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Why Do Dogs Eat Their Vomit? Asked & Answered - PawSafe

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Vomit? Asked & Answered

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why do dogs eat their vomit

Watching your dog gobble their puke is gag-inducing and gross, but why do dogs eat their vomit anyway? This behavior is entirely normal for your canine, who is blissfully unaware of hooman embarrassments.

Aside from the yuck factor, dogs eating their vomit and even puking in the first place can indicate mild or severe conditions. You may want to grab your odor remover if your pup is vomiting and eating it right up because they will smell. 

Knowing the root cause of the vomiting helps you understand if ingesting the puke is safe. Sometimes, this is harmless canine behavior, especially if the dog is regurgitating instead of vomiting.

5 Reasons Why Dogs Eat Their Vomit?

Eating their vomit is ingrained in a dog’s DNA as a survival instinct to hide that they’re sick, and because to them, the vomit is still viable food. Vomit has a strong scent, which most dogs find irresistible.  Dogs may also regurgitate whole, undigested food for puppies to eat.

To be clear, vomit is digested food that a dog will heave up, usually after a bout of loud heaving. On the other hand, when a dog regurgitates food, it is whole and mostly undigested. There is also not a lot of warning before it happens. Dogs may sometimes regurgitate food when they have eaten too much. This is still viable food and greedy dogs may well set about eating it again. 

One positive about a dog eating their own vomit is that it shows their appetite is still intact. Lack of appetite or refusing to eat is usually a sign that your dog is seriously sick. So while vomiting is always a cause for concern, it is actually more worrying if your dog does not eat their own vomit. 

Be sure to read our article on what to do if your dog is vomiting.

Canines have their fair share of weird uncomfortable behaviors, from licking their privates to humping pillows and everything in sight, so eating vomit is simply another natural but unwanted behavior.. Occasional instances of your dog eating sick is normal and even expected, but it gets concerning once the frequency increases.

 Let’s delve into these little canine heads to try and understand them by listing five reasons dogs eat their vomit.

1. Survival Instinct

Pampered as your dog is, they still maintain quite a bit of their wild heritage. We can all agree that vomit is really, really smelly, and dogs know this. In the wild, predators prey on animals showing weakness or illness. So puking animals will quickly eat their vomit to eliminate evidence of sickness.

Your dog eating their vomit is something they just inherently do even If there isn’t a predator in the house. Eating sick by instinct is hard-wired into your canine by nature and survival.

2. They Learned It from Their Mama

Weaning mother dogs will often eat food and regurgitate it to feed it to their litter. So while the practice of vomit-eating seems new to you, your dog is likely already accustomed to it. 

Regurgitated food is easy for young puppies to chew and is just as tasty. Canines can’t see why they shouldn’t carry on this behavior into adulthood, so they eat sick.

3. The Vomit Smells Like Food, So Why Not?

Dogs, most of them at least, are not fussy eaters, so anything can pass as food for these canine babies. When your dog vomits and doesn’t eat it up, they must feel like they’re wasting precious food. 

A dog’s smell is tens of thousands more sensitive than hours. Therefore, they can smell food in the unlikeliest of places. What’s more, dogs’ stomachs are highly acidic, allowing them to eat all kinds of things that would make a human sick. This is an essential adaptation from the wild, where eating rotten carcasses and other organic remains like vomit means ingesting essential calories when food is scarce. This is especially true for regurgitated content, which is basically undigested food.

4. They’re Hiding the Vomit from You 

Our dogs know us, so they definitely know when you’re going to be mad over a mess they made. They can eat their vomit to try to clean up before you can catch them, especially if you punish them frequently. 

In this case, you can be said to be the predator we discussed in the first point on survival instinct.  Do not punish your dog for vomiting in the house.  This is not something they can help and it will only cause them anxiety and make them lose trust in you.

5. They’re Trying to Feed Puppies 

Maybe you just brought a new puppy home, and your dog feels extra generous. It’s common for older dogs in a household to regurgitate food for puppies when they beg.  Alternatively, your dog may be done nursing her puppies, so she regurgitates food as she weans the litter.

The Difference Between Vomiting and Regurgitation

To understand how safe or unsafe ingesting puke is for dogs, you must understand the differences between vomiting and regurgitation. Vomiting is uncomfortable with them contracting the abdomen—clearly, a struggle– while regurgitation is effortless with your dog only lowering the head.

Vomiting

Vomiting or emesis is a protective response triggered by a special part of the brain called the CTZ (Chemo-receptor trigger zone). When vomiting, dogs forcefully eject the stomach or the upper intestines contents.

It protects the body from poisoning and triggers if the body detects unusual chemicals in the bloodstream. Vomiting also occurs when the CTZ senses over-fullness or objects in the stomach that shouldn’t be there.  This is why dogs will often vomit up socks, pieces of bone, or anything else they swallowed but can’t digest.

Vomiting can also occur due to gastrointestinal issues when your dog eats something their tummy isn’t used to. Medical conditions like ulcers, bowel inflammation, and gut infection also cause vomiting. Vomit is a mix of stomach or intestine juice, food content, and bile (yellow tinge).

Because vomiting can be triggered by ingesting toxins, eating it can cause your dog to be sicker. Because of this, it’s best to prevent the ingestion of vomit as much as possible.

Regurgitation

Many cases of regurgitation happen when your dog gobbles up their food too fast. Regurgitation occurs when food isn’t pumped all the way to the stomach but sits in the esophagus. Regurgitated food is often undigested and covered in a thick mucoid liquid.

Regurgitation isn’t as much of a struggle as vomiting and isn’t preceded by nausea. However, it can still impede your dog’s quality of life if caused by a medical condition.

Some medical conditions can cause regurgitation in dogs include:

  • megaoesophagus –gullet becomes dilated and loses mobility)
  • Esophagitis –inflammation of the esophagus
  • Obstructions in the esophagus, for example, due to scar tissue or foreign bodies

Why Do Dogs Vomit?

Dogs are indiscriminate eaters, so vomiting is common when they eat something they shouldn’t have. Vomiting turns severe when it happens frequently, with other signs like diarrhea and lethargy. Common causes of vomiting include:

  • Eating too much food
  • Consuming a lot of grass
  • Change of diet
  • Food intolerances 
  • Certain medications

Almost all medical problems cause vomiting in dogs. More severe causes of vomiting include:

  • Bloat
  • Bacterial infections of the GI tract
  • GI obstruction due to foreign objects
  • Colitis
  • Parvo
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Heatstroke 
  • Cancer

In many severe cases of vomiting you may also see severe diarrhea, of even dogs pooping clear liquid.

Is it Okay for My Dog to Eat Vomit?

Even though dogs find eating vomit to be perfectly normal, you shouldn’t allow this behavior. Vomit contains high stomach acid levels, which could irritate the esophageal lining. Additionally, if the vomit is due to toxins, ingesting it can cause more problems for your dog. 

While regurgitated food is unlikely to cause harm compared to vomited content, your dog should avoid it too. Frequent regurgitation is harmful because it suggests a medical condition like megaoesophagus that requires treatment.

When Should You Be Concerned by Dog Eating Vomit?

When Should You Be Concerned by Dog Eating Vomit?

When to be concerned about your dog eating their puke depends on how often they vomit. It’s  nothing  to worry about if it happens once every few weeks or months. However, if the frequency is daily or even multiple times a day, it’s best to seek medical help.

Keep a close eye on your dog when you first notice vomiting. Contact your vet if you observe other signs like lethargy, bloody or clear diarrhea, inappetence, whimpering, and signs of pain. 

If your dog is vomiting but isn’t showing any other signs of ailing, consult your vet on whether you can withhold food for 24 hours. This allows the stomach to settle down before feeding your dog a bland diet like chicken and rice. 

If vomiting persists even after withholding food and the bland diet, we strongly recommend visiting the vet. Because something as simple as reduced energy and appetite can become a severe condition without medical intervention.

What to do About Your Dog Eating Vomit

The best action to take concerning your dog eating vomit is to eliminate the vomiting in the following ways:

  • Consider whether you have changed your dog’s diet recently. If so, resume the previous diet, or introduce the new one slowly until your dog’s stomach gets used to it.
  • Get your dog checked out for allergies if vomiting occurs with swelling and itchiness.
  • Visit the vet for a comprehensive diagnosis.
  • Limit your dog’s eating speed and invest in a slow feeder.

You can discourage your dog from eating their vomit on the spot by getting them away from the puke area. As soon as you see retching or other signs of vomiting, brace yourself to distract your dog and clean the puke immediately.

Final Thoughts

Dogs eat their vomit, and it’s a normal thing to do in the canine world. Instinct where dogs’ wild ancestors ate their vomit to prevent other animals from knowing they’re sick stuck with your dog. Regurgitation differs from vomiting in that the food never reaches the stomach and is undigested.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

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Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.