If your pet is experiencing persistent non-productive retching or respiratory distress, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!
If your pet is experiencing persistent/severe vomiting or aggressive coughing without distress, these are considered “ORANGE” – or urgent cases. We recommend having your pet see your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within the next 12 hours.
If your pet is experiencing two or fewer episodes of vomiting or a non-productive cough with otherwise normal breathing, these are considered “YELLOW” – or semi-urgent cases. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 24 hours.
Many pet owners are familiar with the sound of their pet starting to vomit – and it’s usually on the family heirloom rug! But what many pet owners don’t know is the difference between vomiting and unproductive retching – and how this difference is significant for your pet’s health! Here are a few tips on how to differentiate these ailments and what to do if your pet is retching unproductively!
First, What is Unproductive Retching?
Unproductive retching, also known as dry heaving, is when the motion of vomiting is performed but no stomach contents come up. This can occur before or after true vomiting, as well as without vomiting at all. It may also happen before, during, or after a coughing episode.
There are many causes of unproductive retching, including:
1. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) occurs most commonly in large, deep-chested dog breeds (such as Great Danes, German shepherds, standard poodles, and Labradors) but can occur in smaller dogs as well. In this condition, the stomach twists on itself and is unable to empty in either direction. The dog attempts to vomit by retching but cannot truly vomit. GDV is a serious emergency that is diagnosed via x-ray and corrected with emergency surgery.
2. Throat/Airway Obstruction or Irritation
If your pet eats an object that gets lodged in the airway or irritates the tissues of the throat during swallowing, the pet will retch or cough to clear the blockage or irritation. Masses/tumors in the back of the throat can cause retching or coughing, too. Your pet may also gag, have loud breathing sounds, or start to paw at their face or throat. Any of these symptoms can escalate to the point that they restrict your pet’s ability to breathe and become a medical emergency. For more information on how to know if your pet is experiencing respiratory distress, click here.
3. Coughing Ending in a Terminal Retching
A pet that experiences a significant coughing episode may then experience “terminal retch.” After a coughing fit, the stomach may contract and perform the motion of vomiting, but no stomach contents are produced. There are many causes of coughing: kennel cough, pneumonia, irritation of the throat, and heart disease, to name a few. If your pet is experiencing a persistent cough, with or without terminal retching, please seek emergency veterinary attention.
If your pet has emptied their stomach via vomiting but continues to experience nausea, they may retch unproductively. Nausea can be caused by many different ailments, so if your pet has experienced significant vomiting or nausea, consult with your veterinarian to investigate the cause and determine the best course of treatment.
Seek Emergency Care
Unproductive retching can signal a serious underlying emergency. Please seek emergency veterinary attention for your pet if they retching unproductively or displaying any other concerning behaviors. When in doubt, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital.
The veterinary team will ask your pet’s history, especially as it relates to their most recent meal or presence of any true vomiting. If you have a large breed dog, you’ll also be asked if your pet has undergone a preventative gastropexy, a stomach tacking surgery used to prevent GDV.
The veterinarian will then perform a physical exam and run diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your pet’s retching. Diagnostic tests may include imaging of the throat or abdomen, bloodwork, or other specialized testing. Your veterinary team will use this information to make the best possible treatment recommendations to solve your pet’s medical issues and help them feel better!
- Chronic Vomiting in Cats
- Cat Gagging: Common Causes & When to Go to the ER
- How to Know if Your Pet is Experiencing Respiratory Distress
- Understanding GI Upset in Pets