Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Vomit?

When you have a pet, caring for them is a full-time job.

Even the slightest cough or sneeze could become a cause of concern for protective owners, so it’s only natural to overthink from time to time.

This especially applies to dog owners – how many times have you been worried about your dog’s breathing, despite the fact that they were sleeping peacefully?

How many hours have you spent wondering whether they were tired or ill? It’s impossible to avoid such questions when you truly love your dog.

And since you won’t find explanations for all of your curiosities here, let’s discuss the most interesting one – why do dogs eat their own vomit?

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Vomit: 4 Simple Explanations

Dry dog food

1. Recognition of Food

Dogs are more advanced than humans in some ways. For instance, a dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, while we only have around 6 million.

These receptors detect the odor molecules that help us differentiate one smell from another.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and that it’s much better than ours.

However, this advantage comes with some pretty gross behaviors. When you look at vomit and you see something disgusting, your dog doesn’t feel the same way.

This is because they sense something you can’t – a quick sniff is enough for a dog to recognize the food particles in their vomit and to think it’s a meal.

As a matter of fact, some dogs don’t mind eating cat puke either. 

2. Inherited Habit

Once puppies are old enough, owners help them switch their diets from milk to solid foods.

This phase is called “weaning”, and it needs to be done progressively over the course of several weeks.

However, weaning can also occur naturally, without any help from humans.

Mothers that raise their puppies in the wild actually begin this process quite soon after birth, and they do it by regurgitating food for the puppies to eat.

With this in mind, don’t be worried if you notice this behavior in your pets. It clearly doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it’s a natural part of dog life. 

3. Food Aggression

Angry and aggressive dog

Given their instincts, it comes as no surprise that dogs can become territorial. Biting, growling, and other aggressive behaviors can be signs of resource guarding.

However, your dog’s possessiveness about food could have several other causes besides genetics, such as anxiety disorders and early experiences.

Because of resource guarding, dogs may feel the need to ingest their vomit in an attempt to guard the food.

This often happens when they see another animal approaching or when the owner tries to clean up the mess.

In such cases, proper training that discourages resource guarding should solve the problem. 

4. Hiding Their Sickness

Specialists have found several reasons why a dog would feel the need to hide their sickness.

For instance, dogs eat their vomit in an attempt to prevent other animals from noticing that they’re feeling weak.

This could either help them maintain their status within the pack, or it could help them protect themselves against predators.

At the same time, they may try to hide it from their owner because they’re afraid of punishment. Either way, this behavior is determined by their instincts.

Common Causes of Dog Vomiting

Regardless of how good you take care of your pet, there are still bad situations you can’t avoid.

This is because sickness, sadness, and other unpleasant feelings are an inevitable part of a dog’s life. How you deal with them is what counts.

However, seeing your dog eat their own vomit is not exactly something you’d expect to happen – it’s odd, disgusting, and not something humans can relate to.

Let’s talk about some of the causes that lead to dogs vomiting in the first place. 

1. Bad Food

Dog laying next to a bowl of food

Just because your dog asks for food when they see you eating doesn’t mean you should share it with them.

Chocolate, candy, onion, garlic, grapes, and dairy products are only a few of the things your dog should never eat.

Besides their regular food, you might want to check what else is within their reach.

Dead animals, garbage, and even fecal matter can seem very appealing to a dog, so paying attention to their environment is extremely important.

Otherwise, they might end up with a much more serious problem than vomiting.

2. Diet Changes

While the food you’re providing for your dog may be healthy, a sudden diet change can cause gastrointestinal issues.

The best way to switch diets is to do it gradually.

If you add something new to their meals every day, you can learn what they’re allergic to, what they dislike, and what they have trouble adjusting with.

3. Intestinal Parasites

The most common intestinal parasites dogs can have are roundworms, but there are many others on the list.

They usually get intestinal parasites by ingesting something contaminated, such as water, food, or soil. Puppies can get them from their mothers as well.

4. Motion Sickness

Because their inner ear isn’t fully developed, young dogs are more likely to suffer from motion sickness than adult ones. This problem is pretty common, so you shouldn’t worry.

However, to prevent your dog from vomiting, try to make car rides as comfortable for them as you can.

5. Medication

While most oral medications can upset your dog’s stomach, antibiotics are renowned for it.

Antibiotics can also cause diarrhea, secondary infections, and lack of appetite, so make sure to discuss any side effects with your vet. 

In most cases, dogs start feeling better after they’re given probiotics.

Vomiting Vs Regurgitation: What’s the Difference?

Cocker Spaniel next to a bowl of dry food

Although it may not seem like it, vomiting and regurgitation are not the same thing. If you want to help your dog feel better, being able to tell the difference between the two is crucial. Here’s how.

Vomiting

Vomiting is a forcible elimination of the contents in your dog’s stomach or upper small intestine, and it involves muscle contractions.

Nausea symptoms such as retching and excessive drooling will usually let you know it’s about to happen. If your dog vomits food, you will notice that it is partially digested.

However, they can also vomit a yellow or green foam called “bile”, which is a digestive fluid.

It usually appears due to an empty stomach, but it can also be the symptom of something more serious.

Regurgitation

On the other hand, regurgitation doesn’t require that much effort.

Dogs don’t have abdominal contractions when they regurgitate – they simply lower their heads and eliminate the food, so they might be taken by surprise just as much as you.

These contents come from the esophagus, which connects the mouth and the stomach. Because of this, the food comes out undigested, so it’s easy to differentiate from vomit.

Your vet doesn’t use the same tests for these two processes, so you have to give them as many details as you can.

If your dog regurgitates and the vet checks for causes of vomiting, they won’t be able to discover diseases such as megaesophagus or Addison’s disease.

While they seem equally gross to you, confusing vomit and regurgitation could prevent the right diagnosis. 

Things to Look Out for When Your Dog Vomits

Lethargic Labrador laying on bed

No matter how disciplined they are, dogs will most likely eat their own vomit at least a few times during their lifetime.

Even so, this occurrence isn’t always normal. It’s true that it shouldn’t worry you right away, but there are certain signs that will let you know when something’s off.

Being able to tell when there’s an issue before it becomes a life-threatening situation is crucial. So here’s what you should look out for.

1. Frequent Vomiting

If your dog has vomited their food once or twice and then proceeded to eat it, there’s no need to alert every vet in town.

However, if they throw up several times in a row, it means that you’re dealing with chronic vomiting.

This can quickly become very dangerous for your dog’s life, because chronic vomiting is usually caused by a wide range of diseases and infections.

Pay close attention to other symptoms, such as weight loss or fever, and call your vet as soon as you can.

2. Unhealthy Vomit

As gross as it may sound, sometimes you can tell a lot about your dog’s health by looking at their vomit.

For instance, its color can be relevant – while yellow vomit contains a lot of bile and is usually nothing to worry about, red vomit could mean that your dog is throwing up blood.

If that’s the case, it can be the result of something serious, such as poison ingestion or a gastrointestinal condition.

It’s true that certain foods can make dog vomit look red as well, but don’t take any chances – it’s better to find out that it was only a false alarm, rather than to discover an illness too late.

3. Loss of Appetite

Naturally, your dog won’t feel like eating if they have an upset stomach.

Many people who ask the question “why do dogs eat their own vomit” don’t know that vomiting is followed by short-term loss of appetite.

However, if your dog doesn’t feel like eating for more than a day or two, you should definitely contact your vet.

These symptoms can be the cause of stress, kidney failure, and many other problems that need to be addressed as quickly as possible.

4. Lethargy

Just the way humans feel tired after vomiting, dogs do too. It is a forceful process that takes up a lot of energy, so don’t be surprised if your dog seems a bit inactive afterwards.

Even so, healthy dogs shouldn’t find it difficult to recover from it.

When your dog shows signs of lethargy after throwing up, especially if they’re accompanied by other symptoms, there may be something going on.

Infections, pancreatitis, and parasites are just a few of the possible explanations, so make sure to ask your vet for advice.

5. Pale/white Gums

Australian shepherd with an open mouth

Pale or white gums are usually a symptom of illness. Whether it’s anemia, stomach ulcers, or parasites, you should definitely take your dog to the vet as soon as soon as you notice this.

6. Diarrhea

When dogs have diarrhea, it’s usually because their diet has been changed or they’ve eaten something bad.

However, displaying symptoms of both vomiting and diarrhea can be a sign of illness.

From parvovirus to pancreatitis, there are numerous explanations for such symptoms, so it’s best to discuss it with your vet if you are concerned.

Illnesses That Cause Vomiting

Clearly, no owner wants to hear bad news when it comes to their dog’s health. While that’s inevitable sometimes, being well-informed always goes a long way.

To make sure your dog receives the proper treatment and gets better, here is a list of worst-case scenarios and how to recognize them early on.

Pancreatitis

The inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which has an important role in digestion, is called pancreatitis.

A common symptom of this disease is vomiting, along with lethargy and abdominal pain. To lower the risk of pancreatitis, owners should avoid giving their dogs high-fat foods and treats.

If you don’t get an early diagnosis, your dog will most likely be hospitalized for a few days and given the proper treatment under your vet’s supervision.

However, severe acute pancreatitis may require surgery.

Kidney Failure

The main result of eating toxic substances and foods, kidney failure can also occur because of old age, bacterial infections, and dental diseases.

If your dog experiences this, it’s impossible not to notice – vomiting, lethargy, mouth ulcers, loss of appetite, and pale gums are only a few of the most common symptoms.

Needless to say, this is a serious problem. Your dog can recover from kidney failure, but only with the help of a professional.

Parvovirus

Parvo is particularly common in puppies, but unvaccinated dogs can also get infected. Unfortunately, the parvovirus often has deadly consequences.

Besides vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy, dogs who experience parvo show very strong symptoms of weakness and dehydration.

Once infected, it is almost impossible for your dog to recover at home, so they need to be taken to the vet immediately.

Bacterial Infections

There are countless bacterial infections that can affect dogs, and you can’t tell which one your dog has just by analyzing their symptoms.

To reach the correct diagnosis, the vet has to perform a physical examination and several lab tests, among other things.

Therefore, not even a specialist can tell right away.

Vomiting, sleeping excessively, refusing to eat, and having trouble urinating are some of the signs that your dog may have a bacterial infection.

If that’s the case, you won’t be able to treat them without professional help.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Commonly associated with recurrent vomiting, IBD is a disease that has many ways of manifesting.

While it is a life-long illness for most dogs with this diagnosis, some manage to recover completely.

However, not all dogs are responsive to IBD treatments – if that’s the case for your pet, you may need to make certain adjustments, as their quality of life won’t be very high otherwise.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerance covers a lot of areas, including allergies and food poisoning.

Since dogs’ stomachs are much more sensitive than ours, eating the wrong thing might cause your pet to have a strong physical reaction.

To avoid such a scenario, make sure your pet doesn’t have access to anything unhealthy, and pay attention to how they react to their diets.

If your dog feels nauseous after eating a certain type of food, you should definitely stop and try to find an alternative.

What to Do After Your Dog Eats Their Own Vomit

It’s never easy seeing your dog being sick.

Now that you’ve learned more about why your dog eats his own vomit and why he vomits in the first place, you may be able to prevent it in certain situations.

However, the next piece of advice will become very useful during the times when you won’t be able to stop your dog from vomiting.

Once your dog has finished eating his vomit, here is what you should do.

1. Withhold Food

Autralian Labradoodle asking for food

After your dog has essentially had two meals in one, it’s best to stop him from eating for a while. Keep them away from food for 6-12 hours, and make sure the next meal is small and bland.

Chicken with rice, bone broth, and shredded chicken are excellent food options for dogs with upset stomachs.

It usually takes a few days for dogs to recover completely after throwing up, so there’s no reason to hurry.

Gradually increase the amount of food you give them until they can return to their normal diet.

2. Help Them Rehydrate

Rehydration is very important, but that doesn’t mean you should let your dog drink water right away.

You first need to make sure they’re not about to vomit again, otherwise they might choke. Once it’s over, help them calm down a bit.

Vomiting can be a tiring process for a dog, and a break from ingesting anything will allow their stomach to rest.

When you let them drink again, it should be a very small amount of water. Rehydration needs to happen slowly and gradually, so don’t force it.

3. Provide Comfort

Cheerful happy dog

When your dog has an upset stomach, put belly rubs on the list of things that can help them get better.

Besides improving your pet’s mood, they can also reduce the abdominal discomfort they’re experiencing.

However, if your dog has a strong negative reaction when you touch their abdomen, don’t be persistent – that’s usually a symptom of something more serious, such as pancreatitis.

In that case, you should contact your vet right away. 

Foods Which Can Make Dogs Vomit

Now you’ve learned all the basics when it comes to dogs and their fascination with vomit, as well as why they vomit in the first place.

While you’ll surely find it easier to deal with such situations in the future, let’s see if there’s any way you can stop it from happening as a result of food.

Prevention is better than cure, so here are some useful tips on which foods to avoid to prevent your dog from vomiting.

Chocolate

No matter how healthy they are, your dog should never eat chocolate. It contains both theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic to dogs, so eating it could lead to poisoning.

While chocolate is rarely fatal, the consequences of your dog ingesting it can be very serious.

Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and raisins are two other bad choices in terms of dog food.

Now, it’s true that your dog probably won’t find them appetizing at first sight, but they can be used in many baked foods and snacks.

If you’re very lucky, your dog won’t show any symptoms after eating either one. However, grapes and raisins are known to cause kidney failure in dogs, and they can even be deadly.

Avoid them at all cost!

Avocado

Lastly, specialists strongly advise against feeding your dog avocado. Whether you’re trying to make your dog eat healthier or help them lose weight, this is not a viable option.

Avocado contains persin, a toxin which can be life-threatening for dogs. This fruit is indeed a great choice for humans, but your diet should never influence the diet of your pet.

Other Toxic Foods

Macadamia nuts, alcohol, mushroom plants, onion, garlic, and apple seeds are also toxic.

Since the list is very long, it’s best to talk to a vet before feeding your dog something you’re not sure about.

Final Thoughts

The fact that your dog eats their own vomit isn’t a worrying behavior in itself. As we’ve discussed, when it’s not about how tasty it seems to them, it’s usually related to their instincts.

However, this gross, yet harmless activity can be a symptom of illness in certain contexts.

This is why you should pay attention to what the vomit looks like, and to how your dog behaves before and after throwing up.

Once you’re aware of the bigger picture, you won’t have to ask “why do dogs eat their own vomit?” ever again.