Dog Vomiting White Foam: Causes and Treatment

As humans, we don’t typically run to the doctor for a single episode of vomiting. We can usually tell when we have a little bug or if something more severe is happening. Because our pets can’t talk, it’s harder to know what to do when they vomit or how concerned you should be. 

White, foamy dog vomit is a relatively common reason dogs visit the vet. While it could be a benign symptom, there are times when white foam dog vomit can indicate a severe underlying condition.

Read on to learn why your dog might be vomiting white foam, what it means when your dog has white foam vomit and when to seek veterinary attention.

Dog Vomiting White Foam: Is It a Cause for Concern?

All dogs will occasionally have an upset stomach and vomit. It can be alarming when it happens, but it’s important to observe your pet for any other signs of illness or repeated episodes of throwing up. You should also take note of the color and contents of the vomit. 

White foam vomit typically occurs due to extra gas and saliva in the stomach. Gas in the stomach mixes with liquids to create a bubbly, foam-like liquid. White foam can also form in the respiratory tract if liquid in the airways mixes with air. Dogs vigorously coughing can sometimes be mistaken for vomiting. 

If your dog has only vomited white foam once, it’s okay to wait and observe them for 24 hours, especially if they are acting like themselves otherwise. Keep an eye out for more vomiting or other signs of illness like diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, weakness, collapse, etc. If any of these symptoms are noted, take them to a veterinarian. Do not wait more than 48 hours to seek veterinary care in these instances, as the longer you wait, the worse a condition can become and the more challenging and more expensive it can be to treat. 

If your dog is vomiting white foam repeatedly (once a day, a week or even once a month), they should see a veterinarian. It is not normal for a dog to throw up regularly, even if they seem okay otherwise.

Why is My Dog Vomiting White Foam?

There are many reasons why your dog may be vomiting white foam, some of which are not concerning, while others can be life-threatening. Here are the most common reasons your dog is vomiting white foam:

They have an upset stomach. An upset stomach can cause a dog to hypersalivate, swallow more saliva than usual and vomit white foam. Dogs experiencing occasional stomach upset will usually bounce back within 24 hours. 

They ate something they shouldn’t have. If your dog ate something they weren’t supposed to, such as stealing food off the counter, rummaging through the trash, or nibbling up something in the backyard, it can irritate their stomach and cause them to vomit until their stomach is empty and only white foam or bile comes up. 

They have bloat or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV). Bloat is a severe medical condition and can lead to GDV (when the stomach becomes rotated). This is a very uncomfortable and painful condition for dogs. They attempt to rid the air from their stomach by retching and vomiting, but only white foam comes up. Affected dogs will be noticeably uncomfortable and often retch and vomit repeatedly. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical for survival. 

They have an obstruction. Occasionally, dogs ingest something they cannot digest properly, like socks, toys, large bones, corn cobs, etc. These items are too large to move through your dog’s intestinal tract and become lodged somewhere past the stomach and before the colon. This will cause intestinal secretions to back up into the stomach and lead to vomiting. Intestinal obstruction is a severe medical emergency. These pets cannot keep anything down and will even vomit water. 

They ate something toxic. Ingesting something toxic, like a household cleaner, houseplant, human medication or pesticide, can lead to white foam dog vomit. Some toxins are mild and might only cause temporary upset stomach, while others can lead to serious illness and even death. If you suspect your dog ate something toxic, it’s best to take them to a veterinarian immediately. 

They have a respiratory illness. Common upper respiratory diseases like kennel cough can cause dogs to have a harsh hacking cough, often producing white foam. Many people mistake this hacking for their dog vomiting white foam. Most of these upper airway diseases are non-threatening, but in dogs with a weaker immune system, they can progress into pneumonia if left untreated. 

They have an intestinal parasite. Some parasites, like lungworms and heartworms, directly affect the airways and cause dogs to cough up white foam with such force that it can be mistaken for vomiting. Other intestinal parasites that live in the intestinal tract as adults migrate through the airways as larvae and can have a similar effect. Heartworm disease can be fatal if left untreated, but it can be prevented with veterinary-prescribed preventives.

White foam dog vomit can be a sign or symptom of other diseases, including pancreatitis, infectious diseases, kidney disease, inflammatory disorders, and cancer. Anything that causes your dog to feel nauseous can lead them to vomit white foam. These cases are often, but not always, associated with lethargy, weight loss and potentially diarrhea. 

Treatment for White Foam Dog Vomit

Treating your dog’s vomiting depends entirely on the cause. In many cases, veterinary care is needed. However, if infrequent episodes of white foam vomit are your dog’s only symptom and they have no other signs of illness such as diarrhea, weakness, weight loss, or loss of appetite, it’s appropriate to try some home therapy before seeking veterinary care. 

The best thing to do for a single episode of white foam vomit in an adult dog is withholding food and water for 12 hours. This will allow the stomach to settle. Offer your pet food after this period and see what they do. If they eat with gusto and go on as usual, you have nothing to worry about. However, if they refuse to eat or if they eat and then vomit again, it’s time to go to the vet. 

It is not recommended to withhold food and water from puppies as they are at risk of developing dehydration, so they should go to the veterinarian sooner rather than waiting. 

Urgent veterinary care is needed in other situations, such as when your dog has vomited multiple times in 24 hours, continues to vomit after 24 hours or has other signs of illness. 

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and review your pet’s history with you. Be sure to tell your veterinarian everything you know about your dog’s medical history, including any medications or supplements they take and any recent changes to their health. It can be beneficial to bring any records to the appointment and know exactly what diet they are eating. 

Your vet may recommend diagnostics such as blood work, urine and fecal testing, and abdomen radiographs (X-rays). From there, they can work on treating the specific disease process or disorder. This may include surgery, medications such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, gastric acid reducers (like Pepcid), hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy, deworming, and more. 

In mild cases, especially those in which the dog is generally healthy otherwise, they may recommend starting with fluids and injectable anti-nausea medications and feeding your dog a prescription-based bland diet for a few days. 

How to Prevent Dogs From Throwing Up

The best way to prevent your dog from vomiting is to keep anything they should not eat, lick, or chew out of reach and supervise them diligently when exploring new areas or playing with toys. Unfortunately, there is no way to eliminate vomiting entirely, as many illnesses occur without an identifiable cause.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to try to reduce the chance that your dog will vomit: 

  • Make sure your dog has a wellness visit yearly to ensure they are in good health, and consider running routine lab work to catch any diseases or disorders before they manifest into major health concerns.
  • Keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date to prevent unnecessary infectious diseases. 
  • Feed your dog a complete and balanced diet. 
  • Transition slowly to a new diet if switching their food. 
  • Limit human food treats to low-fat, bland (i.e., no spices added) fruits, vegetables and lean meats.
  • Keep plants, medications, chemicals, cleaning materials, the trash bin, human food and any other potential toxins stowed away in a cabinet or closet that your dog cannot open.
  • Watch your pet closely when playing with toys, especially if they like to rip things up. 
  • Have your pet dewormed annually and keep up to date on heartworm prevention. 

Remember, the sooner a disease or disorder is identified and treated, the better your dog’s prognosis and the less expensive it will be to treat. If your dog is vomiting and you’re unsure what to do, call your veterinarian and ask them for advice. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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