Vomiting is a fact of life for any pet parent and dogs largely seem unfazed and unharmed by the occasional vomit session but it can be difficult for you to watch as their human—not to mention the yucky mess to clean up. When your dog throws up blood, however, there is legitimate reason to be concerned about the health of your furry friend.
What causes your dog to vomit blood? Is bloody vomit serious?
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My dog is vomiting blood
Hematemesis, or vomiting blood, can be caused by a number of things in dogs. Regardless of the reason, it is not normal for there to be blood in a dog’s vomit, so pet parents should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible in the event of bloody vomit.
The most likely and least serious cause for blood vomiting is that your pup has cut their mouth while chewing on something sharp. It’s also possible that the inside of your pup’s esophagus, stomach, or intestines has been irritated or punctured, resulting in internal bleeding that can range in severity and danger. According to veterinary experts from BondVet and Carolina Veterinary Specialists (CVS), some of the most common causes of canine vomiting blood include:
- Blood clotting issues – Coagulopathy, or lack of proper blood clotting, may result from liver failure, or a reduced blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia) due to toxin or drug exposure. Internal bleeding is sometimes caused by blood-clotting disorders like hemophilia or may be a sign of low blood platelet count due to underlying illness (liver failure, cancer). Also, certain toxins and pesticides cause blood coagulation issues. For example, rat poison contains anti-coagulant/blood thinner agents.
- Cancer – Although more likely in older dogs, it’s possible for all dogs to be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Bloody vomit may be a first or early symptom of stomach cancer. While stomach cancer is most often associated with vomiting blood, CVS notes that several forms of cancer can also present this symptom, including esophageal, lung, and pancreatic cancer.
- Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) – This serious condition involves sudden, severe bloody vomiting and/or diarrhea. The cause of HE is generally unknown, and typically affects young to middle-aged small dogs. HGE often comes on suddenly and rapidly progresses in seemingly healthy dogs, and can quickly lead to dehydration and other organ compromise.
- Parasites – Some parasites, notably the fairly common hookworm, are known to chew holes in a host dog’s intestines, which then emits a blood-thinning toxin. Bloody vomiting due to parasites is likely to be accompanied by bloody diarrhea, as well.
- Parvovirus – Often referred to as “parvo,” canine parvovirus is highly contagious and deadly. The virus impacts a dog’s gastrointestinal tract and progresses very quickly. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea lead to severe dehydration and eventual septic shock, so parvo requires immediate veterinary attention. Bloody vomit is a sign of dangerous illness progression.
- Prolonged vomiting – Excessive vomiting for any reason can put strain on and cause inflammation of the stomach, upper intestines, and or esophagus, eventually leading to broken blood vessels and internal bleeding.
- Infection – Parasitic infections such as giardia in the intestines can cause bleeding that may be detectable in illness-related vomit. Some bacterial infections caused by food poisoning, such as salmonella and E. coli, are common in young dogs or those with weak immune systems. In addition to vomiting blood, these infections may be accompanied by bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, and or fatigue.
- Inflammation – Inflammatory conditions and gastrointestinal diseases like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), particularly when it involves the stomach, can cause bloody vomit.
- Irritation, obstruction, or puncturing of the digestive tract – Any damage caused to the stomach intestines by swallowing a sharp and or foreign object can cause internal bleeding and bloody vomit. While small sharp food items that are swallowed are likely to dissolve fairly quickly in stomach acid,if they are non-food items they can sometimes puncture the stomach or intestines, causing peritonitis. In this case, bacteria escape the intestine and can become potentially life-threatening. Foreign objects sometimes require surgery to remove the item from a dog’s digestive system.
- Stomach ulcers – Abscesses in the inner lining of the stomach may be caused by digestive conditions, or increased stomach acid due to diseases such as kidney disease. Stomach ulcers are also a known possible side effect of certain medications, including NSAIDs, such as Rimadyl or Carprofen, and certain steroids.
- Toxins and poisons – One of the most common causes of bloody vomit is a dog eating something they shouldn’t have. The ingestion of toxins like household cleaners, toxic plants and pesticides, and rat poison can lead to bloody vomit, severe illness, and death.
- Traumatic injury – Your dog can get sick after a traumatic incident, such as being hit by a car; severe burns; heatstroke; major surgery; exposure to poisons from heavy metals, such as excessive iron consumption or lead; and snake bites. These can all cause internal bleeding and or shock.
What to look for when your dog is sick
Bloody vomit can look different depending on the cause of the issue. Being able to tell your veterinarian what your pup’s vomit looks like is crucial in helping your vet determine the best next steps. The color and appearance of bloody vomit depends on how long the dog has been bleeding internally and what part of the dog’s digestive tract is bleeding.
- Bright red – Relatively small amounts of fresh, bright red blood seen in the form of specks, streaks, or clots are usually caused by a physical injury and bleeding in the mouth, throat, stomach, or upper intestines.
- Mucus, too – Vomit that is high in mucus and blood typically indicates that the dog’s stomach or upper intestines are inflamed, ulcerated, or bleeding. Bile is often also present when the source of the irritation is in the upper intestine.
- Dark red or brown – If the blood is older or partially digested in the stomach before it was thrown up, the vomit might look like dark coffee grounds. Dark red blood in a dog’s vomit means the blood has been in the body for a longer period of time. This indicates that there is likely an ulcer or other source of internal bleeding in the stomach, lower intestines, or elsewhere in the deeper gastrointestinal tract. In addition, if the blood is being digested and goes all the way through the GI tract you may see very dark to black tar-like stools which is a sign of a GI bleed somewhere.
Treatments for vomiting blood
Vomiting blood can become a profoundly serious health concern very quickly for dogs. It’s important to call the vet as soon as you notice blood in your pup’s vomit, as even a little initial blood may quickly turn dangerous depending on the cause. Bloody vomit can be particularly dangerous if:
- There is a significant amount of blood loss – Loss of blood through vomit may lead to a low red blood cell count (anemia), in which case additional symptoms can include weakness to the point of collapse, and a rapid heartbeat. Severe blood loss can be fatal or require a blood transfusion.
- Your dog is a puppy – Before being vaccinated and or building their immune system, young pups are susceptible to infections (such as Parvovirus), which can quickly become severe and may even be fatal.
- Your dog is ill—Compounded symptoms such as fever, lethargy, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and inability to keep down food and water, can be particularly dangerous.
Treatment for vomiting blood varies greatly depending on the cause of the hematemesis, and typically includes two phases: supportive care and addressing the underlying cause. Depending on your dog’s individual needs, supportive care may include prescription antinausea medication and stomach lining protectants, antacids, fluids to address any dehydration and electrolyte loss, prescription or bland diet, and, in severe cases, a blood transfusion.
Preventing bloody vomit
Many common causes of bloody vomit are preventable. To avoid recurrence of bloody vomit, it’s crucial to keep your canine companion up to date on all routine care, including vaccinations and parasite prevention.
In addition to ensuring your dog does not have access to harmful toxins and potentially poisonous substances (cleaners, plants, pesticides), your dog’s diet plays a central role in their digestive and overall health. For dogs with sensitive stomachs or gastrointestinal systems, it may be beneficial to adopt a highly digestible diet.
With any issue, your dog is depending on you to advocate for his health, so call your veterinarian as soon as you see that something is not right with your pet, whether it be bloody vomit or something else. You know your dog the best and you know when he is off, so better one call too many to your veterinarian!
Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an educational resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.