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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

Rocky
Boxer
11 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing

Medication Used

none

We adopted our boxer pit bull mix when he was about 16 weeks old. He had been abandoned and suffered from severe deep lobe pneumonia. He is now 11 years old. He has a chronic cough and his coughing spells always end in dry retching. This began 5 years ago when we moved to Seattle. He is otherwise healthy. The vet did not find a cause when this all first began. In the past two months, the frequency of the coughing/retching episodes have greatly increased so that it it not just limited to following physical exertion anymore but almost any activity.

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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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 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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Daisy
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

retching, eating grass

Medication Used

Insulin

I have an 11 yr old, diabetic, Chesapeake. She has been retching periodically for last couple of months (usually late PM or early AM) No other changes in behavior or appetite. Our vet has done many tests (blood, sonagram etc.) but remains baffled...do you think it could be related to her diabetes or insulin...Plus she eats a fair amount of grass.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Dogs normally eat grass to help with vomiting or to settle the stomach (depends on who you ask), it is possible that Daisy has some acid reflux which may lead to the retching. Changing feeding times isn’t possible due to the diabetes, but you should keep an eye on when these episode of retching occur and if there is a specific time interval between meals or anything else. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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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.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 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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Pongo
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
5 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Mouth Salivation
Eye Redness
Eye Swollen
Nausea
Gagging
Lethargy
Shaking

I have a 5-month old Staffordshire mix and last night he started retching in the middle of the night. He hasn't been able to vomit though. I thought it stopped, but then it started up again in the morning. It's really loud too. I thought it was because he ate a pig's ear yesterday, but he's eaten, drank water, and gone to the bathroom since then so I would think it'd be out of his system by now. I went to the vet, they said it should go away within a day. But then I took him home and he became extremely lethargic and completely unlike himself. His eyes are very red. He has white fur, and the tear stains around his eyes are worse than they've ever been. He also has brown staining around his mouth. He won't let me go near his face. I can't wipe his eyes or touch his mouth or anything. I took him to the emergency room too, and they said it was probably nausea. They gave him fluids and nausea medication, but he still seems off. He's normally full of energy and wants to be around me all the time, but now he's barely moving and doesn't want me anywhere near him. It almost looks like his one eye is swollen, but he shrieks if I try to touch his face. I thought the retching stopped when he got lethargic, but it's still happening. Is there anything else this could be? I'm out of ideas.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
There are a few possible causes for retching which may include nausea, foreign objects, laryngeal disorders, infections among many other causes; however if your general Veterinarian and an emergency Veterinarian couldn’t narrow in on a cause I cannot think of anything else it may be without examining him myself. Monitor Pongo and ensure that he keep hydrated. 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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 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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Dexter
American Staffy x American bulldog
9 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Retching

My 9 month old am staff x American bulldog has been retching in the late night/ early morning for the last three nights. Nothing comes out and then he goes back to sleep but I am worried as he is currently on medication for suspected pneumonia. He was diagnosed with pneumonia two months ago based on his temperature and lung sounds alone, and went on nine days of medication. Everything seemed fine until he started having the same symptoms last week and has gone back on the medication as they think it didn't quite clear up last time. I'm worried that they may have been too quick to think it is pneumonia without further testing, especially now with the retching which he did last time as well

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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?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 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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Kyzer
Siberian Husky
8 Months
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Gagging

My 8 month old Siberian Husky has been retching for a week now. The first day we noticed he had thrown up six times in the house. All clear bile pukes and one that had dirt in it. He then proceeded to puke up bile all night. He has stopped puking up bile but it still retching throughout the day. His behaviour is normal and appetite is also normal. Should we be more worried and take him to the vet?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Vomiting and a little gagging may occur for a variety of reasons and a little tummy upset may occur from time to time; however if Kyzer is having ongoing retching all day everyday you should visit your Veterinarian as he may need something to settle his stomach. You should visit your Veterinarian but in the meantime try to feed small portions of boiled chicken and rice every few hours and ensure that he is hydrated. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Jerry
German Shepherd
6 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Retching

2 nights ago my dog Jerry was dry heaving. I heard him about 3 times throughout the night. The next day morning he let out a huge fart. He hasn't done any dry heaving since that night. My kids told me he some beans, which is something he doesn't normally eat. Is there any reason for extreme concern??

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
There are various causes for dry heaving/retching in dogs, it is possible that the ingestion of an unfamiliar food may have caused some gastrointestinal upset which lead to the dry heaving. If Jerry isn’t showing any symptoms and is in good spirits, I would keep an eye on him for the next few days but if you have any concerns visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Bey Bey
Labrador Retriever
14 Years
Serious condition
-1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Retching, dry heaving

My dog has been retching/dry heaving for several weeks. Appetite is decreased and breathing is more rapid and shallow. He has a mass in his belly but no imaging has been done yet. What is something I can do to help with the retching?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
It is important to know why Bey Bey is dry heaving, there are many causes for dry heaving and many times you need to treat or manage the underlying cause (not the dry heaving itself) in order to resolve the issue; if there is a mass in the abdomen an x-ray or ultrasound should be performed to aid in the diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

but what if your dog is doing this like every few minutes and you live in the country and have no ride to a vet

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Coco
Labradoodle
3 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

None other

Medication Used

10 mg Pepsid

Our three year old labradoodle has been periodically retching and vomiting bile in the morning since a puppy. We have been on 10 mg acid reducer morning and night for the past three weeks. Also, we have tried larger feeding at night (approx 10pm) while reducing daytime feeding without changing quantity. Blood work, x-ray, stools, and energy normal. Last vet visit indicated trying nexium as next step.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
That can be a frustrating problem to try and correct. It sounds like your veterinarian is doing a thorough job trying to figure out why Coco is having that problem - perhaps an endoscopic biopsy of his stomach may be the next step? I hope that you are able to resolve this problem for him.

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Isabell
Chihuahua
5 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing Gagging Retching

I have a 5 month old Chihuahua that we got 2 weeks ago. 3 nights ago she started coughing and then gagging. We have very poor air quality as our Province is currently experiencing some major wild fires. Isabell is fine until she eats or runs around and gets excited. Then she will start to cough then unproductive gagging, which produces nothing, but is distressing to her at the time. Isabell weighs 3.2 pounds and seems to be eating and doing her business as normal. Please help as im freaking out, Thanks K.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
There are various causes for gagging and retching which may include over activity after eating leading to gastric reflux, air pollution quality among other causes; try to keep Isabell calm after eating and try to feed in smaller portions more often. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Sophie
Great Pyrenees
9 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Hi there, for maybe two months Sophie has been occasionally retching about 10-20 min after eating food. It is usually just one or two retches and then she is fine. Should this be a cause for alarm? There hasn't been any change in her energy levels etc.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
There are various different causes for retching in dogs which may include nausea, acid reflux, bloating (Great Pyrenees dogs may be prone to gastric dilatation and volvulus - but depends on the textbook you reference), respiratory conditions among other causes; if these episodes are infrequent I would keep an eye on them and try to determine if there is a trigger like a treat or anything else which may be causing the retching. If the retching continues, you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Messi
Labrador Retriever
8 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Retching

Hello, my Labrador/Lurcher cross Messi has been having unproductive retching that lasts no longer than a few seconds at random intervals during the day for the past two weeks. He eats grass any time we're out for a walk and overall he has a great appetite. He's a healthy dog but this is worryingly unusual. He did chew on a bone which was quite hard for a few days prior to the retching beginning, which I had to take from him as his gums began to bleed. I wonder if there is some of it lodged in his throat.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Messi may have a GI upset from that bone, since this all seems to have started after the bone. He may need medication to help soothe and calm his GI tract. You can try feeding him a bland diet of chicken and rice for a few days, but if that does not help, he should see a veterinarian for an examination.

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Oscar
Labrador Retriever
11 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

none
Dry retching

Medication Used

nil

My labrador has had occasional dry retching over the past 3 months, initially once or twice several times a week but now mostly daily and sometimes several times daily. Bad 'attack' last night. He is 11 years old. Seems totally fit and well. excellent appetite, running about, wagging his tail, NO weight loss, no apparent pain. (no drooling, no pacing, fine in himself at all times apart from brief episodes dry retching, usually less than a minute. last night about 2 minutes couple of times in close succession.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
There are various causes for retching in dogs which may be as simple as a stray hair or may be more serious; foreign objects, laryngeal disorders, tracheal issues, thyroid enlargement, gastrointestinal upset among other issues. Try to keep track of episodes to determine if there is a pattern or if they occur after a specific event (treat, exercise etc…). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Tulip
Cock-apoo
9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Gagging, Retching, Reverse Sneezing

I have a 9 year old cockapoo (10lbs). She has several symptoms that include gagging, retching, and reverse sneezing. She has had blood samples taken and an examination of the throat and nasal passages using a scope and nothing was found. She did have yellow mucus too, but seems to be less although we can hear it rattle around in her especially when she wakes in the morning. She is still bright and alert and still eats her meals with no issue. We are at a bit of a loss and wondering what should we do next.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
It is difficult to think what may be causing Tulip’s symptoms since all tests came back negative; nausea, neurological disorders among other may lead to retching and gagging but it is really difficult to say. Keep an eye on Tulip and visit your Veterinarian if any other symptoms present. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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