If you've heard the sound before, you'll never forget it. In the middle of the night, you hear retching coming from the direction of your dog's bed. It's better than any alarm clock! You propel yourself out of bed, prepared to grab Fido, and rush him...who knows where? Anywhere other than your bed because he's about to vomit. Once Fido has hacked up what was troubling him, you run to grab a warm washcloth and some paper towel to assist you with cleaning up Fido and his mess. But when you arrive back to the scene, you discover Fido is still there, but the mess is gone! Where could it be? Yes, Fido ate it. While re-ingesting vomit could not be less appealing to us, it is a very common phenomenon with our dogs. Why are dogs drawn to eating their own vomit? We know that dog behavior very seldom is random; therefore, there has to be a logical explanation behind this odd action. A closer examination of canine practices and history can help us arrive at some conclusions that will help us to have a greater understanding of our favorite furry friends and why they do the silly things that they do.
The Root of the Behavior
Fido is pretty cute, but sometimes you wonder if he isn't just a little bit weird. If you've ever felt this way, you're certainly not alone. Dog behavior can often leave us scratching our heads even though Fido's actions make perfect sense to him. Eating vomit is but one habit that seems to make little sense to us. After all, if it wasn't good enough to stay down the first time, why would Fido want to scarf it down a second time? When we examine the behavior through our dogs' eyes, we are able to see the rationale far more clearly. In puppyhood, our dogs were not able to break down solids for the first few weeks of life. From the time of birth, they rely solely on their mother's milk to give them the needed sustenance to grow and thrive. Over time, their little chompers start to break through the gum line, and they start to get ready for solid foods. During the interim, the mother has to help out. She often does this by ingesting food that she chews well, swallows, then later regurgitates for her babies to eat. YES! Fido has been eating vomit since he was a baby! This behavior is not at all foreign to him. In fact, as a puppy, it was part of how his mother took care of him and prepared him for the future.
When puppies transition from a diet of mother's milk to solid food, there is a period during which they need assistance breaking down whole foods into a mushier substance they can then lap or slurp. Neither their mouths or their digestive systems are yet ready for solids. This is where regurgitation comes into play. Breeders will often assist in this process by providing a "mush" of sorts for the puppies to eat. This mush is often comprised of well-soaked then pureed dog food enriched with warmed goat's milk. It is the breeder's attempt to do as their mother would do for them. However, it is estimated that as many as 60 percent of mother dogs remain involved in this process through eating solid foods then regurgitating them for the benefit of their young. This is an instinctual behavior in the mother dog instilled from years of living in the wild. Without the benefit of human aid to feed their puppies, regurgitation was necessary to ensure the survival of the litter.
Encouraging the Behavior
More than this, because our dogs' olfactory senses are 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than our own, they are able to detect scents that would be far too faint for our own noses. Yes, vomit contains gross stuff. Yet, in amongst the bile and other stomach contents, your dog can smell food! While our noses are not sensitive enough to separate the components, our dogs are easily able to identify the parts of the vomit that are nutritious and tasty. It's interesting to note that sometimes dogs will vomit, assess the vomit, and walk away. Why is that? Your dog's nose is potent enough to detect when his vomit contains no benefit to him, and he is best to leave it alone. Your dog will only eat his own vomit if he is able to smell something within it that is appetizing to him. Have you ever pulled a wiener out of the fridge that was just on the verge of going "off" and offered it to Fido only to have him turn his nose up at it? This is the same sense at play. Because Fido's sense of smell is so much more acutely attuned than our own, he is often able to detect food that is decaying, unhelpful, or potentially hazardous. You might do well including Fido when you clean out the fridge since he has a better idea about what should be thrown out!
However, dog vomiting can be a sign of serious illness or injury. Should your dog engage in vomiting with any amount of frequency, it is important to take him to the vet for a thorough examination to rule out any potential health problems. If your dog frequently vomits after meals, eating too quickly might be the source of the problem. Dogs who swallow food without taking the time to chew often experience gastrointestinal distress and need to vomit the food to find relief. If this is an issue for your dog, you could invest in a bowl designed for slow feeding or feed your dog's meal from a treat ball. Making use of either of these tools turns meal time into a bit of a game and also forces your dog to "work" for his food. While the objective is never to make your dog earn what he eats, slowing down his access to his food through a treat ball or slow feeder encourages him to take the time to chew since he is only accessing a piece or two at a time.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Other medical issues that could be the cause of vomiting in your dog include infections of the digestive system, food sensitivities or intolerances, changes in diet, parasites, bowel or intestinal obstructions, renal failure, bloat, parvovirus, or car sickness. In intact female dogs, pyometra, a very serious infection of the uterus, could also result in vomiting. If your dog experiences vomiting on an intermittent basis, this is not necessarily a huge cause for concern. You can always preserve a portion of the vomit in a clean plastic container to take to your veterinarian for proper testing and assessment to rule out any health issues you should keep your eye on. One of the largest concerns in dogs who vomit several times in a single day is dehydration. Care must be taken to ensure that your dog is drinking sufficient water to keep his body hydrated and functioning properly.
Should you detect blood in your dog's vomit or weight loss coupled with a lack of energy, it's time to visit your veterinarian. It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to the health of your pet. Of course, if your dog's vomiting becomes a consistent habit or a daily occurrence, it is likely that there is something more serious going on with your dog, and veterinary intervention is necessary. Be certain to note any changes you have noticed in your dog in order to provide your veterinarian with the most accurate information. Every little bit of input helps to lead to a proper diagnosis and plan for treatment.
Is Fido's chowing down on vomit grossing you out? It is not the most pleasant thing to watch; that's for sure! Rest assured that this behavior finds its roots in your dog's history, and though not appealing for us, it will not harm him in any way. In fact, from his perspective, it actually helps!
By a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Published: 03/15/2018, edited: 01/30/2020