Vomiting is one of the main reasons veterinarians see dogs. It’s something they do a lot of when they eat something they shouldn’t have or if they’re having digestive issues related to food, inflammation or an infection. What you might not realize is that throwing up bile is considered vomiting as well even though no solids actually come up. Throwing up bile has its own set of causes, and when you add in not eating, you may be looking at something minor or something serious. Here’s what you need to know.
Overview of dogs not eating and throwing up bile
Vomiting is a dog’s way of ridding the digestive tract of irritants or potentially harmful things. While we often see dogs throwing up food, they can also throw up bile if the stomach is empty.
Not eating is often a sign that a pup isn’t feeling well, especially in the digestive area. When we put those two things together, we have a dog that isn’t feeling well for a number of reasons that causes them to not want to eat. The brain and digestive system continue to try to get rid of something it deems bad by throwing up. Since the dog isn’t eating and the stomach is empty, the only thing that comes up is the digestive juices found in the stomach as well as bile. So, there are the basics, now let’s explore the potential causes.
Common reasons why dogs may not eat and throw up bile
Bile is a digestive juice that is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the small intestine. Its main job is to break down fats and neutralize stomach acid to protect the small intestine. But just because bile is released into the small intestine doesn’t mean that it always stays there. Bile can sneak back into the stomach, creating a reaction that may lead to vomiting. What allows for that backflow of bile? Here are a few causes:
Inflammation in the gastrointestinal system can lead to vomiting bile and not eating in dogs. Viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, ulcers, inflammatory conditions, and some cancers can create this inflammation that makes a dog feel pretty blah, not eat, and allow bile to seep back into the stomach, creating vomiting. Dogs may also have stomach pain, a fever, diarrhea, and blood in the vomit or diarrhea. These signs may come on suddenly and violently or progress gradually over time.
Dogs with any kind of GI issue should be seen by a vet for proper diagnosis. This may include a fecal, blood work, imaging, biopsies and some trial treatments with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, supportive care, and a change in diet.
Bilious vomiting syndrome
Bile is typically released after a dog has eaten, as food moves from the stomach to the small intestine. However, in some dogs it may be released even when a dog hasn’t eaten for a long period, such as overnight. During these times of fasting, bile may be released that then leaks into the empty stomach and causes vomiting. Because of this upset stomach, dogs may also not want to eat and may appear nauseous by drooling, panting, or smacking their lips.
Bilious vomiting syndrome can often be diagnosed by ruling out other conditions that lead to vomiting bile and not eating and by noting how long after eating the throwing up occurs. It can usually be successfully treated by feeding smaller meals, including one late at night so there isn’t as much time in between meals. Sometimes antacids may be needed as well.
Some dogs are indiscriminate eaters, meaning anything that fits into their mouth is fair game for a meal. Sometimes those items that go in are too big to get through the digestive tract and get lodged, creating an obstruction. This can lead to a back up of bile into the stomach, thus creating vomiting and not eating. You may also see weight loss, stomach pain, and lethargy.
Dogs often require surgery to remove intestinal obstructions and it can come on as an emergency. Your vet may be able to feel the obstruction or see it on imaging.
The pancreas plays a role in digestion by producing many digestive enzymes. It can also become inflamed, creating a very painful condition called pancreatitis. This often comes on after a high fat meal or for unknown reasons. Pancreatitis is painful enough to make a dog not want to eat, and that coupled with the inflammation can lead to vomiting bile. Dogs may also have diarrhea.
Pancreatitis can be diagnosed by the signs along with bloodwork and possibly imaging. It is often treated with antibiotics, supportive care, anti-inflammatories and a bland diet.
Dogs can develop allergies or sensitivities to ingredients in their food. Most commonly these allergies are to the protein part of the food, namely chicken, beef, or egg. When they eat those ingredients, it creates inflammation in the digestive system that can cause throwing up bile and not wanting to eat. Frequent and abrupt changes in diet can also create similar issues.
Dogs with food allergies often require an elimination diet or food trial to determine what ingredients they are allergic to so that they can avoid it. Starting a novel protein or limited ingredient diet will often reduce throwing up bile and keep appetites up.
Of course, these aren’t the only issues that can cause a dog to not eat and then throw up bile. Chronic illnesses such as Addison’s disease, kidney disease, and cancer can all make a dog feel like not eating, which in turn can bring on vomiting bile. Your best bet is to get a proper veterinary diagnosis.
What to do when my dog is not eating and throwing up bile
Throwing up bile and not eating may be alarming and often deserves immediate veterinary care. However, in some cases, you may be able to offer some comfort at home. This is for those mild cases where your pup has only vomited once or twice and is otherwise feeling normal. If this fits your dog you may try:
- Withholding food for 6-12 hours: most of the time this is easy since they aren’t eating anyway.
- After the withholding period, try feeding a bland diet, such as boiled chicken and rice, in small amounts.
- Offer small amounts of water instead of giving them free choice. Large amounts of water on an empty stomach can trigger further vomiting.
- Give some canned pumpkin or probiotics to help settle an upset stomach. See example product on Amazon below:
- Probios microbial products contain live (viable) microorganisms intended to supplement the digestive system of animals.
- Call the vet if the vomiting doesn’t stop after 24 hours or if your pup starts showing other signs of stomach pain, not drinking, lethargy or a fever.
When to consult the vet about a dog not eating and throwing up bile
Some mild cases of not eating and throwing up bile in dogs may fix themselves with a little TLC at home. However, some may have a more severe underlying cause that will need to be addressed by your vet.
In general, one or two vomiting episodes within 24 hours without any other signs of stomach pain or lethargy could be monitored at home. Not eating for 12-24 hours may also be normal with a little stomach upset.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
On the other hand, vomiting bile or not eating for longer than 24 hours should be checked out. Other signs of diarrhea, stomach pain, lethargy, or a fever should be seen as soon as possible.
If your pup doesn’t eat and throws up bile occasionally, let’s say once or twice a week, for multiple weeks, consider getting them an appointment. This could indicate a chronic issue that should be tracked down.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if my dogs vomits bile occasionally?
Occasional vomiting in most dogs is a fairly normal issue. What isn’t normal is intermittently throwing up bile on a regular basis. This may mean that your dog has a food allergy or other chronic issue that should be checked out by a vet.
Is it normal for a dog to skip meals for 1 day?
Skipping a meal here or there is usually no big deal. A dog’s appetite may wane due to heat or minor discomforts or illnesses. This includes an upset stomach from eating something they shouldn’t have, overeating, or stress. If your dog turns down their food for a day but aren’t showing any other signs of illness, you may choose to monitor them and continue offering food. If they don’t eat for more 2 days in a row, it’s time to get a vet appointment.
Can I give my dog over-the-counter medication for vomiting?
You shouldn’t give your dog any medications without first talking to your vet. If your dog has a mild case of not eating and throwing up bile, you may choose to contact your vet and monitor at home. Based on what you tell your vet, they may advise you to give something to soothe your dog’s upset stomach. Again, don’t give anything without veterinary supervision.
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Are there any specific breeds more prone to vomiting bile without eating?
There’s nothing breed-specific about not eating and throwing up bile, but there may be some breed predilections to underlying causes. For example, miniature Schnauzers are more prone to pancreatitis and labs and Cocker Spaniels are more prone to developing food allergies.