Vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs and cats - should you worry and what can you do about it?

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All of us pet owners know the feeling of dread when you hear the retching noises start and drop everything to try to rush our cat or dog out of the house or off the bed before the inevitable happens! Seeing your pet have vomiting and diarrhoea is unpleasant to say the least but it’s also very worrying. Lots of owners wonder what makes their cat or dog sick or have diarrhoea and what they can do about it once it starts. Let’s start with the most common causes;

What causes vomiting and diarrhoea in cats and dogs?

Just like with humans, most cases of vomiting and diarrhoea are short-lived and we never find a cause because they get better and don’t need a lengthy investigation. What we call ‘dietary indiscretions’ are one of the most common causes. This is really just a fancy way of saying that your cat or dog has found something pretty unsavoury and gobbled it up. This could be dogs stealing carcasses out of the bin or cats catching an animal and eating it that doesn’t go down too well. Dogs particularly have a liking for rotting things, other animals’ poo, their own poo and so on! Of course sometimes these don’t go down too well and vomiting and /or diarrhoea set in. Often we see the vomiting first and as the trouble works its way through the bowel the diarrhoea starts a day or two later as the vomiting starts to subside. Other possible causes of vomiting and diarrhoea are;

  • Viral infections such as parvovirus (a good reason to make sure your pet is fully vaccinated throughout its life).
  • Parasites such as worms or Giardia.
  • Foreign bodies such as socks, stones, wool. You would be amazed at what some animals will eat!
  • Poisons or food that is poisonous to animals but not to us. The classic things would be chocolate for dogs but there are many other foods like xylitol, garlic, onions and raisins too.
  • Raw meat and bones. The current trend for raw feeding carries significant risks for intestinal infections like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E.coli.
  • Organ problems like liver or kidney disease or pancreatitis.
  • Various types of cancer.
  • Some endocrine diseases like Addison’s disease.
  • Bowel obstructions.
  • Chronic enteropathies

This list is not exhaustive so it’s important to know what to do if your cat or dog has vomiting or diarrhoea and when to go to the vet.

What to do if your cat or dog has vomiting or diarrhoea.

Firstly, don’t panic. The vast majority of cases are not serious and will normally pass in a day or two. If you are in the slightest bit worried please do ring your vet. They would rather be safe than sorry and can ask you in depth questions about how it started and any other signs etc. This way you can decide between you if your pet needs to be seen. Offering bland food, little and often can help and you may find this easiest to do by asking your vet to give you something to use for a few days.

When to go to the vet.

If the signs don’t pass within a day or two the underlying cause needs to be found but there are some situations where you shouldn’t wait and you need to get help straight away;

  • If you know your pet has eaten something toxic or raided the bin.
  • If vomiting is very frequent your pet may become dangerously dehydrated.
  • If your dog is trying to be sick but can’t or starts to swell up.
  • If you see blood in either the vomit or the diarrhoea.
  • If your animal is bright and eating but vomits or regurgitates soon afterwards.
  • If your pet seems ill or depressed or collapsed.
  • If your dog is doing a ‘play-bow’ posture this can be a sign of severe pain and possible pancreatitis.

The bottom line, as I often say, is that you are never time-wasting if you’re concerned about your pet’s health. If you are ever unsure, contact your vet. That’s why we are here.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Emma Milne

Dr Emma Milne qualified as a vet in 1996. She worked in small animal practice for 12 years and as a clinical nutrition advisor for seven years. She is well known for her animal welfare work and has written ten books on pet animals.