Can Dogs Throw Up from Stress? Careful What You Assume!
I remember a sweet young chocolate Lab named Cody that used to come to the vet hospital regularly for boarding. He would get so excited, jumping around and licking anyone’s hands and face that he could reach. It looked like he was thrilled to be there. But as soon as his owner left and he was in the kennel he’d lose his lunch. So was Cody sick or can dogs throw up from stress?
Scientists don’t know for sure whether dogs throw up from stress. Many veterinarians and dog owners believe anxiety triggers vomiting in some dogs. But some veterinary behaviorists say that stress is not a cause of vomiting in dogs.
Physiology of Vomiting
The physiology of emesis (a.k.a. vomiting) in dogs is not fully understood, but it is said to result from stimulation of the vomiting center located in the brain. This is an extremely complex system, but I’m going to try to explain it in oversimplified terms.
Stimulation of the vomiting center can occur directly by nerve messages from the GI tract. It can also be stimulated indirectly by toxins in the blood or nerve messages from the inner ear (like in motion sickness).
You’ve probably heard about humans who vomit when they get super nervous. Scientists believe it happens due to direct stimulation of the person’s vomiting center.
According to Dr. Robert Washabau, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, this same neural pathway may exist in dogs. But this pathway to vomiting is probably not as prominent in dogs as it is in humans. (3)
Can Dogs Throw Up from Stress?
Based on the thousands of dogs I’ve dealt with as a veterinarian, my opinion is that some dogs may vomit as a result of stress. At least one study on separation anxiety in dogs listed vomiting as an uncommon symptom. (1)
If we take the viewpoint that dogs do throw up from stress, it’s interesting to think about what sorts of things are stressful to dogs. While they don’t have to take math tests or ask their boss for a raise, they have plenty of good and bad stressors in their lives.
Causes of Dog Stress
You might not have thought about some of these but I guarantee your stressed-out dog has…
- Happy excitement
- Car rides
- Training classes
- Being sad/loss of a companion
- Noises/thunder/wind/smoke alarms
- Separation anxiety
- Stranger anxiety
- New house or furniture
- New pets
- Boarding kennel anxiety
- Intact male dogs in presence of female dogs in heat
- Interdog aggression
There are many, many other possible causes of stress and anxiety in dogs. Just remember that even good stress like (excitement) is stress. And finally, just because you don’t think something is stressful doesn’t mean your dog agrees.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
When trying to determine if your dog’s vomiting is related to anxiety, observe him closely for other common signs.
- Hiding/avoiding eye contact
- Yawning when not sleepy
- Acting clingy
- Scratching themselves when not itchy
- Excessive whining or barking
- Not eating
- Diarrhea/stress colitis
- Peeing or pooping in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Fighting with other household dogs
If you would like to learn more about signs of anxiety in dogs, click this link to read a good article on VeterinaryPartner.com.
Is Your Dog Throwing Up from Stress or Something Else
There are plenty of other causes of vomiting in dogs that could be mistaken for stress vomiting. Your dog could have chronic gastritis, pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease. He could have intestinal parasites or maybe he ingested a toxin. With so many possibilities, it’s best not to assume that stress is the cause of your pup’s vomiting.
So how can you differentiate stress vomiting from all the other causes of upset stomach? It’s not easy. You have to exclude other possible causes.
The best approach is to get help from your veterinarian. They will want to do a thorough physical exam and some diagnostic testing like blood tests and radiographs.
You can help your vet by taking some notes about when your dog vomits (what were they doing before throwing up) and whether there are other symptoms like diarrhea, poor appetite or changes in drinking habits. Make sure to tell the vet about all the food, treats, medication and supplements your dog takes.
How to Help Your Vomiting Stressed Dog
If you believe your dog is vomiting in response to anxiety disorders, the most important thing to do first is to see your vet for help. If your vet can rule out major underlying diseases, you can try making some changes to see if you can decrease your dog’s vomiting.
Anti-Anxiety Medication and Behavior Counseling
Many behavioral medications are available for anxious dogs. Talk to your vet about whether a short-term medication like trazodone might help. They may recommend using a longer-term solution like clomipramine or fluoxetine.
If your pup has a severe case of anxiety, consider seeing a veterinary behaviorist. For milder cases, a very experienced dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement only may be able to help you.
Be observant and take some notes about how and when your dog gets anxious. Maybe you can make some easy changes to your lifestyle to make the dog’s life more relaxed.
But don’t be afraid to get help from professionals and medication. These interventions can make a big difference and the sooner you start, the more likely you’ll have a good outcome.
It is unknown whether anxiety is a cause of vomiting in dogs. Anecdotal reports from veterinarians and dog owners seem to support the idea that dogs sometimes vomit from stress.
Don’t make the assumption your dog is throwing up from stress. Many of these dogs have other underlying problems, you should consult your veterinarian to rule out a more serious disease.
- Flannigan, G., & Dodman, N. H. (2001). Risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 219(4), 460-466.
- Seksel, K. (2013). Separation anxiety in dogs and cats with reference to homeostasis. Science Week 2013, 22.
- Washabau, R. J. Difficult Vomiting Disorders: Therapy World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2009.