Have you ever fed your dog after exercise and within a few seconds he spews it on the floor? Or how about when your dog eats his meal and then soon after he throws up a tube of mucus?
This is called regurgitation … and it’s a normal function of your dog’s digestive system.
What Is Regurgitation?
Regurgitation when your dog brings up undigested food. It comes mainly from inside the esophagus … up through the mouth and out. It’s a normal process for dogs. Even so, when you’re in the moment, you might feel concerned. This is especially true when the lines between regurgitation and vomiting are blurry.
Before reviewing regurgitation in depth, let’s quickly take a look at vomiting and how it’s different from regurgitation.
Is Your Dog Regurgitating Or Vomiting?
Here are some key differences between regurgitating and vomiting.
The purpose of regurgitation is an adjustment. Regurgitating doesn’t involve any abdominal heaving. A dog’s esophagus allows for easy evacuation. And whatever food your dog regurgitates will look about the same as when he ate it. Regurgitated food hasn’t been digested.
Vomiting is your dog expelling a toxic or unwanted substance. It’s usually a sign of a digestive imbalance. Dogs have short digestive tracts that allow rapid toxin expulsion. When your dog is about to vomit, you might see signs of nausea … like excessive drooling, lip smacking. Or the perplexed, worried vomit face we’ve all seen.
Vomiting comes from the stomach and the upper intestines. Unlike regurgitated food, vomit is mostly digested food, plus bile and foam. It has a unique color, texture and smell. Many times, you’ll see your dog doing four-on-the-floor bracing while he expels the contents of his stomach.
RELATED: For an in-depth look at vomiting, read my article here …
And there’s one other distinction I want to make …
Burping Or Excess Acid
Burping can also be confused with regurgitation … and it originates in the stomach. Small amounts of food can come up with the gas. Burping can happen for a number of reasons ..
- Emotional upset
- Lack of hydrochloric acid or other secretions
- Excess fermentation of food in the stomach
But burping is a topic for another day … so let’s get back to regurgitating.
Throwing Up Undigested Food
The simple description of regurgitation is when your dog brings his food back up, shortly after eating it. This can also happen with fluids … with your dog spewing out water right after he has a big drink.
Note: I’m focusing on food regurgitation here … but check the When You Should Ask Your Vet section for some comments on fluid regurgitation.
Regurgitation can happen in seconds, minutes or within an hour. The timing often depends on what your dog ate … kibble, cooked homemade, processed raw or traditional raw … including bone. Bones and chews are especially subject to regurgitation. Your dog will eject them if they don’t sit right in his stomach … or if the bone or chew is too big to swallow.
When your dog swallows something that’s too large, he simply brings it back up. The expelled contents are usually stuck together, covered in mucus, and almost completely undigested. Even though it’s gross, it’s perfectly normal for your dog to re-eat his regurgitated food. He may tear it up into smaller pieces first.
If your dog is kibble-fed, he may regurgitate compressed mucus-coated kibble pieces … shaped like his esophagus! When your dog swallows, saliva and mucus help ease food through the esophagus into the stomach.
Why Your Dog Throws Up Undigested Food
Regurgitation is a natural function of your dog’s body. The cause of regurgitation can vary … so if your dog regurgitates often, it’s a good idea to keep a health journal. Write down some details like …
- What your dog ate
- How fast he regurgitated
- Was he anxious or stressed
- What it looked like
- What it smelled like
Your journal will help you see any patterns.
Here’s a list of possible reasons your dog may be more prone to regurgitate.
- Anxiety and fear
- Stress or nervous stomach
- Unpalatable food or consistency
- Eating too quickly
- Drinking water too fast
- Eating too soon after exercise
- Inflammation of the esophagus
- Intubation during surgery (can irritate the esophagus temporarily)
How To Stop Your Dog Regurgitating His Food
There are a few strategies you can use to try and stop your dog throwing up his food.
Give The Right Size Bones
Bone regurgitation is common. Raw meaty bones or recreational bones can cause regurgitating. If your dog’s a gulper, he may swallow them whole … and then quickly bring them back up again, covered in goo. Always try to give bones that are appropriately sized. And never feed rawhides or cooked or smoked bones.
If you feed any type of kibble or compressed food, try adding warm water and letting it soak for at least 10 to 15 minutes. You can also use bone broth as a more nutritious way to do this. Adding moisture can help your dog get the kibble down.
Slow Him Down
Getting your dog to eat slowly is key to avoiding frequent regurgitation. It’s especially key with kibble or harder foods. There are many types of slow-eating bowls or platters. Using one can go a long way in slowing your pup down. You can also give smaller meals frequently throughout the day. Feeding from a raised bowl may help.
Caution: Some people believe raised bowls can increase the risk of bloat. So if you see any extra gassiness, go back to a bowl on the floor).
Often, you can avoid regurgitation by just warming your dog’s food … or letting it come to room temperature before feeding.
When Should You Ask Your Vet About Regurgitation
Usually regurgitating undigested food isn’t anything to worry about. But there are rare times when regurgitation is a sign of a more serious condition. Here are some situations when it’s best to check with your vet.
Chronic regurgitation is when your dog can’t keep any food or fluids down for more than a few seconds … and it happens more than once or twice a week. If your dog consistently regurgitates fluids, check with your vet. It can be due to an abnormality in the esophagus … or narrowing of the canal. Dogs can also have blockages and cancers of the esophagus.
In some cases, regurgitation can lead to a condition called aspirated pneumonia. This means your dog inhales food particles into his lungs. It’s common in short-snouted dogs like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers. Normally, the flap or sphincter that separates the esophagus and stomach keeps regurgitation from happening. But sometimes, this flap can be forcefully opened by the stomach or your dog’s reflux reaction. This causes inflammation and deterioration of the mucosal lining.
Addison’s disease can cause chronic regurgitation. Addison’s is an autoimmune disease where the adrenal glands can’t produce the correct amount of the hormone cortisol.
Megaesophagus (ME) is another condition that causes chronic regurgitation. Yorkies and Miniature Pinschers are prone to this condition. In ME, the muscles of the esophagus weaken and food stays stuck instead of moving into the stomach. Dogs with ME need to eat sitting upright so their esophagus can use gravity to get the food down.
If your dog’s regurgitation is accompanied by loss of appetite, lethargy, constipation or diarrhea, see your vet.
It’s important to know the difference between vomiting, burping and regurgitation. Remember, most of the time regurgitating is absolutely normal. But if your dog is chronically throwing up undigested food, ask your vet to rule out a possible serious condition.