There are few things worse for a pet owner than a sick pup, and perhaps no more dreaded sound than that of a dog about to vomit. This is especially true when the horrible heaving sounds rouse you from a sound sleep. Not only does a dog’s woe tug at your heart strings, but your beloved animal can’t even tell you what is wrong.
There are reasons why a dog might vomit other than illness; however, and you might even be able to pick up on some patterns regarding when your dog might throw up. If you think you may have noticed that your dog vomits long after its last meal, especially very early in the morning before breakfast, read on. It may seem baffling or even silly that a dog can throw up when they are hungry, but it happens.
How a Dog’s Digestive System and Stomach Work
So, the short answer to the big question of whether dogs vomit when they are hungry is that they can and do. This won’t be something that every dog will do, and it won’t happen every time you’re late with their meals, but yes, dogs do vomit when they are hungry.
There is actually a name for this condition: bilious vomiting syndrome. To understand why it is called that and why it occurs, let’s look at how a dog’s digestive system works.
Since dogs are mammals, their digestive system functions similarly to that of a human. Just like us, dogs’ livers produce bile—an acidic substance—which is stored in the gallbladder and released into the stomach and small intestine to digest fats.
If bile is released into the digestive tract with nothing to digest (that is, if the stomach is completely empty), it can be quite painful. It can also cause symptoms of acid reflux.
If you suspect that your pup might suffer from bilious vomiting syndrome, one way to tell is to look at their vomit (yes, it is gross, we know!). If it contains no food or very little food, and it looks like a thick, yellow or orange mucus, then it is mostly bile and bilious vomiting syndrome might be the culprit.
Why Do Dogs Vomit When They Are Hungry?
The short answer to this question is because being too hungry makes them feel sick to their stomach, and vomiting can be a solution for an upset tummy.
Have you ever waited a long time for your table at a restaurant, or gone a long time without eating anything? If so, you may have experienced the nausea that comes with extreme hunger. This phenomenon is not much different in dogs and helps explain why they vomit when they’re hungry.
Vomiting for dogs works a bit differently than humans because of how they evolved and what they needed to survive in the wild. They have a couple of methods for inducing vomiting. You may have observed your dog eating grass and then throwing it up, which is quite common for dogs to do occasionally. They have other methods of forcing themselves to throw up as well, such as compulsively licking the air or floor.
Of course, bilious vomiting syndrome can also be involuntary, as the build-up of acid can cause a dog to throw up without the dog helping the process along. But since vomiting can be voluntary for dogs, they sometimes make themselves throw up when they have an upset stomach to feel better.
How Can You Prevent This From Happening?
No one likes to see their dog in pain, or even discomfort. Not to mention, there aren’t many people who enjoy cleaning up dog puke. So, what can you do to help your dog’s sensitive stomach?
For one thing, you do not necessarily need to start feeding your dog more food, and if it is getting the recommended amount based on its weight, this will likely do more harm to your dog than good. Instead, try splitting up and spreading out your dog’s meals. Feed your dog one quarter of its food in the morning when you wake up, and then give your dog another quarter before you leave for work (or lunchtime if you work from home). In the evening, give your dog a quarter of its food for the day when you get home and then the last quarter right before you go to bed.
Bilious vomiting syndrome is more common in senior dogs (although it can occur at any age). As your dog enters its golden years, its nutritional needs change, too. Make sure you are feeding your dog food that is specifically designed for its needs, which in itself might prevent the puking.
You can also supplement your dog’s diet with treats throughout the day. There are some rather nutritious bones and other chews that should help tide your dog over between meals. Be sure to check on the nutritional value before giving these regularly, though. Just like it isn’t good for people to eat cupcakes every day, unhealthy treats should be a once in a while thing for dogs, too.
If spreading out your dog’s meals does not help, you may want to try changing its food. Your dog may be getting hungry sooner because its food is not delivering all of the nutrients that your dog needs, or your dog may not be getting enough fat in its diet. You might be able to add a good fat source to your dog’s meals yourself, without completely switching the food. Ask your veterinarian for a good food recommendation based on your dog’s breed, size, and age.
There are some medications that can help bilious vomiting syndrome, especially antacids such as omeprazole, which work to limit the amount of acid your dog’s body produces. Dogs can usually take over-the-counter antacids made for humans, but check with your veterinarian before administering any medication. Even if you do not want to start your dog on a regular medication regimen, antacids might still be a good occasional option if you have to be out of the house and are unable to feed your dog for a long period of time.
Finally, if none of this helps, consider that it might not be an empty stomach that’s causing all the trouble.
Other Reasons Why a Dog Might Vomit
Of course, an empty tum-tum is just one of the causes of nausea and vomiting in canines. One other obvious cause is that they have eaten something that does not agree with them. Our furry friends are apt to explore, and often discover less than savory snacks that come back to haunt them a little while later. They could also have a little bug. Dogs get sick just like people do.
Or it could be a sign of something more serious, especially if they vomit frequently. Some dogs suffer from chronic pancreatitis, or they could have something wrong with their digestive system, such as a cancerous tumor or an ulcer.
You should not try to diagnose your dog yourself. Whether you suspect bilious vomiting syndrome or something else, if your dog is vomiting on anything resembling a regular basis, schedule a visit to the veterinarian and get your dog checked out by a professional right away.
If it is bilious vomiting syndrome that is plaguing your pup, the good news is that it can be easily managed with proper food that is given appropriately and medication.