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Your Dog is Being Sick: How to Tell if it's Serious

dog is being sick

You know the sound. Somewhere in your house your dog is retching. It’s now a race against time. Do you guide them out of the house or give them a place to vomit? But how do you know if this is a one-off or a sign of something more serious? Dogs vomit for several reasons, and not all of them need medical attention. This week we examine how to tell what’s wrong with your dog by the texture and colour of vomit and when to get medical help.

What to look for if your dog is being sick

Vomit texture and colour are good indications of how ill your dog is. After all, what comes out shows what’s going on inside their tummies. The texture of dog vomit can tell us a lot.

Different textures of dog vomit

Chunky with undigested food

Does your dog’s vomit contain partly undigested food? If so, it’s regurgitation. Some dogs habitually regurgitate their food. This is because they eat too quickly, and it comes straight back up (Chocolate Labradors, we’re looking at you). If your dog eats the regurgitated food immediately, it’s a sign all is fine. If your dog doesn’t eat the regurgitated food, it could be a sign of an upset tummy. Or there could be a blockage preventing food from travelling around their digestive system.


Liquid vomit means an empty stomach. Dogs vomit liquid when they’ve drunk too much water or eaten something they shouldn’t have. If your dog vomits liquid and experiences lethargy, diarrhea, drooling, loss of appetite and weakness, call a vet.

If your dog vomits again, skip the next scheduled meal and then feed as normal. If the vomiting continues, it could be a sign of something serious. Liquid vomit can be a sign of:

  • gastrointestinal problems

  • exposure to toxins

  • infections

  • hypothyroidism

  • pancreatitis

  • parasitic infection


Dehydrated dogs bring up foam. It’s also a sign of indigestion and gastrointestinal problems. Dogs that gulp down lots of water can also bring up white foam. If it’s accompanied by a hacking cough, it could be a sign of kennel cough.

Foam with weakness, diarrhea, pain, and loss of appetite can be a sign of pancreatitis, ingestion of toxic substance or an obstruction. Seek medical attention immediately.

Different colours of dog vomit

White foam

Dogs that vomit white foam in the mornings could suffer from Bilious Vomiting Syndrome or BVS. This is a condition where excess stomach acid irritates the digestive tract. Try giving your dog smaller meals and a few snacks in-between. This gives the acid something to digest and prevents buildup. If this doesn’t work, they may need medication.

Yellow dog vomit

Yellow dog vomit is common. Yellow vomit is bile, a digestive fluid that breaks down food. Your dog may have digestion problems such as gastritis or a sensitivity to certain foods. It can also suggest inflammatory bowel disease or an infection. Yellow dog vomit is not that concerning. There are many reasons a dog sicks up bile.

Stress and anxiety cause an increase in stomach acid. If the yellow bile is foamy, it could be a sign your dog has eaten something toxic.

If your dog vomits yellow bile in the morning, they could have Bilious Vomiting Syndrome or BVS. Vets can help manage this with antacids.

Continuous vomiting accompanied by lethargy warrants immediate medical attention. Yellow bile is also associated with liver disease. Check the whites of your dog’s eyes. If they are yellow tinged, take them to a vet.

Brown dog vomit

If the vomit or your dog’s breath smells worse than usual, it could be a sign your dog is eating dog poo. Although it’s disgusting to think of dogs eating other pooches’ poop, it’s not that harmful. It’s a condition called coprophagy.

You might notice your dog only eats fresh poop, again, this is normal. Experts believe it derives from ancestral wolves eating stools to keep the den clear from parasitic worms found in fresh poop. Parasitic eggs are not infectious, but the larvae are when they hatch in two to three days. Wolves only eat fresh stools to prevent the eggs hatching.

If the brown vomit is the colour of coffee grounds and is not that smelly, it could be a sign of blood in the vomit. Blood in dog sick suggests a more serious underlying cause, so contact your vet as soon as possible.

Green dog vomit

Have you ever noticed your dog eating grass and then throwing it up a few hours later? Dogs eat grass to settle an upset stomach, so it’s not surprising to see green vomit with strands of undigested grass in it. If your dog continually eats grass and then vomits, it’s time for a vet’s appointment

Red dog vomit

Before you panic, check to see whether your dog has eaten any red food recently. For example, pet food brands dye dog treats red to improve their appearance. And certain brands of kibble are a reddish colour too. If it’s nothing to do with their food, it could be a sign of blood. Red dog vomit suggests fresh blood and could be a sign of stomach ulcers or ruptures in the digestive tract. It’s also a sign of injury and you should treat your dog immediately.

Black dog vomit

Black dog vomit suggests digested blood is being brought up. Again, this signifies a digestive problem. It could be evidence of ingestion of a foreign object. This is an emergency.

When to call a vet if your dog is throwing up

Dog owners with puppies should seek immediate attention, as puppies can become quickly dehydrated. Owners of old dogs should also get help. Older dogs have less resilience against infections.

Seek medical attention immediately if your dog:

  • Refuses food and water for over 36 hours.

  • Cannot keep down small amounts of water.

  • Is sick for over 48 hours.

  • Has a distended or tender stomach.

  • Is projectile vomiting.

  • Vomits continuously.

  • Dry heaves, but nothing comes out.

  • Vomits bits of a foreign object.

  • Has eaten human food that is toxic to dogs (onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts, almonds, avocados).

  • Vomits blood.

  • Is lethargic and listless.

  • Has eaten something poisonous.

  • Hasn’t urinated for over 24 hours.

  • Is dehydrated (gums are dry, skin is loose).

  • Has lost weight because of sickness and not eating.

  • Looks unwell (no wagging tail, lies of floor, doesn’t lift head up).

  • Has diarrhea and vomiting.


Our best advice is that you know your dog. All dogs vomit from time to time and it’s nothing serious. But if your dog shows any other symptoms, it’s time to get medical help.


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