What’s the topic for today, nothing gross I hope?
I thought I would talk about vomiting.
Ah great, I wish I hadn’t asked! What are the causes of vomiting?
Funny you should ask that as I did a search last night and came up with 373 causes of vomiting in the dog, 284 causes in the cat and even 44 in the bird.
Wow I didn’t even know birds could vomit! Is that common?
We don’t often see vomiting in birds but when we do it is often serious. One of the commonest causes in birds is zinc poisoning due to constantly gnawing at zinc coated bars of their cage.
What are the common causes in cats and dogs?
There are so many they are impossible to list but we can group them into different categories like dietary problems, poisons, infections, parasites, metabolic and other diseases, physical problems like blockages or twisted guts, cancer, and neurological causes like pain or fear or head trauma.
It must be difficult to make a diagnosis with all those possibilities. How do you approach such a problem?
The first thing we do is collect as much information as we can by questioning the owner as often a clue will emerge that the owner didn’t think was important like they fed the dog a pork chop the night before. We also need to know how long the vomiting has been going on for and whether it is vomiting or regurgitation.
What’s the difference between vomiting and regurgitation?
Vomiting is when food is brought up from the stomach. Regurgitation is when food is brought up from the oesophagus before it has reached the stomach. Vomiting is a physical process involving strong contractions of the abdomen whereas regurgitation is a passive process requiring little effort.
So what do you do next?
Next we examine the animal to determine how serious the problem is and whether we need to hospitalise the pet for further tests and treatment.
What sort of tests can you do?
It partly depends on what we find with our clinical examination but routinely we would do an x-ray of the abdomen to look for things like blockages and run a blood screen to look for signs of internal diseases.
What if these didn’t tell you what was wrong?
The next stage might be an ultrasound examination or taking more xrays after a barium meal. Sometimes the only way we can find out what is wrong is to surgically explore the abdomen and take biopsies of the organs at the same time. There are times when even that will not give us our final diagnosis and more specialised tests are needed.
What sort of treatment can you offer for vomiting?
Sometimes no treatment is necessary. If vomiting continues for several hours though the pet can become dehydrated and we then need to give anti-emetics and intravenous fluids. Any other treatment very much depends on the cause and includes either surgery or treatment for a specific disease.
It sounds like vomiting is something that people should take seriously?
It is. Sometimes the cause of vomit may be something simple that would settle down by itself over 24hrs but if it is something like a ruptured bowel then leaving it for 24 hours would end up with a dead pet.
How do people at home know if it is a serious problem that needs urgent treatment?
It is difficult. In general if the pet is still bright and active with a good appetite and the vomit is infrequent and of less than 24hrs duration then it is less likely to be serious. If in any doubt it is best to see your vet or at least ring the clinic to discuss the situation.
What are the symptoms if things are more serious?
If the pet is off its food and lethargic or vomits several times in an hour and cant keep fluids down then it is more likely to be serious and you should see your vet straight away. See your vet if in doubt as it is best to be safe than sorry!