Why Dogs Eat Vomit And Tips To Break The Habit

If you have a dog, you’ve likely been pulled from a sound sleep a time or two by the retching sound that means they’re vomiting somewhere in the house. But when you finally drag yourself out of bed to clean up the barf, the pile has magically disappeared. The only sign remaining: your dog steadily licking a damp spot on the floor.

As bizarre and gross as it may seem, it’s pretty common for dogs to eat vomit. And while you won’t want to encourage this behavior, it’s usually not harmful for dogs to eat their vomit on occasion, says Irith Bloom, a CPDT-KSA certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and owner of The Sophisticated Dog.

That said, it’s not safe for dogs to eat another dog’s vomit, so you’ll want to take steps to prevent this behavior. Below, find out why dogs eat vomit, how to discourage vomit eating, and when to contact your vet.

Why Do Dogs Eat Vomit In The First Place?

Dr. Lindsay Butzer, DVM, PetMeds Partner, says some dogs eat vomit simply because they find it tasty.

“Dogs have a strong sense of smell and are attracted to the scent of their own vomit due to the undigested food particles, which can still be appealing to them,” Dr. Butzer explains.

That’s one reason why your dog might devour their vomit before you have a chance to clean it up!

They’ll often also eat regurgitated food if they throw it up after eating too fast, Bloom says.

Some dogs are selective about the types of vomit they eat, and not all dogs do eat vomit. Whether your dog eats their vomit may depend on a number factors, including the type of food present in the vomit, its freshness, and their individual preferences, according to Dr. Butzer.

“From a natural perspective, the behavior of eating vomit does have some basis,” she says. It stems from when undomesticated dogs and their wild ancestors had to scavenge for food, including the regurgitated food of other pack members.

However, there’s no biological benefit to eating vomit, and domesticated dogs typically have no need to scavenge for food.

Why Do Dogs Vomit?

Dogs vomit for various reasons, including:

Vomiting vs. regurgitation

It’s important to recognize the differences between vomiting and regurgitation.

  • Vomiting is an active effort that involves forceful heaving, retching, and abdominal compression paired with nausea. Vomit consists of bile and partially ingested food ejected from the stomach or upper intestine.
  • Regurgitation is a passive effort that happens shortly after a dog eats. It involves the mouth, throat, or esophagus. The undigested, regurgitated food doesn’t contain bile. Instead, it will typically be covered in mucus and have a tubular shape.

If your dog regurgitates every once in a while, you don’t necessarily need to be concerned.

Eating the regurgitated food won’t harm your dog, but if your dog regurgitates frequently, you may want to talk to your vet. This can point to a health concern, like an esophageal disorder.

Certain cues can hint at the causes behind your dog’s vomiting or regurgitation, says Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM, a veterinary consultant at We Love Doodles. For instance, if they gobbled down their dinner, it may come as little surprise when they throw it right back up.

Regurgitation that happens often could mean your dog isn’t getting enough nutrients from their food or has other medical issues, Bloom says.

Something more serious could also be going on if your dog:

If you notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to contact your vet as soon as possible.

Corgi lying on the ground chewing on grass

Ekaterina Zaitseva via iStock

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Vomit After Eating Grass?

Dr. Kong says dogs often eat grass, which can lead to vomiting.

Dogs may eat grass to induce vomiting and relieve stomach discomfort or as part of their natural foraging behavior.

Dogs will eat different types of grass, and many types are non-toxic. However, if you treat your grass with chemicals or have certain toxic plants in your yard, you’ll want to closely supervise your dog outdoors to make sure they don’t eat these plants, Dr. Kong says.

While eating grass and then vomiting is a natural instinct, eating grass may indicate dietary deficiencies or gastrointestinal issues.

If your dog occasionally throws up after eating grass, you generally don’t need to worry. If this happens regularly, your vet can offer more guidance.

What To Do If A Dog Vomits After Ingesting Toxins

“If a dog ingests toxic substances and then vomits, it’s crucial to prevent them from re-ingesting the vomit, as this could compound the poisonous effects,” Dr. Kong says.

Signs of poisoning in dogs include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Twitching or seizures
  • Pale gums
  • Unusual behavior, including disorientation, restlessness, agitation

If you suspect your dog may have eaten something toxic or you notice any of the above symptoms, seek immediate care from a vet.

Why Do Dogs Eat Other Dogs’ Vomit?

Aside from mother dogs regurgitating food for puppies as a part of maternal care, there’s no evidence that supports a social element to eating vomit, Bloom says.

Dr. Butzer says dogs eating other dogs’ vomit may relate to social dynamics as a way to establish dominance or maintain a hierarchy within a group—but this behavior can have some potential health risks.

Dogs may transmit diseases or parasites through vomit, she explains. For example, if the vomit happens because of an infection or other health issue, the dog eating the vomit may get the infection.

In addition, if a dog goes to eat another dog’s vomit, the dog who vomited could potentially consider this a type of food stealing, Bloom says. “This seems especially likely in the case of dogs who tend to resource guard food around other dogs in general.”

Dog sniffing vomit outside in dirt

Capuski via iStock

Why Dogs Shouldn’t Eat Vomit

It’s not a huge cause for concern if your dog eats their own vomit occasionally, especially if the vomiting doesn’t relate to any underlying health issues.

That said, it’s best to discourage this behavior, Dr. Butzer says, especially if they do have a health issue. Eating vomit could make the health concern worse or cause complications.

Health concerns that may make it unsafe for a dog to eat their vomit include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • Dietary intolerances
  • Foreign body ingestion
  • Poisoning due to Salmonella bacteria or toxic substances

“It’s essential to address these issues promptly to ensure your dog’s well-being,” Dr. Butzer says. She explains that it can be challenging to differentiate between harmless behavior and signs of an underlying condition.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to ask your vet about any unusual or concerning behaviors, like eating vomit.

When To Talk To A Vet

If you notice your dog frequently eats their vomit or shows any unusual behaviors afterward, contact your vet, recommends Dr. Bethany Hsia, DVM and co-founder of CodaPet.

Signs to pay attention to include constant licking of surfaces and signs of anxiety, including pacing and restlessness.

If you notice these behaviors, Dr. Hsia says it’s important to seek veterinary care.

“Eating vomit can sometimes signal compulsive behavior linked to emotional or anxiety issues in dogs,” she explains. These compulsive behaviors can be a coping mechanism for dogs.

She offers a few home remedies and preventative measures to try if your dog tends to eat their own vomit:

  • Provide a balanced diet that meets your dog’s nutritional needs to reduce their chances of vomiting.
  • Keep your dog’s space clean and free of potential triggers for anxiety or stress.
  • Make sure your dog gets enough exercise and mental stimulation to promote overall well-being and reduce anxiety.

She says it’s important to get veterinary care if your dog shows any changes in their behavior or appetite or has physical symptoms, like diarrhea, lethargy, or signs of pain.

How To Keep Dogs From Eating Vomit

Dr. Butzer recommends that pet parents discourage dogs from eating vomit and redirect the behavior with training and management.

Bloom shares a few of her tips for redirecting this behavior:

  1. Call the dog away from the vomit while staying at a safe distance so there’s no risk of injury if they resource guard.
  2. Continue coaxing your dog away from the vomit. As they approach you, praise them and offer a treat to distract them from the vomit.
  3. Return to the vomit to clean it up only after your dog has left the area and can’t get back to the vomit.

For tips and tools to clean up your dog’s vomit and other accidents, check out our list of the 11 best pet stain removers.

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