Vomiting is unpleasant for your pet, and for you as the pet parent who has to clean it up. But when vomit contains blood, it sparks a whole new level of concern.
So, is vomiting blood serious? What causes bloody vomiting in dogs?
Here are some important things to know.
What Does It Mean If a Dog Throws Up Blood?
The technical term for vomiting blood is “hematemesis.” Depending where the bleeding originates, episodes may include fresh, bright red blood or partially digested blood that looks more like coffee grounds. Dark, tarry-looking stools may also be present and can be a sign of intestinal bleeding.
Note: Descriptions like these, or taking a picture with your phone, may help your veterinarian narrow down the underlying cause.
The blood may come from the stomach, esophagus (tube between the mouth and stomach), or upper intestines (the part of the intestinal tract connected to the stomach). Also, occasionally, severe bleeding in the mouth or respiratory tract may lead to a dog swallowing blood and then vomiting it back up. Bleeding may be caused by anything that leads to an injury, irritation, or inflammation of the lining of these organs.
So which came first? The bleeding or the vomiting?
Either is possible. Vomiting may lead to irritation of the digestive tract, which in turn leads to bleeding. Or, significant bleeding may fill the stomach, triggering vomiting. It’s also possible the bleeding and vomiting may both be triggered by one single factor (such as certain viral infections).
What Causes Blood in Vomit?
In dogs, some of the most common causes of throwing up blood include:
- Prolonged or severe vomiting of any cause that is left untreated. Significant vomiting can result in inflammation of the stomach, upper intestines, or esophagus that may lead to bleeding.
- Intestinal parasites.
- Viral or bacterial infections.
- Inflammatory conditions such as IBD.
- An obstruction in the digestive tract, caused by eating an object (a sock, toy, or corn cob, for example) that got stuck in the stomach or intestines.
- Swallowing something sharp (like a bone or stick).
- Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, a serious condition that involves sudden, severe bloody vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Stomach ulcers, which may be caused by digestive conditions, whole-body diseases that increase acid in the stomach (such as kidney failure), or as a side effect of certain medications.
- Problems with blood clotting.
- Traumatic injuries.
SEE ALSO: Why Is My Dog Vomiting?
Is a Dog Vomiting Blood an Emergency?
Any time you see blood in your dog’s vomit, it’s best to seek veterinary care.
Even if it’s just a small spot of blood and your dog is otherwise acting fine, it’s still a good idea to at least call your vet’s office (or an emergency vet office, if after hours). A little blood right now may quickly turn into more blood later, depending on what’s causing the bleeding. And your vet may have recommendations you can implement right away.
If any of these circumstances apply to your pup, emergency treatment should be sought:
- There’s a large amount of blood in their vomit (or stool/diarrhea). Severe blood loss can be fatal or require a blood transfusion.
- Your dog is a puppy. Young pups are prone to infections (such as Parvovirus), which can be severe and get worse quickly (and may be fatal).
- Your dog is ill with other symptoms—such as a fever, listlessness, diarrhea, loss of appetite, inability to keep down food and water, etc.—in addition to throwing up blood.
How Is a Dog Throwing Up Blood Treated?
Treatment usually includes two phases: Supportive care, and addressing the underlying cause.
Depending on a pet’s needs, supportive care may include some or all of the following treatments:
- Stomach lining protectants.
- Anti-nausea medicines.
- Fluid therapy for dehydration and electrolyte balance.
- A bland diet (such as plain boiled chicken and white rice) or prescription diet for sensitive stomachs.
- If severe, a blood transfusion (this is less common and only for severe blood loss).
Note: Never give medications to your pet without checking with your vet first, as some are harmful to pets.
Supportive care helps a dog feel better and slows down the bleeding and vomiting. And in severe cases, a blood transfusion will save a dog’s life no matter what caused the bloody vomiting in the first place.
Addressing the underlying cause
It’s also important to address the underlying cause, as this will direct treatment decisions and help to prevent reoccurrence.
Diagnostic testing is important for figuring out what caused a dog to throw up blood. Tests may include…
- A fecal check for parasites.
- Bloodwork and a urine analysis.
- Blood clotting tests.
- Infectious disease testing.
- If indicated, exploratory surgeries, biopsies, or other testing.
After a physical exam and diagnostic testing, a veterinarian can begin treatment that is targeted at curing or managing any underlying diseases.
For example, a dog with intestinal worms will receive parasite treatment, and a dog with an intestinal obstruction will most likely need surgery.
Depending on the severity of a dog’s condition, they may be sent home with oral medications, or they may need to be hospitalized for some time. The treatment plan of many pets falls somewhere in the middle.
SEE ALSO: Why Is My Dog Not Eating or Drinking?
Can Vomiting Blood Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, some causes of throwing up blood develop with age or genetics, and cannot be prevented. However, many common causes of vomiting blood are preventable. Here’s how:
- Keep your dog up to date on routine care, including vaccinations and parasite prevention.
- Prevent access to toxins (especially rat/mouse poisons), chemicals, and certain plants/flowers.
- Feed a healthy, balanced dog food and avoid table scraps like bones.
Vomiting blood can be scary. And certain underlying causes are serious, especially if left untreated. Fortunately, seeking prompt veterinary care will help to provide the best treatment, prevent complications, and get a pup feeling better as soon as possible.