This article was updated on January 28th, 2024
Vomiting is a dog’s way of ridding the digestive tract of potentially harmful things. While we often see dogs throwing up food, they can also throw up bile if the stomach is empty. A loss of appetite is also often a sign that a pup isn’t feeling well, especially in the digestive area.
When we put those two symptoms together (not eating + throwing up bile), we have a dog that isn’t feeling well for a number of reasons. In this article, Dr. Chyrle Bonk explains the most likely reasons with tips to help your dog.
Common reasons why dogs may not eat and throw up bile
1. Gastrointestinal diseases
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. Symptoms include:
- not eating,
- bile seeps back into the stomach, creating vomiting.
- stomach pain,
- 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.
2. 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.
The most common symptoms include:
- recurrent episodes of vomiting, particularly bile or yellow foamy material,
- vomiting usually occurring in the morning or late night after a period of not eating
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.
3. Gastrointestinal obstruction
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. Most common symptoms:
- abdominal pain,
- vomiting and/or diarrhea,
- loss of appetite, and
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.
5. Food allergies
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 allergic dogs 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. Symptoms of food allergies include:
- chronic ear inflammation,
- gastrointestinal problems, and
- itchy skin, particularly around the face, feet, and ears.
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.
Tips to help your dog at home
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:
- A well-functioning digestive tract supports a good appetite and normal immune function
- 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 you can try to treat your dog at home
Some mild cases of not eating and throwing up bile in dogs may fix themselves with a little TLC at home:
- 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.
When to consult the vet
Some dogs may have a more severe underlying cause that will need to be addressed by your vet.
- 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.
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.
What is 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?
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.