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What is Dry Heaving?

Dry heaving, also called retching, is an attempt to vomit without regurgitating any stomach contents. This symptom is often accompanied by gagging, coughing, and drooling. It's not unusual for dogs to dry heave after vomiting up all the food in their stomach.  

Dry heaving is sometimes confused with reverse sneezing, which, unlike dry heaving, has nothing to do with digestion but rather irritants in the airway causing a snorting or honking sound. Dry heaving is also different from coughing and vomiting, though it's not unusual for all 3 of these symptoms to occur at the same time. Dry heaving can be caused by:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Bloat
  • Eating too quickly
  • Obstructions
  • Heart or lung conditions
  • Kennel cough
  • Allergies
  • Medication side effects
  • Tumors
  • Intestinal conditions

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Why Dry Heaving Occurs in Dogs

There are many reasons why a dog may suddenly start dry heaving. Typically, dry heaving is a mild symptom that will resolve itself, but it's best to have your dog cleared by a veterinarian to be on the safe side. Let's explore the most common causes of dry heaving in dogs. 

Nausea and stomach upset

Nausea

is a common cause of dry heaving in both dogs and humans. Nausea can stem from all types of tummy upset in canines, like eating something they aren't supposed to or being overly hungry.

Nausea can be treated at home with anti-nausea meds, though you should talk to your vet about what type of medication is safe for your pet. Normally, your will ask you to bring your dog in if they are experiencing tummy troubles like dry heaving, vomiting, and diarrhea since there may be something more serious at play. 

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

or bloat, as it's more commonly known, is another cause of dry heaving in dogs. Bloat is a serious condition in which the stomach contorts and rapidly fills with air. Aside from dry heaving, other symptoms of this condition include sudden swelling of the abdomen, salivation, and whining.

If you suspect your dog has Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, you should take them to the vet straight away. Bloat is a life-threatening condition that can send dogs into shock in just a couple of hours.

Eating too quickly

Scarfing down food too quickly is one of the most common causes of dry heaving. Eating kibble (or any food) too fast increases the likelihood that food will get stuck in the throat. When this happens, the body will often cough and dry heave as a way to remove the obstruction.

Obstruction of the throat, mouth, or GI tract

As we mentioned above, obstructions in the throat, mouth, or GI tract can lead to dry heaving in dogs. An obstruction is a serious condition that requires immediate veterinary attention.

In addition to dry heaving, dogs with a throat or mouth obstruction will typically paw at their face, cough, and choke. Signs of a lower GI tract obstruction include severe constipation, vomiting, and fatigue. The vet will examine the dog visually for obstructions, and if they cannot locate it that way, they'll perform an x-ray. Surgery may be necessary for some obstructions. 

Cardiovascular or respiratory conditions 

Dry heaving can also indicate heart or lung conditions like heartworms. Certain heart and lung conditions can irritate or obstruct the respiratory tract causing dry heaving. Other signs your dog may have a lung or heart condition include tiring quickly, vomiting, and changes in activity level.

Diagnosing a heart or lung condition can be tricky and often involves a lot of bloodwork and scans. Early treatment for heart and lung conditions is paramount. Consult your vet immediately if your dog is exhibiting any of the above symptoms. 

Kennel cough

Kennel cough

, also known as Bordetella, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that affects canines. Dry heaving along with a honking cough are two telltale signs of this condition.

Kennel cough usually resolves on its own without the use of medications, but it's essential that you quarantine your pet from other dogs if you suspect they have this condition. 

Allergies

Allergies, particularly food allergies, are another leading cause of dry heaving in dogs. Common food allergies among dogs include grains, gluten, and certain types of meat. Dry heaving due to environmental allergies is also possible and may result from swelling of the face, tongue, or throat.

If you suspect your dog is having a severe allergic reaction or is experiencing swelling of the face, throat, or tongue, you need to take them to the vet immediately — these symptoms may indicate anaphylaxis, which can be deadly if left untreated. 

Intestinal conditions  

Some intestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) can also contribute to dry heaving in dogs. Dry heaving caused by intestinal diseases are usually accompanied by blood or mucus in the feces or vomitus, throwing up, stomach pain, constipation, and bloating. 

Tumors

Tumors or polyps on the throat

or lungs are also known to trigger canine dry heaving fits. Dogs with tumors or polyps will usually cough so hard that it triggers the gag reflex, causing them to dry heave. See your vet if your dog has a persistent dry cough since this can signal tumors or other respiratory conditions.

Medication side effects

Certain medications can also cause dry heaving in dogs. Like humans, dogs may get nauseous when taking meds on an empty stomach. Alternatively, dry heaving after taking medicine can also point to a drug allergy or sensitivity.

Talk to your vet if your dog is consistently dry heaving or vomiting after taking their medication. The vet may need to change the medicine or alter the dosage. If the cause of dry heaving is indeed a drug allergy, your vet may be able to pinpoint the culprit ingredient so you can avoid it in the future.

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What to do if your Dog is Dry Heaving

The first thing you need to do if your dog is dry heaving is assess your dog. Check to make sure there's nothing lodged in your pet's throat or mouth. Watch your dog for trouble breathing, changes in behavior, coughing, swelling of the abdomen, or blue gums or tongue. If you believe your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, contact a veterinarian immediately since this could be a medical emergency. 

If you suspect your dog is just nauseous, you can give your pup vet-approved nausea meds from the start of symptom onset. Usually, bouts of dry heaving will end on their own, but if your dog cannot stop dry heaving — or has these spells regularly — seek veterinary attention. 

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Prevention of Dry Heaving

There are a few things you can do to prevent dry heaving in dogs. If you believe eating too fast is the cause, try pacing your dog's feedings with a food puzzle or slow feeder. Slow feeders make dogs work for their food and, as the name suggests, slows the dog's eating.

Monitor your dog's diet carefully when your dog is prone to dry heaving. Make sure Fido isn't eating things they shouldn't, like grass, which can irritate the throat and cause dry heaving.

You may be able to prevent your dog from dry heaving after taking medications by giving them a small amount of food before administering their meds. If you use the dry pilling method, make sure you offer your dog water or some broth afterward since dry heaving may be a sign that the medication is stuck in their throat.

Avoid feeding your dog kibble that contains soybean meal or high amounts of fats or oils since these ingredients are known to increase the risk of bloat and irritate intestinal conditions like IBS. Dogs who eat two meals a day are less likely to bloat than those who eat just one meal a day, so you might want to split your pup's meals between two feedings. Some vets also suggest using a raised feeder for your dog bowls to ward off bloat. 

Getting your pup vaccinated against kennel cough is the only way to prevent dry heaving due to Bordetella. It's also important to put your pup on heartworm preventative medications since heartworms are not only deadly and costly to treat but can cause dry heaving too. 

Unfortunately, some causes of dry heaving cannot be prevented; these include respiratory, cardiovascular, and intestinal conditions and tumors. 

If your dog is at risk of developing a cardiovascular condition, check out ourpet insurance comparison tool. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like FIGO and Nationwide.

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Cost of Dry Heaving

The cost of treating dry heaving depends on the underlying issue and its severity. For instance, the treatment for bloat is quite expensive, ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Treatment for kennel cough, on the other hand, typically costs around $650. If your dog is diagnosed with an intestinal blockage and requires surgery, you can expect to pay between $7,000 and $8,000. The average cost to treat a tumor on the throat is around $8,500. 

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Dry Heaving Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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