Why is my dog retching (dry heaving)?

dog retching

Dogs have a way of expressing when they feel unwell, and one common symptom owners notice is retching sounds without actual vomiting. While alarming to hear, there are usually benign explanations for the behavior. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the most common reasons behind the retching sounds, tips for differentiating a serious problem from minor issues, and guidance on when to see the vet. Keep reading to gain a better understanding of this experience many dog parents have with their furry companions.

Understanding the Mechanics of Dog Retching

To understand why dogs may make retching noises without vomiting, it helps to know the anatomy and physiology behind the action. Dog Retching is the precursor to vomiting where the abdominal muscles forcefully contract in an attempt to expel contents from the stomach upward through the esophagus. However, the stomach may not contain anything to expel.

During the dog retching action, the soft palate closes to prevent anything from entering the mouth and nasal passages while the tongue simultaneously pushes forward to help direct expelled contents. The esophagus also begins emptying through strong, coordinated contractions moving from the stomach towards the mouth. If the stomach is empty, air may be the only thing released through the mouth with an audible gagging or retching sound produced.

Some key things to note – dog retching is a reflexive, involuntary response while vomiting is the actual expulsion of stomach contents. Dogs can experience one without the other depending on various triggers and underlying causes. The throat, esophagus, and abdominal musculature are all engaged during retching to try to induce vomiting, even if it’s not successful.


Common Causes of Dog Retching Without Vomiting

Now that we understand the physiology, let’s explore the most prevalent reasons dogs may retch without actually throwing up:

Overexcitement or Exercise-Induced Gastritis

Vigorous exercise or high levels of excitement can cause increased gastric acid production which may lead to irritation in the stomach known as gastritis. This triggers nausea and retching as a protective response. Dogs usually recover quickly once calming down.

Gastrointestinal Irritation or Inflammation

Mild GI upset from eating non-food items, stressed digestion from a diet change, seasonalallergies, or inflammation in the intestinal tract can cause discomfort low in the abdomen. This stimulates the urge to vomit as a way to relieve pressure, even if the stomach itself is unaffected.

Stress and Anxiety

Heightened stress levels generate excess acidity that irritates the lining of the stomach. Repeated retching may occur as the body tries coping with this internal sensation of queasiness. Common stress triggers involve thunderstorms, separation from owners, meeting strangers, or going to the vet.

Dietary Indiscretion

Eating too rapidly, gulping air while eating, or consuming unusual/rich human foods may irritate the GI tract and trigger protective nausea. However, if not in large enough quantity to induce vomiting, the stomach contents remain undisturbed.

Swallowing Excess Air

Especially true for deep-chested or toy breed dogs, excess air can enter the stomach during vocalization, hard panting, vigorous playing, or eating enthusiastically from elevated bowls. The increased pressure causes gagging as the body attempts to expel the air through vomiting.

Signals That Dog Retching Needs Evaluation

In most cases where a dog retches without throwing up, there is usually no cause for serious alarm. However, being able to differentiate when further vet evaluation is prudent can provide important peace of mind. Consider seeing your vet if:

  • Retching lasts more than 30 minutes continuously or is repetitive over several hours
  • Accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, painful abdomen, or bloody vomit
  • Occurs immediately after a concerning event like ingesting a toxic substance
  • Dog is showing other signs of illness like diarrhea, fever, or behavioral changes
  • Retching has been going on for over a week without improvement
  • Occurring in very young puppies or senior dogs
  • Dog has a preexisting health condition

The key is understanding normal vs abnormal for your individual dog. Your vet can examine for underlying causes like intestinal blockage, pancreatitis, or even an ingested foreign object inducing chronic irritation if symptoms persist or worsen. Early intervention is best to avoid complications.

Providing Relief and Preventing Future Episodes in dog retching

For cases of mild, self-limiting retching, focus first on making your dog comfortable while their body sorts things out naturally. Some soothing steps to try:

  • Withhold food for a few hours if retching seems diet-related but provide small amounts of water
  • Create a quiet, low-stress space for resting away from other pets or noises
  • Apply gentle abdominal massage or warm compress to ease stomach discomfort
  • Consider an over-the-counter antacid under vet guidance for excess acidity relief
  • Rarely, sodium bicarbonate 1/4 tsp per 10lbs body weight in water may help if acute gastritis suspected

Long-term, focus on identifying potential triggers and making lifestyle adjustments to prevent further episodes. For example:

  • Feeding smaller, more frequent meals to lessen stomach acid and gaseous build up
  • Using an elevated feeder to reduce gulp breathing and excess air swallowing
  • Minimizing exercise intensity directly before/after meals to avoid stomach irritation
  • Calming supplements, pheromone diffusers, or medication under vet care for stress/anxiety issues
  • Providing distraction chews or food puzzles to slow eating pace
  • Avoiding rich human foods, fatty table scraps, or bones that are harder to digest

Vigilance in monitoring your dog and responding early pays off both in reassuring there are no underlying problems but also keeping them more comfortable overall. Let their subtle signals guide your care and support.

Related FAQs about Dog Retching

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions surrounding this common canine experience:

Is it normal for puppies to retch? Puppies are still developing proper digestion and sometimes swallow excess air while eating. As long as it’s not excessive or accompanied by lethargy, it’s usually harmless and they often outgrow it by 6-8 months old.

What medical conditions can cause chronic dogĀ  retching? Rarely it may signal an foreign object lodged in the esophagus or intestine, gastrointestinal disease like inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal mass, pancreatitis, or late stages of cancer. Thyroid, liver, or cardiovascular issues in rare cases too.

Is dog retching the same as dry heaving? Dry heaving refers specifically to forceful attempts to vomit without anything actually being expelled. Retching is a more general term encompassing both successful vomiting as well as attempts without ejection.

Can dehydration cause dog retching? Yes, low fluid intake leading to mild dehydration increases stomach acidity which irritates the lining and triggers nausea/retching as a result. Be sure pots are always full of fresh water.

Should I still walk my dog if retching? Light exercise is usually fine if the retching seems mild and infrequent. But avoid vigorous activity that could further upset the stomach until symptoms resolve as a precaution.

With attentive care and understanding normal vs abnormal behavior patterns for their individual dog, many owners find episodes of retching without vomiting are usually harmless in nature. But as always, if concerned be sure to consult your vet for personalized guidance. Knowledge and early intervention are keys to comfortably caring for our canine companions.