Dry heaving in dogs can indicate a serious medical issue and should be considered an emergency. Today our Cordova vets discuss the causes of dry heaving and why it is important to get your dog immediate veterinary care.
What is dry heaving?
Dry heaving is when a dog makes the motion of vomiting without anything coming up. Dry heaving can sound like retching, gagging, or coughing.
While occasional vomiting in dogs is usually nothing to worry about, especially if they don't have any other symptoms, dry heaving in a dog can be a sign of a serious underlying condition.
Why do dogs dry heave?
There are a few medical conditions that can cause dogs to dry heave, some of which can be life-threatening if not treated right away. If a dog is dry heaving it is important you always treat it as an emergency and take them to the vet right away. Below, our Cordova vets discuss some common causes of dry heaving in dogs, starting with the most serious condition, known as bloat.
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (Bloat)
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is a serious condition that is fatal if left untreated. Commonly known as "bloat," GDV happens when a dog's stomach expands with gas and then twists on itself, blocking both the entrance and exit to the stomach. The pressure caused by the twisted stomach cuts off blood to other major organs such as the heart.
Dogs will dry heave in an attempt to release some of the trapped gas but are unable to because the stomach is twisted. Other symptoms of GDV include a swollen and tender abdomen, labored breathing, and an increased heart rate. GDV can develop without warning and requires emergency surgery to correct.
Large, deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds are particularly susceptible to bloat.
Foreign Object in Throat
Another serious cause of dry heaving in a dog could be a foreign object stuck in their throat. A dog with a dry heaving cough could be trying to clear a blocked airway. If at all possible you should have the object removed by an emergency vet. Attempting to remove the object yourself could cause damage to the throat lining or push the object further down, completely blocking your dog's airway.
Kennel cough is a contagious upper respiratory illness that causes a dry hacking cough and nasal discharge. In some cases, the hacking cough can lead your dog to dry heaving. Dogs with kennel cough should be kept away from other dogs to prevent the spread of the disease.
Tonsillitis or Pharyngitis
Tonsillitis is a condition that causes the tonsils to swell. When these glands are swollen they can interfere with a dog's breathing and also trigger their gag reflex, causing them to dry heave.
Tumor Partially Obstructing the Throat
Any growth in the throat, such as a polyp or tumor, can interfere with a dog's breathing and lead to dry heaving. If your dog has a growth in their throat it will need to be removed or treated by a vet before the dry heaving behavior can be eliminated.
What do I do if my dog is dry heaving?
If your dog is dry heaving you should treat it as an emergency and take your dog to the vet right away. Issues like bloat and foreign objects stuck in the throat can be fatal and require immediate medical assistance.
If your dog is suffering from another medical issue causing dry heaving, such as kennel cough, your vet will be able to diagnose the issue and guide you on the appropriate treatment for your pup.
How can I prevent dry heaving?
Dry heaving can be caused by a variety of underlying issues so there are a range of preventive measures you can take to avoid the underlying conditions that can cause dry heaving.
To prevent bloat it is helpful to have your dog eat multiple, smaller meals. Food dispensers that slow a dog's eating rate may also be useful. Owners of dogs that are at particularly high risk for GVD may elect to have their dog undergo a surgery called gastropexy that prevents the stomach from being able to twist.
To prevent your dog from getting a foreign object stuck in their throat, watch them closely to ensure they are not chewing on anything inappropriate. Also, be sure to avoid giving your dog bones to chew on as they can often splinter and become stuck in your dog's throat.
Kennel cough can be prevented by avoiding overcrowded dog kennels with poor ventilation and by getting your dog vaccinated against the disease with the bordetella vaccine.
Regular wellness exams for your dog are also important as they allow your vet to exam your pup and catch emerging health issues, such as throat tumors, early while they are still the most treatable.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.