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What is Retching?

Retching is the action of vomiting that is not productive, or does not produce vomit. In many cases, retching, or dry heaving, will precede vomiting, while in others, it may only produce a small amount of mucus or bile. Extreme coughing can also progress into retching. Noticing any other symptoms concurrent with the retching can help you and your veterinarian to discover the true cause. Reasons your dog may be retching include:

  • Respiratory disease
  • Collapsing trachea
  • Throat obstruction 
  • Nausea
  • Bloat
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Bilious vomiting syndrome

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Why Retching Occurs in Dogs

Respiratory Disease

There are many respiratory diseases and conditions that produce a severe cough that can lead to retching. One such disease is kennel cough, a highly contagious disease also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis. Kennel cough can be caused by a number of viruses and bacteria, including the Bordetella bacteria. This airborne disease can be coughed into the air, infecting any other dogs in the area. A dry and unproductive cough and a characteristic “goose honk” can lead to pneumonia, weight loss, and lethargy. 

Collapsing Trachea 

The trachea, or windpipe, stretches from the neck to the chest and allows air to flow to the lungs. 

Due to a hereditary defect of some breeds, such as Poodles and Pomeranians, the cartilage rings that make up the trachea can weaken and cause an obstruction. This can cause severe coughing which can end in gagging and retching. 

Throat Obstruction 

Most dog owners have witnessed their dogs eat foreign objects. Balls, rocks, sticks, tissues, and other non-edible things can become lodged in the throat and cause a blockage. This can lead to gagging, retching, and vomiting. Other signs there is something caught in your dog’s throat might include audible breathing noises, drooling, pawing at the face, and pacing. In some cases, your dog may vomit out the foreign material, but when it is lodged too securely, unproductive dry heaving can result.

Nausea

Nausea can be caused by many things. If your dog has eaten something that has upset his stomach, he may retch and attempt to expel the noxious material. Eating too much food, or too quickly, can also cause your dog to heave. Certain medications may cause nausea, as can infections in the ear. Motion sickness is commonly seen in dogs, and can result in additional symptoms of whining, pacing, drooling, and diarrhea. 

Bloat

Bloat can be confusing, as it can refer to three different conditions. A case of simple bloat occurs when a lot of air is swallowed, such as if food is eaten too quickly, and causes the abdomen to swell. This type is often relieved through belching or retching. Gastric dilatation (GD) occurs when the stomach fills with gas, while gastric dilatation with concurrent volvulus (GVD) results in a twisted stomach that can become a life-threatening condition needing immediate medical care. While the cause has been hotly debated, the symptoms of unproductive retching with a bloated abdomen can be indications of one of these more serious conditions. Other symptoms can include shallow and rapid breathing, abdominal pain, and restlessness.  

Gastrointestinal Issues

Besides bloating, other gastrointestinal complaints can result in retching. Various infections, digestive issues, organ malfunction, tumors, and certain diseases such as gastroenteritis, can cause symptoms that may include vomiting. An obstruction or impaction in the intestines can cause a disruption in the entire digestive system as food and fluids cannot pass through. All of these kinds of conditions will present additional symptoms, so be sure to relate any you have noticed in your dog to your veterinarian to help in a diagnosis.

Bilious Vomiting Syndrome 

Bile is a yellowish green substance that aids your dog in digestion. When the stomach is empty, there is nothing to absorb the bile and stomach acids, and this can cause nausea and retching. Bilious vomiting syndrome (BVS) occurs when this buildup of bile causes irritation to the stomach lining over a long period of time. Vomiting occurs when the stomach is empty, usually in the morning or late at night, and can produce a frothy yellow vomit. Other signs include lethargy, drooling, decreased appetite, pale gums, and dehydration.

What to do if your Dog is Retching

Vomiting or retching that occurs often in your dog should be a cause for alarm. Your veterinarian should be informed of all the symptoms you have noticed, if the retching has been accompanied by any vomited material or has been unproductive, if your dog has eaten anything he shouldn’t have recently, and his general eating habits. A physical examination may include feeling his abdomen for any bloat and checking the skin elasticity. Any samples of vomited material can be examined. Often, bloodwork, a urinalysis and fecal testing are performed. 

Imaging techniques such as X-rays, ultrasounds, and fluoroscopy can reveal the presence of an obstruction, tumor, a twisted stomach, or a collapsing trachea. Exploratory endoscopy or surgery may be needed to definitely diagnose the problem causing the retching. 

Treatment will follow according to the condition in your dog. Your vet may attempt to induce vomiting in some cases. Immediate surgery may be needed for obstructions or impactions in the throat or intestines, or for a twisted stomach. These can be life-threatening conditions that will need to be remedied without delay. Appropriate fluids and anesthesia will be given. Any infections or viruses, such as those implicated in kennel cough, can be treated with antibiotics, cough suppressants, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Dogs with kennel cough will need to be isolated from other dogs to prevent spreading this disease. 

While a case of simple bloat is relieved through belching or retching, gastric dilation can benefit from stomach pumping. There is no cure for a collapsed trachea, but it can be managed with cough suppressants, anti-inflammatories, bronchodilators, antibiotics to control infections, and keeping the dog’s weight under control, as obesity can complicate the condition. Surgically, an expandable stent or a rigid prosthesis can be inserted.

Prevention of Retching

It may be hard to predict when your dog may succumb to an illness, but there are steps you can take to prevent his risk. Monitor your dog’s area for items he may eat that could cause an obstruction, and teach him good eating habits that discourage the intake of too much air during meals. Vaccinating your dog can lower his risk of becoming infected by many types of viruses and bacteria. If you have a breed that is at a higher risk for GDV, you can have your dog’s stomach tacked to prevent this potentially fatal condition from occurring.

Cost of Retching

Costs for treatment of a condition that can cause retching in your dog can vary considerably. For cases of a simple bloat or an obstruction that can be relieved by vomit induction, your costs may only be around $50 or more. For more serious conditions, such as the respiratory kennel cough, treatment can average $650. A throat obstruction that needs more serious treatment can range from $1200 to $6000, while a collapsed trachea can average $1800.

Retching Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Banksy
Boxer
14 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Retching

My 14 month old boxer hasn't really eaten for a day and I've seen him retching last night and now this morning. He's in good spirits but I am wondering if this warrants a vet check-up or if I should just keep an eye on him? He tore up a pillow several days ago so I am sure he ate some of that stuffing but I don't believe he's gotten to anything else.

Michele King
Dr. Michele King, DVM
265 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. If Bansky ate the stuffing a few days ago, is inappetant and nauseous/retching, that does warrant a visit to your veterinarian. The stuffing in toys and pillows can cause intestinal irritations, and possible blockages. They may want to take an x-ray to make sure that he isn't having a problem with a blockage. They'll be able to examine him, decide if further steps need to be taken, or give him medication to help him if he needs it. I hope that he is okay!

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Zeus
Husky
8 Weeks
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea,
Heaving

Medication Used

none

My puppy has had diarrhea mainly at night basically since we got him last week. I have noticed its not quite as often as it started out. He eats, drinks, and plays as normal and doesnt appear to be in any discomfort or pain. This morning he acted like he was going to vomit twice after eating, but never did and he never has. He went to the vet and got his first set of shots, exam, and a fecal test which came back negative, however, the weird attempted vomiting has me worried. What should I do?

Michele King
Dr. Michele King, DVM
265 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm glad that you are paying attention to Zeus, as puppies can develop problems quickly when they are little. If his diarrhea hasn't resolved, it may be due to a dietary change, or parasites - some parasites don't shed eggs continuously, so we need to look at a few fecal samples to identify the parasite and treat it. It would be a good idea to follow up with your veterinarian since the diarrhea isn't getting better and this retching has started to see what can be done. I hope that Zeus clears this up quickly!

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Maverick
Australian Shepherd/Brittany Spaniel/Siberan Husk
2 Years 9 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Retching
Fur Loss
nervous

My dog retches unproductively and sometimes loses chunks of his fur (this is according to my mother, I don't live at the house). I have taken him to a veterinarian on multiple occasions and have gotten no definitive answer. His vital signs are normal, he doesn't seem to have other symptoms other than loss of fur; I believe his blood work the last time I took him yielded nothing to be worried about, according to the vet.

He isn't losing bits of fur as much as he was during the summer, so I believe this is just shedding. What's odd is that this last summer was really the first time he started actually losing fur. I can't find any bald patches on him.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1811 Recommendations
There are a few possible causes but if your Veterinarian has checked him over and performed a few blood tests, then the usual suspect would have been ruled out. Seasonal shedding isn’t uncommon and a dog which may lick itself may get a stray hair stuck in the throat which can lead to retching or other issues in an attempt to dislodge the hair. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Lola
Golden Retriever
9
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My dog started retching last night and her breathing changes immediately after retching. After a minute or two she becomes normal again. Her retching calms down after drinking water. She is still in good spirits and has not stopped eating or doing her necessities.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1811 Recommendations
Retching has multiple causes and a one off event shouldn’t worry you, stray hairs can induce retching can clear up as fast as it starts. Being out of breath is normal after retching if Lola was unable to get an adequate amount of oxygen whilst she was retching. I would keep an eye on her and if this continues you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to see if there is an infection, foreign object or other cause leading to this. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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