Vomiting is very common in our canine companions. The good news is that in most cases it is a short-lived problem and not caused by anything serious. Sometimes though, there may be a reason that your vet recommends surgery as part of your dog’s treatment or investigations. In this article, we’ll look at the common causes and what should you expect? 

When should I call my vet?

Dogs who vomit just once or twice in a 24-hour period and otherwise seem well in themselves do not generally need to be seen by a vet. If in any doubt about whether your pet needs to be seen, you should contact your vet for advice. It is very important that you call your vet as soon as possible if your dog;

  • Vomits more than twice in a 24-hour period
  • Is not drinking or is unable to hold down water
  • Has a known concurrent illness such as diabetes 
  • Has blood in their vomit
  • Seems lethargic or quieter than usual 
  • May have eaten a toxin or foreign object
  • Looks or feels like they have a swollen abdomen (tummy)
  • Vomits regularly on a more long-term basis even if they seem well

What tests is my vet likely to run?

If your pet does need to be seen by a vet, they will want to do a full examination. They will feel your pet’s abdomen to check for pain or any abnormalities such as a lump. Your vet may, depending on their findings, recommend that your pet is treated at home in the first instance. This may include some medications to stop your dog from feeling nauseous and a change in their diet for a short period.

However, your vet may feel that further tests are necessary to help guide decisions on treatment. These may include:

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  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasonography

When might surgery be necessary?

Sometimes surgery is recommended to treat an obvious cause of vomiting that your vet has determined from their initial tests. In other cases, the cause of the vomiting remains unclear and exploratory surgery is advised to further investigate. Conditions that require surgery include:

Ingestion of foreign objects

Dogs are, unfortunately, prone to eating things that are not digestible. These can get stuck either in the stomach or along the intestinal tract. When this occurs, it can cause a blockage which if left untreated can be very serious. Dogs have been known to eat all sorts of things including socks, toys and stones.

Some foodstuffs, such as corn on the cob, can also cause a blockage if eaten whole. Care should always be taken to keep these out of sight and smell of your pet. 

Tumours

The word tumour means an abnormal lump or growth. Tumours in the abdomen can cause vomiting if they are affecting the intestines or stomach. They can sometimes cause a blockage in much the same way as a foreign object would. Tumours can be benign or malignant. If your pet is diagnosed with a tumour then surgery may be recommended either to obtain tissue samples to determine the type of tumour or sometimes to try to remove the tumour entirely.

Intussusception

Intussusception is a condition whereby part of the intestine slides inside a piece of adjoining intestine. It is more common in younger animals.

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Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV)

Gastric dilatation volvulus is also known as bloat. It is an emergency primarily seen in large breed dogs. It is a condition whereby the stomach becomes full of air and twisted. Your dog may vomit or retch although they may fail to bring anything up. Their abdomen may look or feel larger. 

Investigations of chronic vomiting

When dogs vomit over several weeks or months then surgery may be recommended as part of the investigations. This may involve your vet taking biopsies (small samples of tissue) from the stomach and intestines which can then be sent to a laboratory to look for abnormalities such as inflammation or cancer. 

What happens at surgery?

For your vet to be able to carry out surgery your pet will need to be under general anaesthetic. To prepare them for surgery and reduce the risk of infection the underneath of their abdomen will be clipped or shaved. 

In most cases of vomiting, the surgery required is something called an exploratory laparotomy (or ex-lap). This means that your vet will open your dog’s abdomen to gain access to the abdominal organs which include the stomach and intestines. This usually entails a single long incision (cut) centred on your dog’s umbilicus (belly button). 

Removal of objects or impacted areas

If an obvious cause of the vomiting such as a foreign object or tumour is found, then this can be addressed. Foreign objects within the stomach are removed by making an incision through the stomach wall which is then stitched closed. Foreign objects within the intestines can often be removed in a similar way.

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Sometimes the blockage has caused damage to a small portion of the intestines and this area needs to be removed. Tumours or intussusceptions may also require removal of affected portions of the intestine. Provided the length of intestine needing to be removed is short then this should not have adverse effects on your pet in the longer term. 

When surgery is being performed to treat a GDV then this involves repositioning the twisted stomach and placing stitches to hold it against the body wall so that it can no longer rotate.

To close your dog’s abdomen, the vet will place several layers of stitches closing the muscle and skin separately. 

What happens after surgery?

After surgery, it is not unusual for your pet to need to stay in the veterinary surgery for at least the first 24 hours. 

The outcome of surgery will depend on many factors including the underlying cause of the vomiting, how unwell your pet was before the surgery and whether they have other underlying conditions. Any surgery involving the gut comes with a small risk of a potentially serious complication known as septic peritonitis. This is usually seen within 3-7 days after surgery. If your pet is not wanting to eat at home, they seem unwell or lethargic or if they continue to vomit after having surgery then you should speak with your vet.

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Overview

For most dogs, vomiting isn’t a cause for concern. They explore with their mouths, so inevitably there can be cases where something unpleasant is ingested. But if the symptoms are more severe, or there are other underlying illnesses or signs, then a vet visit and even surgery may be required.

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