What Should I Do if My Old Dog Vomits [3 Tips from a Vet]

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This article was updated on January 26th, 2024

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Vomiting is a symptom that always causes concern amongst owners, and for good reason. While vomiting can be a sign of a very mild tummy upset, in older dogs it can often indicate more serious underlying disease including kidney disease, pancreatis or even cancer.

It’s therefore crucial to have a good idea of what may be causing the vomiting and when you need to seek veterinary advice. In this article, our veterinarians Dr. Alex Crow and Dr. Jamie Whittenburg explains when to worry and what to do.

A one-off vomiting episode may not be a concern

The frequency of vomiting is something owners should pay attention to, as Dr. Crow explains:

“A one-off vomiting episode may not be anything to worry about if your elderly dog is well in himself and not showing other signs of illness such as lethargy or diarrhea; many dogs will vomit if they’ve eaten grass, for example.”

Dr. Alex Crow

Veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com

For dogs with no other signs of illness, try withholding food for 24 hours and slowly introducing bland food

Depending on the situation and the cause, there are some things that an owner can do to help alleviate their dog’s symptoms. Please note that these tips or home remedies are not a substitute for veterinary care, and only apply to mild cases:

1. Withhold food for 24 hours. This can help clear out your dog’s intestinal system and prevents overloading the stomach with food which may lead to vomiting.

2. Provide small amounts of water during this period.

3. Slowly introduce bland foods: this could include boiled chicken, rice, and scrambled egg. Keep offering bland foods to your dog for several days, if needed. This will help calm their upset stomachs. Learn more about bland diets for dogs.

If the above does the trick, then your dog may have had a simple case of gastrointestinal upset.

If your senior dog throws up multiple times or seems sick in other ways, it’s important to talk to your vet.

However, if your dog has made a habit of vomiting multiple times a day and otherwise seems lethargic or unwell, then veterinary attention may be required. Here are some of the signs of illness you should pay attention to:

  • Loss of appetite or refusing to eat
  • Diarrhea or changes in bowel movements
  • Lethargy or decreased energy
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Excessive drooling or swallowing
  • Changes in drinking habits
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Unusual behavior or restlessness
  • Fever

Most common reasons causing older dogs to throw up

old dog couching or throwing up

Here are some of the most common causes of vomiting in older dogs and what can be done to help:

Gastrointestinal infection

This is particularly likely if your elderly dog has a habit of eating things they shouldn’t.

  • Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain.
  • What it is: an older dog’s immune system is not as strong as it used to be, and your dog may not be as resilient to eating rotten things as they once were as a puppy. It is important to be aware that there can be diseases that can leave senior dogs more susceptible to gastrointestinal infections, so if this becomes a frequent occurrence, it’s something that should be investigated by your vet.
  • Treatment: usually, a gut infection can be treated easily with anti-vomiting medication and antibiotics. (Some dogs may need more intensive treatment involving hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy.)

Liver/Kidney disease

  • Symptoms: vomiting, increased thirst and urination, weight loss, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
  • What it is: there are various potential causes of liver or kidney disease, from infection and inflammation to poisoning. Regardless of the underlying agent responsible, vomiting will often be a symptom shown as toxins build up in the bloodstream resulting in nausea.
  • Diagnosis/Treatment: a simple blood test can help identify how well certain organs are functioning, possibly pointing towards the disease of the liver or kidneys. Treatment will vary on the exact cause, but the sooner disease is detected, the better the prognosis.


  • Symptoms: pancreatitis will often result in vomiting, diarrhea, and general unwellness (for example lethargy or loss of appetite).
  • What it is: the pancreas plays a key role in processing most of the fat your dog eats, so when it becomes overloaded, often pancreatitis ensues. Infection and inflammation of the pancreas result in nausea.
  • Diagnosis/Treatment: diagnosis is via a blood test. Treatment of anything but mild cases of pancreatitis often involves intensive hospitalization, fluid therapy, and antibiotics.


  • Symptoms: vomiting, weight loss, decreased appetite, abdominal swelling, and changes in bowel movements.
  • What it is: cancer in the guts will often lead to vomiting as any tumor that blocks the passage of food along the intestines only leaves one other direction for it to come back out!
  • Diagnosis/Treatment: cancer is often diagnosed through a combination of blood tests and ultrasound scans but isn’t always detectable. Samples of the tumor can often be taken by endoscope for analysis. Treatment and prognosis will depend on the type of cancer. While jumping to the conclusion that your dog may have intestinal cancer isn’t always the first choice, it is important to be aware of this as a potential reality.

Certain medications

  • Symptoms: some medications may cause vomiting as a side effect. In these cases, the vomiting is usually mild.
  • What it is: certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can uncommonly cause gut irritation and vomiting. These include drugs such as meloxicam used to treat pain and arthritis. Vomiting can also occur after a general anesthetic as some of the drugs, particularly opioids, can cause nausea.
  • Diagnosis/Treatment: vomiting in these cases is usually not much to worry about and will resolve within a short period of time. If the vomiting doesn’t stop after 24 hours, then visit your local vet.

Intestinal parasites / worms

Parasitic disease and worms can affect dogs when they are older just as much as when they’re young, especially if they are known for eating things they shouldn’t.

  • Symptoms (worms): vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, a bloated abdomen, coughing, and visible worms in stool.
  • What it is: an overload of worms can result in damage to the intestinal lining and the release of toxins, resulting in nausea. Dogs with a high worm burden will often also have diarrhea and even vomit worms.
  • Diagnosis/Treatment: treatment of parasitic disease is done through anti-worming medication. It’s important to keep your dog up to date with a regular worming regime, even when they are elderly.

Other causes:

Car sickness: many dogs hate traveling, and being in the car can make them feel very nauseous. If you notice a clear relationship between your dog traveling and them vomiting, then it’s likely that the cause is motion sickness. There are various medications that your vet can prescribe to help, but the best cure is training. Get your dog used to being in the car, even if you don’t drive anywhere. Slowly build up journey time from there, starting with just 5-minute drives.

Foreign object ingestion: if your dog has suddenly started violently vomiting, seemingly out of nowhere, then one potential concern is if they have ingested a foreign object that has become trapped within the gastrointestinal system. If your old dog has a tendency to chew up toys and eat pieces that they shouldn’t, then there is a possibility that those parts may have become stuck. This will result in blockage of the intestines, therefore only leaving one direction for food to come out – the mouth.

This is an emergency, and your vet will likely want to perform X-rays to check for a blockage and may even need to operate on your dog to remove the foreign object.

See the vet in these cases:

  • If your dog’s vomiting doesn’t improve with basic home care, or recurs shortly afterward,
  • if the vomiting has been going on for days or weeks or gradually increases in frequency,
  • if your dog is otherwise unwell.

Your vet will perform a full clinical exam, looking for signs of pain and checking your dog’s temperature. From this point, they may trial symptomatic treatment or decide to perform further investigations. These may include blood tests to check various organs’ function, protein levels, and white blood cell counts, or X-rays to look for any internal blockage.

Vomiting can indicate anything from a mild stomach upset to a more severe, even life-threatening, disease. For this reason, you can never be too safe; take your dog to the vet at the first signs of vomiting.

Is your dog vomiting or regurgitating?

It’s also important to make the distinction between vomiting and regurgitation since the two phenomena have very different causes and, therefore, very different treatments:

Regurgitation: in contrast to vomiting, regurgitation is more of a passive process and will often result in non-digested food coming back up: the food is chewed, mixed with a bit of saliva or mucus. Regurgitation is a sudden & effortless expulsion, sometimes in cylindrical shape (it often retains the shape of the esophagus). Learn more.

Vomiting: Vomit typically appears as partially digested food mixed with bile or stomach acids, often in a more liquid, disorganized form.

If you’re not sure, take a video of your dog displaying what you think is vomiting, and the vet can help make this distinction.

To learn more about regurgitation, read our article:
Why Dogs Throw Up Undigested Food [with 7 Tips from Our Vet]

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  • Dr Alex Crow, Veterinary Surgeon

    Alex Crow, VetMed MRCVS, is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center in England. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine in 2019 from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world) and has more than three years of experience practicing as a small animal veterinarian (dogs and cats).

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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