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Why Is My Dog Throwing Up White Foam?


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If you own a dog, there’s a good chance you’ve had to clean up a pile of vomit at some point. While vomiting is common in dogs and not always a sign of a serious problem, it isn’t something to ignore. And when it’s happening often or accompanied by other symptoms, consulting with a veterinarian is always recommended. But what about when your dog throws up a white, foamy liquid?

Dr. Brian Collins is an extension associate with the Cornell Riney Canine Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. He explains that white foam can relate to vomiting or coughing. “The list of possible causes of vomiting and coughing are extensive, ranging from very benign to very serious, so we always want to be vigilant,” he says.

Learn more about why your dog might be throwing up white foam and when it is a cause for concern.

What Is the White Foam That Dogs Throw Up?

“When we think of ‘throwing up,’ we have to determine if the dog is experiencing vomiting, coughing, or a combination of both,” Dr. Collins says. Vomit is typically chunky, but the texture can also be granular, semi-liquid, or watery. The color of vomit also varies, from brown to yellow to clear.

White, liquidy, foamy vomit often occurs when excess gas, stomach acids in an empty and inflamed stomach, and saliva mix. The vomiting action is a forceful ejection of the stomach’s or upper intestines’ contents. Vomit typically consists of fully or partially digested food or bile.

Your dog can also throw up white foam when coughing (this often happens when a dog with kennel cough begins to gag). Vomiting up white foam when coughing can occur when saliva or a build-up of liquid in the lungs mixes with the air. Unlike when a dog vomits, when a dog coughs up white foam, their abdomen rarely contracts.

Dr. Collins explains that most of the time, when we think of white foam, the dog is actually vomiting. “Conditions that can result in the vomiting of white foam can vary depending on age and whether the underlying cause is acute or chronic,” Dr. Collins says.

What Are the Possible Causes of a Dog Throwing Up White Foam?

“One of the most common causes for coughing resulting in the production of white foam is when a dog is infected with one of the various causes of kennel cough,” Dr. Collins says. “These dogs can have coughs that range from mild to severe, and in some cases, the dogs will cough repeatedly and then produce a small puddle of white foam on the floor.” Upper respiratory infections, heart disease, pneumonia, and collapsing trachea are just a few other possible reasons a dog might cough up white foam.

Pug laying down indoors looking sad.
claudiodoenitzperez/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

While the reasons for a dog vomiting white foam are wide-ranging, here are some possible causes:

  • Acid reflux: A common white foam culprit, occurring when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus

  • Gastroenteritis: Dietary indiscretions (when your pet eats anything that’s different from their normal diet), changes in diet, allergies, and infections can all lead to inflammation of the stomach and intestines.

  • Pancreatitis: An inflammatory disease of the pancreas, pancreatitis can lead to vomiting and abdominal pain, as well as other symptoms.

  • Internal blockage: Eating things that aren’t food (like toys, trash, and socks) can cause internal blockage. This may lead to vomiting white foam as the body tries to get rid of the foreign material.

  • Ingestion of toxic materials: Including poisonous plants, home cleaning products, or foods that are poisonous to dogs

  • Bloat: Also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), bloat in dogs can be a medical emergency. Bloat causes the stomach to fill with gas and food and twist in on itself, sometimes leading to retching and the production of white foam.

  • Internal parasites: Internal parasites, including roundworms, heartworms, and lungworms, can cause coughing or vomiting white foam.

  • Parvovirus: A highly contagious disease of the stomach and small intestines, parvovirus is typically seen in puppies and unvaccinated dogs.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): IBD in dogs involves an inflammatory reaction to chronic irritation of the intestinal tract.

  • Liver or kidney disease: Vomiting is one symptom of advanced liver or kidney disease.

  • Urinary blockage: Your dog may be straining to pee and vomiting white foam.

  • Infections: Infections that can cause vomiting white foam include leptospirosis or giardia.

  • Some types of cancer

Is Home Treatment Appropriate for a Dog Throwing Up White Foam?

Dr. Collins explains that an occasional instance of throwing up white foam isn’t usually a cause for panic, especially if your dog is otherwise acting normally. “In those situations, it is okay to monitor for repeat occurrences and any other signs of illness such as depression, diarrhea, or decreased appetite,” he says. If your dog vomits up white foam, keep an eye on them, making sure they are eating and drinking normally and not experiencing any problems with breathing, pooping, or peeing.

Dr. Klein, AKC Chief Veterinarian, urges owners to observe dogs who’ve thrown up white foam for the next 2-3 hours after it first happens to see if signs resolve or persist. Ignoring these signs could lead to other health concerns, like bloat, depending on the cause of the white foam.

Smooth fox terrier puppy in cozy blanket. Cute little dog in throw plaid lying in bed at home
©Photoboyko - stock.adobe.com

Talk to your vet about possible treatment options. They may suggest withholding food for about 12 to 24 hours before gradually reintroducing a bland diet, like boiled rice and lean, boiled chicken. Make sure your dog has plenty of access to fresh water, as throwing up a lot of white foam can lead to dehydration. “It is not recommended to give any medications unless they have been prescribed for that situation or are part of the treatment for a pre-existing condition,” Dr. Collins says.

When Should You Bring a Dog Throwing Up White Foam to the Vet?

“Owners should contact a veterinarian if the throwing up of white foam is persistent, severe, or if there are any additional concerning symptoms,” Dr. Robert Gonzalez, DVM, says. He recommends seeking emergency veterinary care if your dog experiences the following:

  • Frequent and severe vomiting
  • If they can’t keep down any food or water
  • Blood in their vomit
  • If the vomit looks like coffee grounds
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • If your dog looks like they’re in pain
  • Bloated or distended abdomen
  • If your dog is trying to vomit but can’t bring anything up
Bulldog puppy getting a check-up at the vet.
©mutluproject - stock.adobe.com

Dr. Collins advises seeking veterinary care immediately if your dog exhibits any of the following (or a combination of these symptoms with any others):

  • Suddenly bringing up white foam (or another type of vomit) again and again
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Breathing fast or shallowly
  • Pacing or acting like they’re uncomfortable
  • Collapsing

Your vet will likely assess your dog for GDV, one of the most serious emergencies seen in veterinary medicine. “It’s always better to err on the side of caution and consult a veterinarian if there’s any doubt about the seriousness of the situation,” Dr. Gonzalez says.

Diagnosing and Treating a Dog Throwing Up White Foam

“Remember, a veterinarian’s expertise is crucial in accurately diagnosing the underlying cause of the throwing up of white foam and providing appropriate treatment,” Dr. Gonzalez says.

Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and go over your dog’s detailed medical history. Depending on the accompanying symptoms and whether the white foam relates to coughing or vomiting, other tests may include:

  • X-rays of the digestive system to identify life-threatening diseases and foreign object blockages

  • Blood, urine, or fecal tests to identify things like internal parasites, certain conditions, and infections

  • An endoscopy to view the gastrointestinal tract

  • Specialized tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI to identify diseases such as cancer

Treatment is wide-varying and depends on the findings of the exam and any tests. If nothing significant is found or the cause is a simple case of indigestion, your veterinarian may provide treatment to relieve the symptoms. The vet may also suggest reintroducing food gradually and request owners to monitor their pets at home for symptoms.

Some other treatment options include (but are not limited to):

  • Surgery for bloat, intestinal blockages, or cancers

  • A course of antibiotics to treat some types of infections

  • Diet change to address acid reflux, allergies, pancreatitis, or kidney disease

  • Antiparasitics (to treat infections caused by parasites)

  • Cough suppressants for kennel cough (if the vomit is coming from a cough)

  • IV fluids for dehydration

  • Medication for vomiting/nausea (anti-emetic)

Beagle laying down next to a full bowl of kibble.
©sap - stock.adobe.com

How to Help Prevent a Dog From Throwing Up White Foam

It’s not always possible to prevent your dog from throwing up white foam, but you can try and prevent your dog from dealing with conditions that might cause them to vomit white foam. Some preventatives include:

  • Keeping up-to-date with vaccinations for illnesses like parvovirus

  • Using monthly preventatives to prevent the risk of problematic parasites (such as heartworm preventatives)

  • Arranging regular wellness checks, which help early disease detection

  • Removing or restricting access to poisonous plants, trash, cleaners, or other toxic items

  • Providing games and training activities that are enriching and engaging, which may prevent your dog from chewing on items they shouldn’t

  • Feeding an appropriate, balanced diet and introducing new foods gradually

The post Why Is My Dog Throwing Up White Foam? appeared first on American Kennel Club.

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