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Home > Dogs > What Is Regurgitation in Dogs? The Differences with Vomiting

What Is Regurgitation in Dogs? The Differences with Vomiting

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Regurgitation occurs when a dog expels the contents of their esophagus, as opposed to vomiting, which is when the contents of the stomach or first section of the small intestine are expelled. Regurgitation is usually easier on the dog, happens more quickly, and won’t usually have any other signs to accompany the problem.

However, it isn’t always easy to discern between regurgitation and vomiting without inspecting the expelled material. Because regurgitation has not made it to the stomach, it will not be accompanied by bile and will not have been broken down so it will look the same as it did when eaten, although it may be accompanied by saliva and other liquid. The most common causes of regurgitation are food or liquid being consumed too quickly or the body quickly moving an object out of the esophagus.

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What Is Regurgitation in Dogs?

Regurgitation is essentially the passive expulsion of food or liquid from the esophagus, the tube-like organ that guides food from the mouth to the stomach; the material has yet not passed to the stomach. With vomiting, the dog’s stomach and diaphragmatic, abdominal, and intercostal muscles need to contract to be able to eject the contents. This isn’t necessary with regurgitation.

At the base of the esophagus, there is a ring-shaped muscle called the sphincter. This muscle allows the material to pass into the stomach but acts to prevent bile and digested and partially digested contents from flowing from the stomach back into the esophagus. Regurgitation occurs when food and liquid that have not passed through the sphincter are coughed back up. Vomiting occurs when the food has passed the sphincter.

Pug Regurgitating Food
Image By: Yekatseryna Netuk, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Regurgitation?

Regurgitation can happen with little to no warning and will appear as though the dog has just coughed up the food, liquid, or other material. It isn’t usually accompanied by any other signs. Whereas vomiting will include retching and stomach heaving, regurgitation is usually quick and effortless. If there is retching, it may be a sign that the dog is actually vomiting rather than regurgitating.

Regurgitation is no more than a mouthful of material, whereas vomiting can be several mouthfuls. The regurgitated bolus will sometimes even be cylindrical in shape, matching the shape of the esophagus.

Regurgitation does not have any bile and will appear almost identical to how it appeared when it went down. It may have some liquid around the bolus. Vomit will sometimes be accompanied by bile and most of the food will be unrecognizable compared to when it went down.

What Are the Causes of Regurgitation?

Regurgitation is a simple process and usually nothing to worry about, but there are several possible causes, and even if you do believe it was caused by overindulging or eating too quickly, you should keep an eye out for any additional signs of illness. Some of the possible causes of regurgitation include:

  • Overindulging – By far the most likely cause of regurgitation is that your dog has eaten or drank too much or consumed their food or water too quickly. There is simply too much material for your dog to be able to swallow comfortably and their body has expelled it.
  • Lodged food – Regurgitation may be an attempt to remove a lodged item, typically some food that has got stuck.
  • Esophageal Disease – Inflammation, distention or narrowing of the esophagus can cause increased instances of regurgitation and this can be difficult to spot and diagnose. Certain breeds, like Great Danes and Labrador Retrievers, are more likely to suffer conditions like megaesophagus.
  • Cancer – If there is a tumor or growth on the esophagus larynx or trachea, narrowing the lumen of the esophagus, this can cause regurgitation, as the dog will struggle to properly swallow food and other items.
Dog's Digestive System
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How Do I Care for a Dog That is Regurgitating?

Regurgitation usually occurs without warning, which means there isn’t usually much that you can do to prevent or prepare the dog. Whether you need to be concerned that the regurgitation is a sign of a bigger problem depends on the cause, and you should consider the context before contacting a vet.

If you know that your dog has swallowed something that has become lodged in their throat or esophagus, you should also consult a vet. The item may become dislodged or pass through the esophagus but if it gets stuck it could cause choking and may be fatal. A vet may be able to remove the object with forceps or another implement.

If regurgitation is a common occurrence and there’s no obvious reason, for example, your dog does routinely pick up and swallow toys or other objects, it is worth having them checked out. If your dog often regurgitates a complete or partial meal, please visit the vet. Early diagnosis of esophageal disease, and especially cancer, can improve the prognosis and ensure the best possible resolution.

Otherwise, if it is a one-off incident, keep an eye on your dog for a while, ensure they have plenty of fresh water to drink, and don’t reprimand them for regurgitating.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is It Normal for a Dog to Regurgitate?

Regurgitation is a natural response to having food or other items stuck in the throat. It also occurs when a dog eats or drinks too much, too quickly. However, regular regurgitation may be a sign of illness or another underlying problem and it is worth getting your dog checked by a vet to ensure that they are not unwell.

Why Is My Dog Regurgitating Undigested Food Hours After Eating?

Regurgitation typically occurs soon after eating or drinking, but there are a few reasons why it might occur hours after eating. The problem might not be stuck food. If your dog has swallowed a toy or anything off the floor, this may have gotten stuck and caused regurgitation. It can also be caused by stress. Megaesophagus and other esophageal conditions can cause regurgitation, and these do require vet diagnosis and treatment.

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Summary

Regurgitation is the expelling of food, liquid, or some other item from the dog’s esophagus. It is different from vomiting because the food has not passed the sphincter and entered the stomach. The process is usually quick and effortless, and the most common cause is your dog eating too rapidly or having gotten something stuck in the throat.

There may be cause for concern if your dog continues regurgitating regularly and it is worth getting them checked out by the vet, who will be able to diagnose conditions like megaesophagus, esophagitis, or cancer. If your dog has regurgitated, offer them a bowl of fresh water, and keep them under observation to ensure that they are fine. If this becomes recurrent, please bring them to the veterinary clinic.


Featured Image Credit: MODMOD, Shutterstock

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