Why has my dog turned into a puke machine?
December 21, 2014 5:48 PM   Subscribe

My dog seems to be suffering from a stomach bug and I'm not quite sure what to do. Exhaustive details inside.

Meet Foxy Brown. He is 3.5 and is a mix of all the cutest dogs in the world. When we first got him we gave him the food the shelter recommended, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul. About six months ago we noticed he would puke it up about once a week. The vet recommended we switch him to Purina Pro Plan. He got through the first 35 pound bag without incident. He is about 90% through the second 35 pound bag.

Monday of last week we had some family drama that took us away from the home on a night when we would usually be home with him. I was home with him in the morning and afternoon and he had gotten to go out and had his meals on schedule. While we were out he vomited. We chalked this up to stress at having his routine disrupted and empathizing with the stress we were going through.

Tuesday passed without incident.

On Wednesday morning, however, Foxy threw up five times between 6 AM and 1 PM. We rushed him to the vet. He received an anti-emetic and was X-rayed. The X-ray revealed he had no bowel obstruction or foreign object. The vet did note he had diarrhea in his colon and gave us some pills to help with that. They recommended we give him Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diet Gastroenteric food for a little while and see how he does, and after that to try a chicken & rice diet if problems persist.

Everyone was stumped as to what could have caused this and my partner & I are both very worried. The vet couldn't give us a good answer to how common this kind of problem is, so that's my first question. Is this common? How much should we worry? Do not underestimate my infinite capacity for worry.

We thought that he might have gotten into something in the fenced-in backyard, where he is usually allowed to play and gallivant throughout the day. Inspection revealed nothing.

For the remainder of the week he was fine and ate all the gastroenteric food with no incident. In between when he came back from the vet's office and our backyard inspection he was confined to the house with frequent walks and during this period his disposition could fairly be described as "mopey zoo lion" but now he is allowed back into the yard and is his usual cheerful self. Last night we were out of the gastroenteric food and unable to make a run to the store to get chicken and rice, so we gave him a bowl of the regular Purina Pro Plan which was happily devoured.

This morning I was awakened once again to the dulcet sounds of Foxy yakking on the bedspread. So the problem's with the Purina Pro Plan, right? Except...why did he make it almost all the way through a huge bag with no problems? And why did we find rice in his mostly bilious puke? There's no rice in the regular dog food, but it's a key component of the gastroenteric food and is a recommended component of meals going forward. Shouldn't he have digested it? It was about 24 hours between his last serving of the gastroenteric food and the puke that had rice in it.

Another vet visit is likely, but in the mean time we weren't sure what to feed him. We ended up getting the regular Pro Plan wet food for sensitive stomachs--so not quite the veterinary formula he had been on from the vet's office, but not quite the regular dry Pro Plan that he usually eats. He's only eaten a tiny bit and seems a bit queasy.

Here are my questions:
A) How common is this?
B) How worried should we be?
C) Is there any way we can avoid having to pay another huge vet bill?
D) What should we feed him in the time between now and when we can get him into the vet's?
E) Any other helpful suggestions?

Thanks so much in advance!
posted by zeusianfog to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
Puking in dogs is common. We foster for an organisation that sees almost 1,000 dogs through our door every year and we see a lot of puking. Obviously, if the dog is otherwise well, we attempt to right any stomach upset without a vet visit. The White Diet would be step 1 after a fast.

Also, stop abruptly changing the dog's food. Mix over a few days to transition whenever possible.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I probably wouldn't rush him back to the vet just yet, especially since he was fine on the other food. I've had both cats and dogs do something similar--they're fine on the food, and then all of a sudden they're super not fine for no apparent reason. It's been fixed for me, every time, by changing their food. Compare the ingredients and see what the Pro Plan has in the first five or so that the gastroenteric stuff doesn't, then go look for a food that doesn't have that/those ingredients. I bet things will improve.

Also, that dog is super, super cute. Look how fluffy he is!!
posted by MeghanC at 6:15 PM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My guess is that he's eaten a bee, bug, or spider that has irritated his tummy and esophagus and now his system is so irritated he just can't stop. My dog used to get this and encouraging him to eat grass was the solution (he did so instinctively anyway, we just emphasized it).
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:16 PM on December 21, 2014

Best answer: First step: buy a small bag of the specialist snowflakeiest dry food you can find: a weird protein like lamb or venison, no dairy or eggs or wheat.

Then pick up chicken (cheap dark meat will be fine), rice, plain yogurt (no sweeteners), a can of pumpkin (not pie filling, 100% pumpkin - should be out on the endcaps this week), a box of chicken broth, and a bottle of unflavored Pedialyte.

Tonight and tomorrow morning, feed him small meals - like 1/4C rice, 6 human bites of chicken, a tablespoon each of yogurt and pumpkin, mixed to a sludge with 1/4C broth and 1/4C pedialyte (I can't tell how big he is, I'm kind of guesstimating a 35lb dog? if he's bigger, more liquid). That may be too much food for one round, or you may need to break it up into portions if he bolts the whole thing (and it smells pretty great/awful, so he might) and you don't want him to do that.

You can also let him free-drink from water or a water-pedialyte mix with a splash of broth for a compelling bouquet. (Not too compelling, though - if he'll drink normally w/o broth skip it.)

At this point you have multiple issues: you're changing food too often (that's a process that should be done over 7-10 days, mixing old and new), his gut flora is probably all out of whack, he's dehydrated. If you can get him 24 hours on frequent small meals of the chicken-rice mix above (the yogurt's for bacteria, the pumpkin's for fiber), then you can sprinkle a little of the special snowflake food into it. Start moving him off the rice mixture to the new food over a couple of days, backtracking if he gets substantially sick again. It will probably take a day or more for the upset to settle down but ideally you get at least firmer poop in 36 hours.

I don't know if I'd go back to the vet unless there's something new. You don't need another xray, and if you do need to go back I'd complain in advance on the phone that you keep paying for visits and all you get told is to change food (our vet fairly reasonably charged us just $25 to check on something we've been in for every week for over a month, after we pointed out that all that was happening was looking).

You can look up instructions on how to check a dog for dangerous dehydration (generally you pinch a little skin on their leg and see if it is slow to come unpinched when you let go, but you have a very floofy dog so there's probably a better trick for that).
posted by Lyn Never at 6:17 PM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

My dog is a chronic vomiter and has been since he was a puppy. He's 7 and extremely healthy. The vet said some dogs are just pukers and I'm lucky enough to have one. He seems to go through cycles. He might throw up breakfast every day for a week (rarely his dinner oddly enough), then not be sick at all for over a month. I've noticed a few patterns: 1) if he gets too hungry (ie eating late in the morning) he's more likely to get sick 2) if he eats too fast there's a decent chance it'll come back up. Otherwise, it's random and doesn't mean he's ill necessarily. And he eats the same food consistently, so it's not that for him.

If he throws up multiple times in a day and is listless, then it's often a stomach bug of some sort and if it doesn't stop a vet visit is the right call.
posted by cecic at 6:38 PM on December 21, 2014

My dog is a puker, too. He vomits when he gets too hungry, so I feed him four (!) times a day in small portions. Unlike cecic's pup ours has problems in his pancreas and kidneys, but his puking is definitely due to hunger. I'm no vet but if you've ruled out all other possibilities, maybe try feeding him more often?
posted by misozaki at 6:59 PM on December 21, 2014

Followup: if you are seeing improvement in the next 3-4 days, you'll need to decide then whether to just stay with the special snowflake food for a few months or slowly transfer to a more reasonable food.

I don't like Purina food much. None of our dogs are especially sensitive, but we put them on higher-quality food that doesn't require eating the volume of cheaper foods, and picking up the yard is a little easier. We feed Wellness Complete Chicken (large kibble formula, also comes in small kibble) but there are roughly comparable brands that are a little cheaper.

I have friends who have a dog who went through something similar to you and eventually, via elimination diet and allergy tests, turned out to be allergic to corn and meat fed with corn, which is a tough one to avoid and took quite a bit of experimenting to sort out, so you may want to live by smaller bags of food for a while in case you do have to do an elimination diet later.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:08 PM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

We also have a puker, it's a lovely trait. Recently, we saw a major uptick in her hork-frequency, accompanied by some face-melting flatulence. She is already on the snow-flakiest diet commercially available (she is allergic to grains and many sources of protein), so we grew concerned enough to take her to the vet to have some tests run. Ultimately, after ruling out more serious causes, a three-day deworming course set her straight. Good luck!
posted by msali at 7:36 PM on December 21, 2014

Total side note: if you have an open bag of food that you know your dog can't or shouldn't eat, but is still perfectly fine, check with your local animal shelter. Many of them will take open bags if they're still in their original packaging. When we went through the Great Food Testing of 2014 with my tabby cat, I called the shelter and they were happy to take the 5 small bags of different Special Snowflake foods that he wasn't able to eat.
posted by RogueTech at 10:23 PM on December 21, 2014

Lyn Never's recommendation for slowly and carefully feeding Foxy Brown back to health is spot on. Here are a few additional tips:

(a) You can compare dog food quality and ingredients at Dog Food Advisor.com and Whole Dog Journal (subscription is required, but the information is top notch).

(b) You may want to test to see if a mix of kibble + high quality canned dog food or a diet of only canned dog food helps cure his upset stomach so he vomits less (Canned or Dry Food article from DFA). Dogs with sensitive stomachs often are much more able to digest high quality canned foods instead of dry.

(c) You could consider using a probiotic for dogs to help get Foxy Brown's digestion back on track

Finding the right balance takes months, and given the way dogs have of vomiting more regularly than humans, it is a challenge to see if Foxy Brown is vomiting due to chronic irritation with a set of ingredients in the daily dog food -- or just because she happened to eat something she shouldn't have one day. Best of luck!
posted by apennington at 6:14 AM on December 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you mention that he was puking bilious barf first thing in the morning, I wonder if he might have reflux? Our dog will puke if he goes too long with an empty(ish) stomach (and then refuses food, making the problem worse), so we break up his food into 4 smaller meals through the day. Something to consider if most of his pukes seem to happen long after he's eaten
posted by twoporedomain at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2014

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