My dog is dry heaving - what should I do?

Is your dog going through the motions and sounds of vomiting, but nothing is coming out? Here, our Simi Valley vets explain dry heaving in dogs, what may be causing your dog to dry heave, and what to do next. 

Help, my dog keeps dry heaving!

Our veterinarians in Simi Valley recognize that hearing or seeing your dog dry heaving and coughing can be distressing. While it certainly appears and sounds as if they are going to vomit, nothing comes out. So, what could be the cause?

Why is my dog dry heaving?

Dogs may begin dry heaving or retching for numerous reasons, including:

  • Tonsillitis
  • A tumor partially obstructing your dog's throat 
  • Upper respiratory infection 
  • A foreign object lodged in your dog's throat 
  • Gastric dilation-volvulus (bloat)

While you shouldn't be overly concerned about a single episode of dry heaving (since a dog is likely coughing up something stuck in their throat), you must contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog is dry heaving repeatedly or if dry heaving occurs frequently. Schedule a checkup for your dog so that your veterinarian can rule out any serious health problems. 

What conditions can cause dry heaving in dogs?

The conditions that can lead to dry heaving in dogs range from mild to severe. Here are just a few potential reasons why your dog might be dry heaving:

Kennel Cough

This highly contagious upper respiratory disease in dogs is characterized by a dry, hacking cough (often compared to a goose honk) and nasal discharge. Symptoms of kennel cough can include dry heaving. As kennel cough is highly contagious, dogs exhibiting symptoms of the disease should be isolated from other dogs to prevent its spread. Call your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has kennel cough. 

Bloat - Gastric Dilation-Volvulus

Bloat is a very serious and potentially fatal condition in dogs. This complex medical condition occurs when the dog's stomach fills with air, increasing pressure and preventing blood from returning to the heart from the dog's hind legs and abdomen. In some cases, the stomach flips, cutting off even more blood flow and causing the pancreas to produce toxic hormones which can cause the dog's heart to stop. If your dog exhibits symptoms of bloat, immediate veterinary care is required! Signs of bloat include dry heaving, an enlarged abdomen, an increase in salivation, restlessness, and signs of pain if you touch their stomach.

Without treatment dogs suffering from bloat will likely go into shock within 1-2 hours, experience increased heart rate, lose strength, and the condition will become fatal.

Contact Your Nearest Emergency Vet Right Away

Foreign Object Caught in Throat

If your dog has something stuck in their throat that is causing a partial obstruction, they may gag, vomit, and dry heave as they attempt to expel the object. If you suspect that your dog has something lodged in its throat, contact your veterinarian immediately or go to the nearest emergency veterinarian.

Tonsillitis & Sore Throat

Similar to humans, your dog's tonsils can become swollen and inflamed, causing a sore throat and possibly interfering with swallowing and the natural gag reflex. If your dog's tonsils are swollen, he may experience repeated vomiting and dry heaving. If you suspect that your dog has swollen tonsils, consult your veterinarian.

Tumor Partially Blocking Your Dog's Throat & Airway

Any type of growth in the back of your dog's throat can lead to breathing and swallowing difficulties, as well as gagging and dry heaving. If your dog has a growth at the back of the throat, it must be surgically removed to clear the airway and prevent dry heaving. It is essential to contact your veterinarian so that the growth can be correctly diagnosed and treated.

What should I do if my dog is dry heaving?

If your dog is dry heaving it is always best to err on the side of caution and contact a vet right away. 

Kennel cough and tonsillitis may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications or oral antibiotics and may not be considered urgent; however, more severe causes of dry heaving will require veterinary intervention.

Foreign objects can damage the throat or shift and block the dog's ability to breathe, and bloat is always a veterinary emergency.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

If your dog is dry heaving, call our Simi Valley vets right away or head straight to Park Animal Hospital for urgent care for your dog.