Dog Vomiting Bile: Why & What To Do

Key takeaway

There could be many reasons why your dog is vomiting bile, from less severe issues such as allergies to more serious medical conditions like pancreatitis. While one rare instance of vomiting bile is not of high concern, take your dog to the vet immediately if vomiting persists over a period of 24 hours or lasts multiple days.

While cats are more known for retching and hacking up hairballs, it’s not unusual for healthy dogs to throw up from time to time. Whether it’s because they’ve excitedly scarfed down too much food at once or due to a minor intestinal upset, intermittent vomiting is usually no cause for concern. However, if bile is present in your dog’s vomit, it is important to take them to the vet for a check up to rule out any serious medical issues. As this yellow-green foamy liquid is typically harsh on the stomach and esophagus, getting an immediate, accurate diagnosis will inhibit more damage and further complications. 

In this blog post, we will discuss the various reasons your dog is vomiting bile, when you should see a vet, and more.

What Happens When My Dog Vomits?

Vomiting occurs when the contents in your dog’s stomach and upper small intestines, such as food and fluid, are forcefully and involuntarily expelled through the mouth.1 Often coupled with retching, nausea, and drooling, vomiting can take place any time after eating or even in dogs that haven’t eaten in a long time. Vomiting is an uncomfortable, active process that often requires effort from your dog, and the contents that are vomited up are typically partially digested, with yellow bile visible at times.2 

Vomiting differs greatly from regurgitation, and it is important to know what sets them apart to accurately determine the level of medical attention and care your dog needs. Unlike vomiting, regurgitation is a quiet, passive process that tends to be less severe. It involves the ejection of undigested food from the esophagus and usually happens after eating. 2

What Is Bile?

Bile is a yellow-green digestive fluid created by the liver and stored by the gallbladder

Ranging in color from yellowish brown to a dark green, bile is a fluid produced by the liver to aid digestion. Stored in the gallbladder, it helps break down fats into fatty acids that can be absorbed through the digestive tract.3

Dogs are more likely to vomit bile on an empty stomach, typically during early mornings or halfway through the night. 

Why Is My Dog Vomiting Bile?

There are many reasons why your dog could be vomiting bile, perhaps your dog ate something toxic or they have an underlying illness such as Addison’s disease. 

Reasons your dog may be vomiting bile

Allergies

Food sensitivities and allergies can manifest as gastrointestinal issues in dogs, leading to vomiting bile. Not only can a sudden switch to a new type or brand of food trigger allergies, but food allergies can even be developed later in life with seemingly no rhyme or reason. 

Bilious Vomiting Syndrome

Compared to other causes of vomiting bile, although serious sounding, bilious vomiting syndrome (BVS) is actually comparatively benign and non-life-threatening. BVS is described as a condition in which dogs vomit bile after not eating for a long period of time, typically during early morning hours or in the middle of the night. When bile leaks back into the stomach from the small intestine, the gastric mucosal barrier becomes irritated and the stomach becomes inflamed, leading to vomiting.4

The easiest way to prevent or stop BVS is to feed your dog smaller meals more frequently. Shorten the time between meals with snacks, especially a late night snack before bed, but keep track of your dog’s caloric intake to keep them at a healthy weight. 

Intestinal Blockages

If your dog prone to chewing and eating anything they can get their paws on is vomiting frequently but not producing stool, they may very well be suffering from an intestinal blockage.5 Often caused by ingesting foreign objects such as toys, yarn, bones, and rocks, blockages inhibit foods and fluids from passing through the gastrointestinal tract. This can be very dangerous as not only do intestinal blockages prevent the absorption of essential nutrients, leading to dehydration and imbalanced electrolytes, but they can also severely injure the intestines, causing a rupture or even necrosis.5 In many cases, surgery is the best method to remove any intestinal blockages, so it is key to contact your vet as soon as possible. 

Gastrointestinal Diseases

A dog vomiting bile can indicate a number of gastrointestinal diseases, from inflammatory diseases to parasite infections. Gastroenteritis, the inflammation of a dog’s stomach and small intestines, is often coupled with abrupt bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. While at times mild and easily treated with antibiotics, gastroenteritis can become deadly if allowed to develop into hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Watch for blood in your dog’s vomit and diarrhea, and take them to the vet immediately to avoid sepsis or other complications.6 

Parasites like Giardia can also cause vomiting with bile. Spread by water, food, soil, and surfaces contaminated by feces, Giardia is an extremely contagious parasite that can exist in the intestines of dogs.7 Luckily, parasitic infections are relatively simple to prevent; maintaining a clean living environment and keeping up with routine deworming are good first steps to follow. 

Endocrine Disorders

Along with diarrhea and poor appetite, endocrine disorders such as pancreatitis often result in vomiting with bile. Typically the result of ingesting garbage or too much oil and fat, pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause repeated vomiting over the course of a few hours or days. As your dog empties their stomach and becomes dehydrated because of pancreatitis, they are more likely to vomit bile. Addison’s disease is another endocrine disorder, particularly a disorder of the adrenal glands, that is characterized by severe vomiting. With adrenal glands that aren’t producing enough corticosteroids, or stress hormones, dogs with Addison’s disease can be critically affected by the tiniest amount of stress.8 

When Does Vomiting Bile Need Veterinary Care?

Contact your vet if your dog vomits bile multiple times in 24 hours

It’s difficult not to worry when your closest companion is not acting like their normal, energetic self. However, as an owner, it is important to keep calm and accurately assess what type of care your dog needs, if any, to ensure they live a long and happy life. 

While vomiting bile can be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition, if your dog vomits bile once or extremely infrequently, there is most likely no reason to worry. In this instance, it is most important to continue monitoring their behavior, watching for other signs of discomfort and illness, such as:

  • Disinterest and lethargy
  • Abnormal temperature
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea 
  • Blood in stool

If your dog exhibits any of the above mentioned symptoms in addition to vomiting bile, contact your vet as soon as possible, whether to get an accurate diagnosis or to put your mind at ease. 

For example, vomiting bile coupled with diarrhea can put your dog at risk of dehydration, especially if they cannot keep the water they drink down. To measure your dog’s hydration level, it is important to check their gums. Tracing their gum line with your finger, you should feel wetness instead of a sticky, dry consistency. It is important to get your vomiting dog to the vet immediately if you believe they are at risk of dehydration, so intravenous (IV) fluids can be administered to replenish lost fluids. 

A dog vomiting bile multiple times in one day or across multiple days is cause for concern as well and should always be taken to the vet. 

Diagnosing And Treating A Dog That Has Been Vomiting Bile

From straightforward to complex, there are many possible causes for vomiting bile, making it difficult to pinpoint the crux of the issue. However, many vets have been adhering to a systematic series of examinations to ensure an accurate diagnosis. 

Often, a basic assessment is conducted first, with a comprehensive review of your dog’s medical history and a physical examination. Then, if there is reason for further investigation, blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasounds are enlisted to determine the severity of the underlying medical condition. Lastly, if there is in fact a possibility of a more serious illness, your vet may also conduct an endoscopic examination or surgery, with treatment depending on the primary cause.

Dog Vomiting Bile: FAQs

What can I give my dog for throwing up bile?

It is always recommended to speak with your veterinarian before giving your dog any medication, especially if you wish to utilize any over-the-counter drugs. Human doses and dog doses vary drastically and giving the wrong amount of medication can very well harm your dog instead. If your dog is vomiting bile once or twice and this is a very isolated case, while you continue to observe their behavior and look for other signs of discomfort, you can give them more water to try to replenish the fluids they lost or try feeding them small amounts of very bland and easily digested food. Cooked chicken and white rice can be a good option.

Should I feed my dog after vomiting yellow bile?

If your dog is vomiting bile after a long period of fasting, this may mean that the lack of food in their stomach has caused bile to leak from the small intestine back into the stomach. In this case, you can feed your dog small amounts of food after they vomit. Small meals dispersed throughout the day can help combat this issue in the future. 

How do you soothe a dog’s upset stomach?

Firstly, it is important to know why your dog has an upset stomach and make sure it is a mild case that does not require veterinary attention. If it happens to be indigestion, plain canned pumpkin can be a good remedy. As a food rich in fiber, pumpkin can absorb the water in your dog’s stool. Rich in vitamins A, E, and C, it can also provide essential nutrients. 

Dog looking up while laying flat near a food bowl

Final Notes

Ranging from less severe issues such as bilious vomiting syndrome to more worrying conditions like intestinal blockages, dogs can vomit bile for a myriad of reasons. It is important to discern if and when your pup requires veterinary care, and getting an accurate diagnosis will help you provide them with the help they need. Always take persistent vomiting seriously, especially when bile is present, and look for other signs of discomfort such as lethargy, low appetite, and diarrhea. 

If your dog is exhibiting worrying symptoms, please request veterinary assistance at once. If your dog is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea from time to time and you can’t seem to figure out why, Dutch is here to help. Our licensed vets can provide customized treatment plans that help you get to the root of the issue and recommend products that will help relieve your pup.  

References

  1. Webb, Craig B. "Vomiting in Dogs." Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct. 2020, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/vomiting-in-dogs.

  2. "Vomiting pets." Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, 15 Dec. 2021, https://hospital.vetmed.wsu.edu/2021/12/15/vomiting-pets.

  3. "Bile reflux." Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bile-reflux.

  4. Linder, Deborah E."Stomaching the Problem: Could Your Pet Have Bilious Vomiting Syndrome?." Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, 17 Jun. 2021, https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2021/06/stomaching-the-problem-could-your-pet-have-bilious-vomiting-syndrome/.

  5. Higgs, Veronica. "Dog Intestinal Blockage." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_multi_gastrointestinal_obstruction.

  6. Bales, Liz. "Gastroenteritis in Dogs." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_dg_gastroenteritis.

  7. Schaible, Laci. "Giardia in Dogs." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_multi_giardiasis.

  8. "Endocrine Diseases." Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, https://vet.purdue.edu/hospital/small-animal/resources/endocrine-diseases.php.