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Why Dogs Eat Their Vomit – Four Fun Dog Facts

dog vomitLet me start my four fun dog facts with four questions.

  1. Does it drive you crazy your dog doesn’t chew his food better?
  2. Ever been mortified to see him eat his own vomit?
  3. Why doesn’t he get sick eating raw meat?
  4. And why does he insist on licking his wounds and yours too?

There are perfectly good reasons for these things and I’m happy to share them with you. But really, he’s just following the rules of nature.

Dog Chewing

We tend to think our dogs should act as we do but their teeth aren’t made for chewing and neither is their jaw. I know you’ve noticed their teeth look different. They aren’t sharp just for self protection: they’re made to grab hold and tear pieces of meat to swallow.

There are also larger spaces between their teeth and they lack molars which are used to grind their food.

And last but not least, (and where I got my first “aha” moment) their jaws are rigid. They cannot move their lower jaw from side to side like we can in order to grind their food, so molars would be useless.

For humans, the act of chewing releases enzymes in our saliva to help break down the food. Dog digestion doesn’t work that way.

Eating Dog Vomit

Even though I know better, it still gets to me seeing my dogs eat their meal, throw it up and then eat it again. What do I do about it? I walk away and let them finish. It doesn’t happen often but the fact is this kind of dog vomiting is Mother Nature’s doing and it’s a good thing.

Nature knows there is a certain “fit” needed going down the esophagus in order to be digested properly. Think of it as a built in filter to be sure the right ratio of food to stomach acid is maintained for good digestion.

If the fit isn’t just right, the food is promptly sent back up and out. While we tend to think of it is disgusting, I have a feeling our dogs think it’s a special treat to eat twice at one meal.

Why Don’t They Get Sick Eating Raw Meat Anyway?

Okay, so you know they don’t but you’re not quite sure why. There are a couple of reasons. One, the amount of hydrochloric acid in the dog’s gut is far higher than ours. Hydrochloric acid helps to kill bacteria and it’s also needed to break down those great big chunks of food in order to absorb the nutrients from them.

If the stomach acid doesn’t kill the bacteria in the food, there is a backup plan. The canine intestinal tract is shorter than ours so harmful bacteria won’t get a chance to stay too long and wreak havoc.

Wound Licking

I find it a bit humorous now, but I remember  a moment a long time ago when I left the vet’s office and they told me not to let my dog lick her wound because they didn’t want it to get infected. Perhaps I misunderstood.

Still, wanting to do as I was told, I watched her like a hawk and stopped her from licking her paw for hours. Then it happened. Not only did she lick her paw, she took out the two tiny stitches in it. Amazingly, it healed just fine.

Why? Once again, Mother Nature knew what she was doing. Dog saliva kills bacteria.

Now imagine the looks on the faces of other moms at the park when one of my kids fell and I didn’t stop the dog from licking a scraped knee or elbow. Not only did it sooth my little ones, they healed quickly as well.


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  • 10 Responses to Why Dogs Eat Their Vomit – Four Fun Dog Facts

    1. Melissa

      Dog saliva also contains epithelial growth factor (EGF) which stimulates the proliferation of epithelial cells causing a wound to heal more quickly.

    2. Kathy North

      Why do puppies and or Dogs, eat there own feces/Poop? And Get into the cat Liter Box and eat that? I feed them very good food so it’s not lack of Nutrition and they have plenty of things that keep them active, so it’s not Boredom! I don’t get it! Thank you for your consideration in responding to my questions! Kathy

      • Dogs Naturally Magazine

        It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries! Many animals eats feces and it might be Mother Nature’s way of making sure nothing goes to waste…even waste!

    3. Emma Lane

      “Dog saliva kills bacteria”?
      I used to be a veterinary nurse, and had to warn people of the danger of infection following a dog-bite (for both animals and humans). The practice I worked at even had a printed hand-out to let A&E staff know that bacterial contamination was a more pressing concern than tetanus due to the pathogenic bacteria in dogs’ (and cats’) mouths. But it seems to be quite a common misconception that letting a pet lick it’s wounds promotes healing. In fact, the reverse is true. Here is a post from newscientist.com about this issue:
      “I am a veterinary surgeon and like nearly all vets, I go to great lengths to prevent wound contamination post surgery. This is the reason that wounds are dressed and elizabethan collars are placed on cats and dogs after routine surgery such as desexing. Licking of wounds is the most common cause of wound contamination post surgery that we see, causing a rapid breakdown of the wound site and delayed healing.As far as oral flora of domestic animals is concerned, any bite by a dog and especially a cat is considered serious, and if left untreated can result in hospitalisation and permanent injury. Cat and dog saliva contain numerous pathogenic bacteria such as Pasteurella multocida, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas sp, and Streptococcus sp. P. multocidaI am sure some animals have no adverse effect with licking of wounds, but I frequently see animals that have a severe reaction, requiring further surgery and antibiotic intervention, all due to the animal “cleaning” the wound.”

      • Andrea Partee

        Well Emma, I understand your position but I still disagree. Perhaps the dogs that had problems had suppressed immune systems. It could be similar to catching a staph infection in the hospital for humans when in actuality staph is everywhere and one’s system must be in a weakened state to ‘catch it’. One is obviously weaker in the hospital or a person wouldn’t be a patient there. I still stand by my article and the 30 years of owning dogs and watching nature do what it does best.

        The only time I can see dog licking as a problem is if it’s a yeast problem. Obviously adding moisture to a yeasty area will make the yeast grow instead of healing it. Now here is another quote with an opposing view written in 2011.

        “Researchers at the University of Florida at Gainesville have discovered a protein called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in saliva. Wounds that were treated with NGF actually healed twice as fast as untreated wounds, indicating that if a dog does lick a humans wound, it could in fact lead to a faster recovery. In addition, Dr. Nigel Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist with St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, has conducted research indicating that when saliva comes into contact with skin, a natural component of saliva called nitrite, breaks down into nitric oxide, a chemical compound that is very effective in protecting cuts and scratches from bacterial infections.”

        If I can’t change your mind, perhaps we can agree to disagree. Obviously you have everyone’s best interest at heart.

        • Laurie

          Great article. I was most interested in the part about licking wounds. My dog had a deep gash in his leg from a chainlink fence. This was back in 2000. My vet told me to let my dog take care of it and bring him in if I needed to. He said my dog would keep it clean and it would heal from the inside out, thus preventing bacteria from being trapped inside. I was sceptical and very ignorant back then and very happy when the wound healed perfectly. I have seen many people take to using neosporin and peroxide and of course a round of antibiotics. Some years later, having cut my hand, a nurse told me not to use peroxide because it kills the good bacteria with the bad and will slow healing. Eventually I learned about caring for my animals naturally and only using a laboratory made product if necessary instead of as a preventative measure. Infection has never been an issue and as extra protection, I use therapeutic grade lavender oil around an open area, not on it and will see wounds heal very quickly. Nature’s medicine is the best.

          • Thanks for your input Laurie. You had a wise vet. And I’m proud of you for using lavender oil. I know of a teacher who used it in her classroom and when the flu went through the school no one in her class got it! Talk about a natural germ killer. (-:

            • Goz

              My dog has had a severe infection due to his licking the wound. The other problem is that by licking they keep a wound open for far longer. Anecdote is not the singular of data. Do NOT let your dog lick its wounds the resulting infections are VERY expensive to deal with. Just because you’ve got lucky in the past does not always mean it will be the case.

        • Mr Bob

          pseudo-science run amok. There are many pathogens that dogs and cats can pick up in our own back yards, that just hang around in their mouth for a while. I wont argue that, perhaps, dog saliva, can kill a good many germs. But it surely isn’t fast acting. Would you let your dog lick that scrape on your knee, just after he was chewing on a dead raccoon he found in your back yard? Not to mention rabies, a bacterial infection.

          Now, if you kept a dog in a sterile environment, that’s another matter. But as for licking wounds helping them heal, its probably more that the wound is kept moist. Moist wounds, that are kept CLEAN, heal faster than dry wounds. I remember my Dad always telling me to “take that band-aid off and let that cut get some air to dry out and heal.” Way bad advice. Wounds heal much, much faster when kept moistened.

        • chris

          Ah maybe it was the “sterile” tools used during surgery!
          Pretty sure the ancestors of dogs are healing themselves without going under the scalpel.
          I’ve let me dog clean out wounds, then of course wash them myself, and they heal exponentially faster than if I didn’t.
          Don’t have to “fix” everything with a knife.
          All about getting a clean wound bed, not to mention moist. I’m sure it’s the dog’s way of creating a healing environment for growth.
          Think dogs have managed pretty well without people.

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