by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Forceful, reflex expulsion of stomach contents from the mouth. Almost everyone has experienced it. It's not a pleasant thing to experience yourself or to be near another who is having it happen to them. It's particularly difficult to see our pets doing it because we cannot explain to them what's going on or tell them what we'll try to do to help them. No, vomiting is just a bad thing.
Vomition is a very frequent sign or symptom reported to veterinarians when a client visits with their pet who is ill. There are many, many things that can cause vomiting. It is very important to determine the cause if a pet is vomiting. It is a problem no one wants to have continue. That's because not only is vomiting unpleasant, if it continues there are some nasty complications it can cause. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, loss of nutrients, weakness and collapse, all could follow.
Vomiting may be acute or chronic in nature. Acute vomiting is defined as vomiting of relatively short duration (less than 5-7 days) and variable frequency. For both cats and dogs adverse food reactions are probably the most common cause of vomiting. Sometimes vomiting occurs just as a result of eating too much, too quickly.The ancestors, and closest wild relatives of cats and dogs are predators. Wild predators often must consume as much as possible, as quickly as possible, without much in the way of table manners, at a kill site, if they are to get a share of the food. Not uncommonly they may step away from that dinner table, vomit some of the ingested meal and proceed to eat it again at a more leisurely pace. If foreign material is ingested, it may cause vomiting. Cats who vomit hairballs are probably the best example of this. However, there is almost an endless list of foreign material that our pets may consider eating. Occasionally, following a change in diet, vomiting may start. In some cases certain foods are just not well tolerated by an individual. All the preceding are considered adverse food reactions.
There are a number of toxic materials that our pets may ingest or contact. Lead, ethylene glycol, zinc, mycotoxins, and household plants are toxins that can cause vomiting.
Gastro-intestinal infections or inflammation may lead to acute onset vomiting. Viruses - parvo, distemper and corona - as well as a number of bacteria, can cause direct insult to the intestinal tract that results in vomiting.
There are a variety of problems that can cause obstruction of the gastro-intestinal tract. Rubber balls, coins, plastic toys, corn cobs, socks and underwear, all are examples of foreign objects that pets may swallow that will almost certainly cause a blockage of the intestinal tract. If a part of the bowel telescopes on itself, it is called an intussusception which effectively blocks food passage through that part of the intestine. Cancer, constipation or disorders that cause a stoppage in peristalsis, the normal wave motions of the intestine also can create obstructions. Regardless of the cause, if the intestine is blocked, vomiting will be a sign of the problem.
In addition to the diseases that affect the g-i tract directly, a great many other body disorders may cause vomiting. Kidney disease, liver disease, electrolyte imbalances, pancreatitis, uterine infections and endocrine imbalances may cause vomiting. Certain neurologic diseases such as meningitis, encephalitis and central nervous system trauma also can make pets vomit. The list goes on and on. Parasites, allergic reactions, heat stroke, motion sickness, drugs and medications, pain and fear are other causes.
For pet owners, the important thing is to watch and to be aware of your pet's behaviour and actions. Respond appropriately if your pet vomits. Vomiting once or twice may not be a reason to panic, however, if it persists, seek assistance from your veterinarian. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca