Vomiting and diarrhea are among the most common complaints for dogs and cats presenting for emergency care. Both gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal diseases can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Either can be a sign of serious illness that warrants immediate emergency care, or related to a mild, self-limiting illness that will run its course without specific intervention.
These guidelines are designed to help you decide whether to provide supportive care at home or bring in your pet for care. If you are unsure, call your veterinarian or the Veterinary Health Center (573-882-7821 weekdays or 573-882-4589 after hours) to discuss your pet’s condition.
If your pet is in otherwise good health, began experiencing a bout of vomiting or diarrhea today, and acts fairly normal otherwise, you may be able to treat it supportively for 24 to 48 hours before taking it for veterinary care (see supportive care, below).
However, there are a number of situations that warrant more immediate veterinary attention:
- Animals that are very young (puppies and kittens) or very old, even if they have vomiting or diarrhea only a few times
- Animals with chronic disease (e.g., diabetes, kidney disease), even if they have vomiting or diarrhea only a few times
- The animal develops any trouble breathing
- Your pet seems to be in pain
- You are aware that your pet has eaten something that might be a poison
- You are aware that your pet has eaten something that might cause a blockage (e.g., toy, sock, corn cob)
- The animal is extremely lethargic or depressed
- Profuse vomiting occurs many times in a day or attempts to vomit continue for more than 24 hours
- The vomit contains blood or what appears to be coffee-grounds-like material
- The diarrhea contains more than a small amount of blood, or is a dark, tarry color
- The animal appears dehydrated
There are two simple (but imperfect) means you can use to gauge hydration:
If you pull gently on the skin between the shoulder blades and then let go, the skin should rapidly snap back into place. If it stays up or goes back in place very slowly, this can be a sign of dehydration.
If your pet allows it, you can touch its gums with your finger. They should feel moist (you can feel your own gums first as an example). If they feel dry and sticky, that is a sign of dehydration.
Supportive At-Home Care
If none of the above applies and your pet acts like it feels all right, you may try supportive care at home. Do not feed your pet for 12 hours, but continue to allow access to water. You may want to offer smaller volumes of water frequently if your pet vomits immediately after drinking a large volume.
If your pet has stopped vomiting, you can offer bland food after an approximately 12-hour fast. This might include a prescription diet (available from your veterinarian), or you may start with boiled chicken and rice. Feed only a small quantity at first. If the food is tolerated, you may repeat this small meal in a few hours. If vomiting and diarrhea have stopped, offer the same bland food in several moderately sized meals the following day. If your pet appears recovered on the third day, mix its regular food with the bland meals, and return to its normal food by day four.