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Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs

Written By hannah hollinger
Published: 06/22/2017Updated: 08/25/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Nonproductive Vomiting?

Nonproductive vomiting and gastric dilatation-volvulus is more common in larger breeds of dogs than the smaller breeds.  During an episode of bloat, or gastric dilatation, a bulge behind the rib cage forms full of gas. When the bloated stomach twists upon itself, it causes a volvulus which blocks the entrance and exit of fluid and ingest from the stomach. During the initial stages, your dog will attempt to vomit unsuccessfully.

With the pronounced swelling of the abdomen, your dog will rapidly progress into shock. You must get immediate veterinary assistance if your dog is to survive. Nonproductive vomiting, sometimes described as retching, is the hallmark signature of bloat and gastric dilatation-volvulus (torsion).

An emergency situation when your dog’s stomach becomes bloated and twists upon itself, with your dog unable to clear it by vomiting, is described as nonproductive vomiting due to gastric dilatation-volvulus.

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Symptoms of Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs

Breeds more commonly affected include those with a large deep chest such as the Great Dane, German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher and the Akita, although all dogs can be affected by non-productive vomiting. Additional signs include:

  • Vomiting or gagging which leads to frequent and repeated non-productive retching 
  • Gulping of air 
  • Restlessness and general discomfort 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rapid distension of the abdomen
  • Drooling
  • Nausea 
  • Your dog’s systems can be compromised leading to low blood pressure
  • Endotoxemia (endotoxins in the blood)
  • Shock
  • Collapse

If your dog has suffered bloat and twisting of the stomach he cannot be treated at home; it is an emergency situation that needs immediate vet attention.


Productive vomiting involves retching and stomach contractions. These stomach contractions forcefully expel contents out from the stomach. Any chronic or repeated vomiting needs veterinarian assistance to find what the cause is and treatment may be required. Causes can include viral infection, parasites and dietary indiscretion (eating something inappropriate).

Nonproductive retching or vomiting is a warning signal that something is wrong. It requires an immediate trip to your veterinarian as it could be a sign of a condition known as bloat and torsion where the stomach twists on itself, cutting off the openings to the esophagus and the intestine. In this situation, death can occur in less than an hour.

Causes of Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs

  • With nonproductive vomiting, the stomach twists on itself and causes an array of life threatening responses which the dog cannot correct through vomiting in order to remove the problem (excess food and gas) from his system. The exact cause is still debated but several theories exist.
  • One big meal a day - if your dog is one that gulps food down quickly, he is at risk of developing bloat
  • Increased activity immediately after eating can cause your dog’s stomach to twist on itself causing a condition known as torsion 
  • The twisting of the stomach closes the esophagus, and they are unable to expel gas or excess food in the stomach by vomiting or belching 
  • Unrelieved vomiting can lead to compromises in your dog’s system such as cardiac problems and toxins being released into the bloodstream 
  • Unproductive vomiting is the key symptom that your dog is suffering from bloat which is a serious medical emergency

Diagnosis of Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs

If your dog is retching and trying to vomit, is restless, and obviously in distress, this is an emergency situation that only a veterinarian can help to rectify. A rapidly expanding abdomen will be an obvious symptom. Get someone to call ahead and warn your veterinary clinic to be prepared that you are bringing in your dog. Keep calm for your dog’s sake and try not to panic. Keep your voice soft and reassuring and be careful handling your dog. In situations like this, even the sweetest tempered dog can panic and bite or act aggressively. If there are two of you in the car it would be even better – one to drive and the other to reassure your pet. 

Your veterinarian, having been forewarned, can immediately take control once you arrive. X-rays can show d the position of the stomach. Nonproductive vomiting in dogs can produce other problems because the twisting of the stomach puts pressure on the liver, pancreas and other portions of the intestine. Combined with the blood flow being cut off from the spleen and the reduced blood flow to the heart, as well as the salt imbalance created, cardiac complications can occur. Toxins and rupture of the stomach can cause life threatening problems.

Treatment of Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs

At the veterinary clinic, time is of the essence and medicines such as intravenous fluids, pain relief and antibiotics may be administered to stabilise your dog’s condition. Your veterinarian may attempt to decompress the stomach using a tube that is inserted directly into it to allow gas to escape. A process called a gastric lavage will be performed to empty the contents of the stomach which will allow it to retreat to its normal position. These processes do not fix the twisting of the stomach if it has occurred, surgery the only option to save your dog’s life. Because of the stress that your dog has endured this can be a substantial risk, but it is the only way to save your dog. 

As your veterinarian corrects the twisting, he will check for damage to the intestinal tract. If any damage is found to the intestinal tract, the section affected may be removed. Often at this stage, the stomach is surgically attached to the abdominal wall (gastropexy procedure) to prevent the problem from reoccurring. Damage to the spleen may require the removal of the organ by a process called a splenectomy. The results of surgery depend on how quickly your dog’s condition was discovered and the time it took to get your dog to the clinic. It is also dependant on how much damage was done to other major organs, and the risk of infection.

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Recovery of Nonproductive Vomiting in Dogs

There is no way you can treat this condition at home; while nonproductive vomiting may at first seem a minor problem, it is a major life-threatening condition. Your dog will be kept at the hospital until he has recovered enough to go home. If surgery has been performed, your dog will need time to recover with plenty of rest, and restricted movement to allow healing. Bandages and dressings need to be kept clean, and continuing medications administered as advised by your veterinarian. Prevention is the best course of action, and this can sometimes be achieved by feeding small frequent meals and limiting water for one hour after the meal. Do not exercise your dog immediately after a meal, especially large dogs who can be prone to this condition. 

For giant breeds, a pre-emptive surgery whereby the stomach is tacked to the abdominal wall may be considered to prevent bloat from occurring.

Nonproductive Vomiting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals






10 Years


17 found this helpful


17 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Vomiting, Heaving
Dog vomited twice or three times and nothing has come up... also at chicken fast the other day and yeah she just seems uncomfortable Becuase I am watching her for a week I guess she misses her owner. She is a Pom and small so dont think it’s Non productive Vottiming. Maybe it’s just dry heaving.... Hoping to hear back from someone. Thanks and have a great day, Jeff

Feb. 14, 2018

17 Recommendations

Without examining Chloe I cannot say whether the cause is dry heaving or something more serious; dogs may dry heave for a variety of reasons including nausea, stray hair, foreign objects among other causes. If Chloe isn’t in any distress, I wouldn’t be too concerned; however if she is showing signs of pain and isn’t eating or drinking I would recommend getting veterinary attention. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 14, 2018

Thank you. I was very nervous and you helped a lot she is not in any distress and doesn’t do it consistently. The owner told me she periodically does that! Thanks again for your help.

Feb. 15, 2018

Chloe's Owner

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