We all know the terrible feeling of retching or dry heaving, so seeing our dogs dry heave is distressing and begs the obvious question; why? If you see your dog dry heaving, It is important to understand what dry heaving is, what causes it, and what symptoms to look out for.
Often when a dog vomits, it is the end of the matter and the issue resolves itself quickly. The pup is fine, and all that’s left is to clean up with a good pet odor remover. But if your dog is heaving and retching, but there’s no vomit, we need to get to the bottom of it.
To answer your burning questions, we’ve consulted the work of Dr. Marjorie Saunders, DVM. So, let’s look at dry heaving in dogs and learn why your dog is doing it.
So, Why Is My Dog Dry Heaving?
Bloat is perhaps one of the most immediate risks when a dog vomits and nothing comes up. It could also be eating something bad, dietary changes, gastroenteritis, acid reflux, kennel cough, respiratory infections, or tracheal collapse. Heartworm disease, congestive heart failure, intestinal parasites, and allergies are also possible causes.
Let’s take a closer look at what dry heaving is.
First, What is Dry Heaving in Dogs?
Dry heaving refers to retching or attempting to vomit without actually getting stomach contents out. This means you may hear the typical “honking” noises dogs make before they vomit, and see their head held low, their mouth open, and their stomach muscles contract as the body tries to push the stomach contents up and out.
It’s important to differentiate dry heaving from similar symptoms like coughing or gagging, but they can often happen at the same time as your dog is dry heaving. The video below shows a boxer dry heaving sporadically. Note the tucked tail, and hunched back.
Top 14 Reasons a Dog May Dry Heave
The two main reasons that dogs dry heave is firstly that their stomach is empty but they still have nausea and other physiological cues telling their body to vomit. So the physical contraction trying to force the stomach contents out of the mouth simply doesn’t have enough stomach contents to force out.
This may happen if they have already been vomiting a lot and have nothing left, which is usually a pretty serious sign.
This is why when dogs dry their heads, you may see them eventually force a little bit of fluid out. Usually, any vomit after a lot of dry heaving is quite foamy, and either orange, yellow, or white in color. This is because the dog doesn’t have any food to force out while retching, and they may push out a little stomach fluids. The force of the air moving through liquids will give the vomit a foamy or frothy appearance.
The second reason is something may be blocking the dog’s stomach contents from coming out when they heave.
1. Upset stomach or gastric distress
Dogs may experience dry heaving due to an upset stomach caused by dietary changes, abrupt diet switches, or food intolerance (such as when they drink cow’s milk and have an upset tummy from the cow’s milk). Additionally, ingesting something indigestible, such as garbage or plants, can irritate the stomach and trigger vomiting.
Too much vomiting can lead to dry heaving when the dog has expelled their stomach content, but they still feel sick.
At this point, it’s best to see a vet, as a dog that is chronically vomiting from something they ate is vulnerable to dehydration or may have ingested a toxin.
This condition refers to the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Infections, such as viral or bacterial gastroenteritis, or dietary indiscretion (such as eating spoiled food) can cause this inflammation, leading to dry heaving.
3. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, or bloat, is a severe and life-threatening condition that can cause a dog to dry heave and commonly affects large or deep-chested dog breeds like the Doberman Pinscher. It occurs when the stomach fills with gas or fluid and then twists on itself, trapping the contents and cutting off blood supply to vital organs.
Symptoms of bloat in dogs may include:
- a distended abdomen that feels tight and hard,
- Stretching in “prayer position,”
- unproductive retching or vomiting,
- excessive drooling,
- pale gums,
- and difficulty breathing.
In severe cases, the dog may collapse, show signs of shock, or even go into cardiac arrest.
If you suspect your dog is experiencing bloat, it is crucial to seek immediate veterinary care. Time is of the essence as bloat can progress rapidly and become life-threatening within a short period.
4. Acid reflux or esophagitis
Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. This backward flow can irritate the esophageal lining, causing discomfort and dry heaving.
One common symptom of acid reflux is dry heaving, which is the attempt to vomit without producing any substance. Dogs with acid reflux may exhibit other signs like:
- Regurgitation (expelling undigested food),
- excessive swallowing,
- licking of lips,
- and a reluctance to eat.
Dry heaving in dogs with acid reflux is typically a result of the irritated esophagus triggering the vomiting reflex, but the stomach’s contents may not be expelled.
5. Respiratory conditions
Dogs may dry heave due to respiratory issues such as kennel cough, a highly contagious respiratory infection causing a dry, honking cough. Other respiratory infections or conditions like tracheal collapse (common in small dog breeds) can also lead to dry heaving. See this video below of a dog with kennel cough that is also dry heaving.
6. Canine cough syndrome (infectious tracheobronchitis)
Dogs in close contact with other dogs, such as in kennels or dog parks, may develop dry heaving due to this contagious respiratory condition. It causes inflammation of the trachea and bronchi, resulting in coughing and dry heaving.
7. Heart disease
Certain heart conditions can cause dogs to dry heave. Heartworm disease, caused by parasitic worms, affects the heart and lungs, leading to coughing and dry heaving. Congestive heart failure can cause fluid buildup in the lungs and trigger dry heaving.
8. Foreign body obstruction
If a dog swallows objects like toys, bones, or fabric, it can obstruct their airways or digestive system. This obstruction can lead to dry heaving as the dog tries to expel the foreign object. This kind of dry heaving also overlaps with gagging. If something is choking your dog, it’s vital to know how to act fast to clear their airway:
9. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome and Dry Heaving in Dogs
Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a condition commonly seen in dog breeds with short muzzles and flat faces, such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shih Tzus. These breeds are prone to having anatomical abnormalities in their airways, including narrowed nostrils nares), an elongated soft palate, and a collapsing trachea.
These structural abnormalities can cause difficulty in breathing and restrict the airflow, leading to respiratory distress. In severe cases, the lack of proper air exchange can result in insufficient oxygen supply and increased carbon dioxide levels, causing dry heaving or retching as the dog attempts to clear their airway. It is essential for owners of brachycephalic breeds to be aware of the potential respiratory issues and seek veterinary care if they notice any signs of breathing difficulties.
10. Eating too fast
Eating too fast is a common behavior that can cause a dog to dry heave. When dogs eat their food rapidly, they tend to swallow air along with their food. This excessive air intake can lead to stomach distention, causing discomfort and the sensation of needing to regurgitate their food or dry heave.
11. Tonsillitis and a Sore Throat
Tonsillitis and sore throat can also be potential causes of dry heaving in dogs. Tonsillitis refers to the inflammation or infection of the tonsils, which are located in the back of the throat. Similarly, a sore throat can result from irritation, inflammation, or infection of the throat tissues.
12. Intestinal parasites
Worms or other parasites in the gastrointestinal tract can cause irritation, leading to dry heaving. Common intestinal parasites in dogs include roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.
13. Allergies or environmental irritants
Dogs can experience dry heaving due to allergies to certain substances or environmental factors. These can include pollen, dust mites, certain foods, or chemicals found in cleaning products.
14. An Obstructing Tumor
In some cases, a tumor partially obstructing your dog’s throat can be a reason for dry heaving. Tumors can develop in the throat area, such as in the larynx or pharynx, and cause a partial blockage. This obstruction can interfere with the normal swallowing process.
When to Consult Your Vet About A Dog Vomiting With Nothing Coming Up
While occasional dry heaving in dogs may not always be a cause for immediate concern, there are instances when it is important to consult your veterinarian.
Signs That Dry Heaving In Dogs Could Be Serious
Persistent dry heaving
If your dog experiences prolonged or recurrent episodes of dry heaving that do not resolve within a reasonable timeframe, it is recommended to consult your vet. That could indicate an underlying health issue that requires evaluation and treatment.
If your dog is having difficulty breathing, such as rapid or difficult breathing, wheezing, or gasping, along with dry heaving, it could be a sign of a serious respiratory problem that warrants immediate veterinary attention.
If your dog appears visibly distressed, agitated, or in pain during episodes of dry heaving, it is crucial to consult your vet. Excessive restlessness, pacing, or discomfort may indicate an underlying issue that needs evaluation.
If your dog’s abdomen appears visibly swollen or distended, especially if accompanied by dry heaving, it may indicate a more serious condition such as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or an abdominal blockage. These conditions require immediate veterinary care.
Vomiting blood or dark, coffee-ground-like material
If your dog exhibits dry heaving accompanied by vomiting blood or dark, coffee-ground-like material (which could indicate the presence of digested blood), it may suggest internal bleeding or a gastrointestinal issue. Seek veterinary attention promptly.
Lethargy and loss of appetite
If your dog shows a significant decrease in energy levels, becomes unusually lethargic, and exhibits a loss of appetite along with dry heaving, it could be a sign of a systemic illness or an underlying condition requiring veterinary assessment.
Other concerning symptoms
Any additional worrisome signs such as weakness, pale gums, unexplained weight loss, excessive drooling, coughing, hot ears from a fever, or changes in urination or defecation patterns (like poop turning green) should be taken seriously and discussed with your vet.
Remember, as a responsible dog owner, it is important to trust your instincts and seek veterinary advice whenever you have concerns about your dog’s health.
Symptoms of Dry Heaving in Dogs
Dry heaving in dogs is often accompanied by other symptoms that can help identify the underlying cause. Some of the most common symptoms of dry heaving in dogs include:
- Labored breathing
- Swollen abdomen
- Upset stomach
- Reverse sneezing
- Gag reflex
- Respiratory issues
If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms in addition to dry heaving, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Heaving in Dogs
Physical Examination and Medical History
When you bring your dog to the vet for dry heaving, the first step is to perform a physical examination and take a detailed medical history. The vet will ask you about your dog’s diet, exercise routine, and any recent changes in behavior or environment. They will also check your dog’s vital signs, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature.
During the physical examination, the vet will look for any signs of dehydration, abdominal pain, or discomfort. They will also listen to your dog’s lungs and heart to check for any abnormalities. In some cases, the vet may perform a rectal exam to check for any abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract.
After the physical examination, the vet may recommend some diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s dry heaving. These tests may include:
- Blood tests to check for any abnormalities in the liver, kidney, or pancreas function.
- X-rays to check for any abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract or chest.
- Ultrasound to check for any abnormalities in the liver, kidney, or gastrointestinal tract.
- Endoscopy to look inside the gastrointestinal tract and take biopsies if necessary.
Treatment For Dry Heaving Dogs
The treatment for dry heaving in dogs depends on the underlying cause. If your dog is dehydrated, the vet may recommend fluid therapy to rehydrate your dog. If your dog has an underlying gastrointestinal issue, such as inflammatory bowel disease or gastroenteritis, the vet may recommend a change in diet and medication to manage the symptoms.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract. If your dog has a respiratory issue, such as kennel cough or pneumonia, the vet may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
Overall, the treatment for dry heaving in dogs depends on the underlying cause and severity of the symptoms. It is important to bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any signs of dry heaving or other respiratory issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my dog dry heave at night?
One common explanation that dogs dry heave at night is gastroesophageal reflux, where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation. When your dog lays down to sleep, it could force the acid up. Respiratory issues, such as allergies or infections, can contribute to nighttime dry heaving as the dog’s airways may become more inflamed and restricted during rest. Heart issues are also known to get worse at night.
Why does my dog dry heave in the mornings?
It is possible your dog’s stomach is empty after fasting overnight, causing the accumulation of stomach acid and leading to irritation and dry heaving. Respiratory issues such as allergies or infections may also contribute to morning dry heaving. Female dogs who are pregnant may start dry heaving or vomiting at around three weeks after conception.
Why is my dog dry heaving and eating grass?
If your dog is dry heaving and eating grass, there are a few possible explanations for this behavior. One reason could be an upset stomach or gastrointestinal discomfort. Dogs sometimes eat grass as an instinct to induce vomiting and alleviate their discomfort. The act of dry heaving may be their body’s attempt to expel something from their stomach.
What causes dry heaving in dogs?
Dry heaving in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors, including gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, and even anxiety. Some common causes include eating too quickly, consuming something that doesn’t agree with their stomach, or having a foreign object stuck in their throat.
Can dry heaving be a sign of anxiety in dogs?
Yes, dry heaving can be a sign of anxiety in dogs. Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms, including dry heaving, panting, and restlessness. If you suspect that your dog’s dry heaving is caused by anxiety, it’s important to address the underlying issue and provide your dog with a safe and comfortable environment. However, always look for a medical cause rather than assuming that the problem is anxiety.
What are some home remedies for dry heaving in dogs?
There are several home remedies that can help alleviate your dog’s dry heaving, including feeding smaller, more frequent meals, providing plenty of water, and avoiding giving your dog table scraps or other human foods. Additionally, you can try giving your dog a small amount of grated ginger. However, don’t rely on home or natural remedies for a dog that is dry heaving. Even the popular mint or peppermint we use to treat nausea can actually cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs, so it can make things worse. Since dry heaving can be serious, it’s best to see a vet if it’s a chronic problem or if your dog has other symptoms.
Is it normal for dogs to dry heave?
While dry heaving isn’t necessarily normal for dogs, it’s also not uncommon. Dogs can dry heave for a variety of reasons, and occasional episodes of dry heaving are usually not cause for concern. However, if your dog is dry heaving frequently or if their dry heaving is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s important to take them to the vet.
When should I take my dog to the vet for dry heaving?
You should take your dog to the vet if their dry heaving is frequent, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy. Additionally, if you suspect that your dog has ingested a foreign object or if their dry heaving is caused by a respiratory issue, it’s important to seek veterinary care right away.
How can I help my dog stop dry heaving?
The best way to help your dog stop dry heaving is to address the underlying cause of their symptoms. This may involve changing their diet, providing them with a safe and comfortable environment, or seeking veterinary care for an underlying health issue. Additionally, you can try giving your dog small amounts of ginger or peppermint to help soothe their stomach.
Understanding why your dog is dry heaving is crucial for their overall well-being. Identifying the specific reasons behind your dog’s dry heaving allows you to address the root cause of the problem.
You can prevent potential complications and alleviate your dog’s discomfort by seeking timely veterinary care. Early intervention can lead to more effective treatment outcomes and better management of any underlying causes.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
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.
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