Vomiting is a common symptom that can have a great many underlying causes. When we see a pet that has been vomiting, we first try to narrow down whether it is a long term issue or whether it is more sudden/ recent development. A critical factor is whether the pet is keeping any food and water down. If it is a recent development and they are not keeping and food or water down, then it is considered much more urgent. It is also helpful to know if the vomit is consistently undigested food versus a combination of fluid and bile.
Chronic vomiting conditions can be caused by a variety of underlying issues. Cats are notorious for vomiting a couple times per week and that can be normal! (annoying, but fairly normal). It can be a fine line as too when we should be intervening with low grade chronic vomiting in cats. But whether it is cats or dogs – low grade chronic vomiting can be caused by a food sensitivity, inflammatory bowel disease, Gastro Esophageal Reflux, organ disease, and sometimes tumors. Because the pet is usually stable, we can do diagnostics tests and make treatment changes over time. Often, we will get baseline blood work and do prescription food trials. Depending on what results we get and how the pet is responding, we may advise further testing ranging from specific blood tests to ultrasound.
Acute vomiting conditions can also be caused by a number of things, but tend to be much more urgent. So we do a lot of the same things that we would do for Chronic vomiting pets – but we do it a lot faster. We also need to do our best to make sure that the pet is stable and not in pain. Underlying conditions can range from a stuck foreign body, to a severe upset stomach, Pancreatitis, hormone disease, organ disease, and cancer. Starting intravenous fluids to keep them well hydrated and at appropriate electrolyte levels can make a big difference. Pain medication as needed. STAT blood work to screen for organ and hormone related diseases. Sometimes Radiographs are helpful. Ultrasound can especially be helpful in these cases. Ultrasound images are notoriously challenging to interpret. We utilize a mobile ultrasound service. An experienced technician with a high powered, state of the art, ultrasound machine captures the appropriate images and then sends them to a specialist for interpretation. In some cases, exploratory surgery is the best way to proceed.
We have had some pets eat things (Foreign Bodies). We’ve had surgery in which we’ve removed corn cobs, socks, lead fishing sinkers, hair ties, plastic toys, underwear, string, rocks, wadded up plastic, even an Almond from a cat! Usually those cases do well, but there can be complications if the foreign bodies have caused necroses to a section of intestines.
We have treated pets that had advanced diabetes that was bad enough to trigger Ketoacidosis. The pet’s poor body is going through a “roller coaster” and it is our job to stabilize them. Depending on the severity, we may have to transfer the pet to the Emergency Veterinary Hospital for 24 hour critical care management.
Many cases are gastroenteritis, in which the pet has eaten something that severely upset the stomach. These cases range in severity but often respond to fluid support, anti-nausea medication, gut soothing medication, etc. Some are severe and take days to respond. Pancreatitis is an extension of gastroenteritis and it can also vary from mild to severe. Sadly, it can even be fatal. Avoiding poor quality food, limiting treats, and minimizing table scraps are important for avoiding pancreatitis. Small breed dogs are especially susceptible to Pancreatitis. Mild bouts of it early in their life can lead to Diabetes because insulin producing cells are located in the Pancreas. They get damaged from the bouts of pancreatitis and stop producing later in life. SO! NUTRITION is important. Avoid poor quality food, excessive amounts of treats (especially fatty ones), minimize table scraps, and NO rich table scraps like ham, bacon, roast beef, steak, sausage, etc.
Tumors can trigger vomiting whether they are benign, metastatic, solitary, or multiple. Splenic tumors are one that can potentially have a good outcome with surgery. It depends on which kind of splenic tumor it is, though. Some splenic tumors are metastatic and have spread by the time you become aware of them. Other’s are solitary and can be cured by surgically removing the spleen. Other types of tumors vary vastly. Depending on the scenario, we can ever refer cases to surrounding specialists. We are fortunate to have Oregon Veterinary Referral Associates near by and Oregon State University Veterinary School only an hour away. Both have specialist on staff that can help with complicated cases. We always do our best to consider the case in its entirety. Meaning that we consider the pets age, overall condition, and whether surgery, referral, advanced diagnostics and treatments are truly in the pets best interest. We always want to make them better, but if they have numerous pre-existing issues and their quality of life is already in question – then it may be unkind to put them through too many tests and treatments.
There are SO many variables with pets that are vomiting. Fortunately we have training, experience, diagnostic equipment, treatment regimens, and a whole team ready to help. We make our best judgements to do what is best for the pet and make these judgements together with the pet’s family. Communication and understanding are of course important. Cost enters into what can be done in most cases too. We use our judgement to prioritize what tests to run first and what treatments have the highest likelihood of working.