/she still bright, alert and interactive?
- Has he/she vomited or had diarrhoea only a few times over the course of a 12-24hr period?
- Does he/she still have an appetite and is drinking normally?
If you can answer yes to these questions, it’s quite likely that there is no need for immediate concern. If your dog has eaten something that has disagreed with the gut, over the course of a few days this will work its way through the gut. The signs will also be self-limiting (clear up by themselves with minimal treatment). It is often still worth a phone call to your veterinary practice to talk through your dog’s symptoms with a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse. They will be able to assess from your description whether an appointment is required or whether it will be fine to try getting the problem to settle down at home.
How can I help my dog’s tummy upset get better at home?
If there is no immediate cause for concern and your vet practice have advised that it is OK to manage your dog’s symptoms at home, the following measures may help:
- Vets recommend bland, easily digestible foods in small, frequent amounts. Examples of this which can be prepared at home are things like plain cooked chicken, boiled rice or pasta. It is not advisable to starve your dog for more than 12 hours or so. We know that the gut requires nourishment from food to be able to heal effectively.
- Ensure your dog always has access to plenty of fresh water to maintain hydration. Although it is often best to offer small amounts frequently.
- Your vet may be able to dispense a supplement that can be given by syringe or in food. This contains nutrients for gut health and healing such as probiotics (the ‘good bacteria’). Some of these supplements are kaolin-based, which helps to firm up bowel movements. Follow your vet’s instructions on administering these supplements.
What if things are not getting better at home?
If within 48 hours or so, your dog’s signs have not improved with the above measures, or he/she has developed any of the following additional signs, then it is worth booking an examination with your vet without delay. Warning signs include:
- Your dog is lethargic or depressed
- He/she has vomited multiple times in a short period within a 12 hour period
- The diarrhoea is watery and profuse
- There is blood in the vomit or diarrhoea
- Your dog is off food, not drinking, or unable to keep water down
These signs can indicate there is something else going on besides a simple tummy upset, or it may just be that further supportive care is required for your dog’s gastrointestinal tract to return to normal.
What can my vet do to help?
Your vet will ask you to describe the signs your dog has been showing and will perform a physical examination. If your vet suspects that dietary indiscretion is indeed the cause of the symptoms,they may recommend some treatment to settle down the vomiting and diarrhoea. This may comprise anti-emetics (medications to reduce vomiting) and those targeted at improving the diarrhoea. Often your vet will be able to provide a special diet to use for a short time to help with nourishing and healing the gut lining.
In many cases, your dog can receive treatment for their tummy upset and then return home. There is not always a requirement for your dog to be admitted to the veterinary clinic. However, your vet may advise this if, for example, they have concerns about the volume of fluids being lost through the vomiting and diarrhoea causing your dog to become dehydrated. This sometimes requires correction by putting the dog on intravenous fluid therapy (drip), which often makes them feel much better quite quickly.
Possible causes for your dog being sick
There are lots of conditions that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs. For example, if your dog has eaten something unsuitable it’s possible that pieces have become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract. This creates a ‘foreign body’. If your vet has concerns that there may be something other than just a simple tummy upset going on, they will likely suggest some further tests. This may include blood tests, analysis of a faecal sample and imaging of the abdomen e.g. an X-ray or ultrasound scan.
So, if your dog eats something unsuitable or shows signs of an upset tummy, there may not be too much need to worry… But always contact your vet for advice!
If your dog is being sick and you’re worried it may have eaten something, check out our poisons guide. You may also want to use our symptom checker to see if there’s anything to be concerned about. For other questions and to share your experiences, use the comments below.