What to do if your pet vomits or has diarrhoea

09 Oct 2019

It’s inevitable that your pet may have a bout of diarrhoea or even an episode of vomiting at some point in their life. The truth is, no one likes talking about these reasonably common events, let alone having to clean them up but it’s important to know what to do and when to take your pet to the vet.

What you should do at home if your dog or cat is vomiting or has diarrhoea

If your pet has one or two vomits or a small bout of diarrhoea you should withhold food for at least six hours (unless you have a puppy or a kitten that is vomiting or has diarrhoea). This is also known as gastric rest and will give the gastrointestinal system a chance to recover. During this time you can offer small amounts of water for rehydration.

It’s a good idea to offer your pet a bland diet for a couple of days following an episode of vomiting and/or diarrhoea. It is best to feed smaller sized meals more regularly until your pet is back to normal. You can then gradually reintroduce their usual diet. In most cases, your pet should recover without a problem.

Steamed chicken without any bones with some boiled rice is an example of a bland diet but this should only be fed short term as it is not balanced and won’t meet all of your pet’s nutritional requirements.

There are also prescription gastrointestinal diets available from your veterinarian and these are great for pets recovering from more severe gastrointestinal upsets or for those that require a bland or low-fat diet for longer periods.

If the vomiting or diarrhoea persists or if your pet seems to deteriorate you should ask your veterinarian for advice and arrange an appointment as soon as possible.

When to take the dog to vet (or cat) for vomiting or diarrhoea

There are times when vomiting and diarrhoea become a little more serious and that's when you need to take your pet to a veterinarian.

You should seek advice from your vet if your pet:

  1. Vomits more than once
  2. Has multiple bouts of diarrhoea or watery diarrhoea
  3. Has blood in the vomit or diarrhoea
  4. Seems lethargic or has a reduced appetite
  5. Might have ingested something they shouldn't have such as a toxin
  6. Has been losing weight recently
  7. Has had intermittent bouts of vomiting and/or diarrhoea over a period of time
  8. Has an underlying medical condition
  9. Is a puppy or a kitten (any puppy or kitten with vomiting and/or diarrhoea needs veterinary attention)

How serious is cat or dog diarrhoea or vomiting?

One of the most common causes of vomiting and/or diarrhoea in pets is a dietary indiscretion. This is just your vet’s way of saying your pet has eaten something they shouldn't. Other causes might be due to ingestion of a toxin, infection from a virus, a bacteria or a parasite, conditions such as pancreatitis, a gastric obstruction from a foreign body and other systemic diseases.

Treatment for vomiting and diarrhoea generally involves medications to help reduce nausea and pain and treat the underlying cause. In some cases, your pet may need to be hospitalised and given intravenous fluid therapy for rehydration.

It may be necessary for your vet to perform blood tests and undertake further imaging such as radiographs or an ultrasound of the abdomen to rule out the more concerning causes.

When should I take my pet to an emergency vet for vomiting or diarrhoea?

Unfortunately, dogs and cats can become very unwell with vomiting or diarrhoea. This can be caused by dehydration alone or serious underlying issues such as gastrointestinal obstruction or after ingesting a toxin. In some cases, this may occur when your regular veterinarian is closed (e.g. after hours) so you may need to take your pet to an emergency veterinarian.

These are some of the examples of when you may need to seek emergency veterinary attention:

  • Your pet is lethargic or is refusing to eat
  • Your pet is vomiting blood or has bloody diarrhoea
  • Your pet has had multiple bouts of vomiting or diarrhoea across a few hours
  • Your pet is known to have ingested a toxin
  • You have a puppy or kitten with vomiting or diarrhoea
  • You have a pet with an underlying medical condition with vomiting or diarrhoea

Is my dog vomiting up or regurgitating?

It’s easy to get vomiting and regurgitation confused. Regurgitation can be a congenital issue (e.g. your pet is born with a problem affecting their oesophagus), an inherited breed issue or an acquired issue secondary to disease.

Regurgitation is the characterised by the ejection of undigested food from the oesophagus and is quite effortless. Vomiting, on the other hand, is a forceful ejection of the stomach contents and the upper small intestine contents. Vomiting tends to smell sour and usually contains partially digested foods and yellow bile.

Try to give your vet as much information about your pet’s symptoms as possible as this can help with diagnosis. Providing your vet with a video of your pet vomiting or regurgitating (thanks to smartphones!) can also be very helpful.

If my dog vomits due to motion sickness should I be worried?

It’s not uncommon for dogs to suffer from motion sickness and this can make car trips very unpleasant for everyone. It can also make your dog very anxious about travelling in the car. Whilst it is not an urgent medical issue, you should ask your veterinarian about the medications available for your dog to help prevent motion sickness.

What about puppies and kittens?

Puppies and kittens have a small reserve and they can become dehydrated very quickly. They can also be more susceptible to serious infectious diseases such as canine parvovirus. If your puppy or kitten has had any diarrhoea or has vomited, you should always get them checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible. This will help to prevent them from becoming dehydrated and also ensure they recover quickly.

It's always best to ask your vet for advice if you are concerned about your pet.

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