It’s only natural to be concerned if your dog is vomiting, but nothing is coming up. Besides, vomiting usually stops once the food is up. But that isn’t the case here. So why does your dog do this? Should it be a cause for concern, and is there anything you need to do in response? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
So, why does a dog vomit and nothing comes up? In extreme cases, a dog may vomit with nothing coming up if his stomach is twisted (GDV), which is a medical emergency. Other medical conditions can cause dry heavings, such as a throat tumor, a respiratory infection like kennel cough, tonsillitis, a reaction to a medication, or trachea problems. Sometimes, though, dry vomiting can happen temporarily if a dog has eaten too quickly.
Pretty worrying, right?
And you likely want to call a vet, know, don’t you?
But before you do, let’s delve into the underlying causes further (including how to detect if it is something more serious going on) before delving into your responses further, too.
Why Does Nothing Come Up When A Dog Vomits?
If a dog has a blocked throat or stomach, nothing will come up when he vomits because it can’t get through (e.g., if he has GDV). Other medical conditions can also cause throat irritation or swelling, causing your dog to dry heave to attempt to get rid of the source of the problem.
Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)
This is a serious medical emergency where your dog’s stomach has twisted and is unable to expel gas. GDV is also known as gastric torsion.
Because the stomach can’t expel gas, your dog’s abdomen swells. In your dog’s digestive tract, both the entrance and exit are blocked.
Your dog will repeatedly vomit (with nothing coming up) to try and release the trapped gas without success.
The twisted stomach exerts pressure which then cuts off the blood supply to your dog’s other vital organs.
Symptoms of GDV
It is crucial to be able to identify GDV – or at least know if it’s a possibility. Most dogs will go into shock quickly and can die within a few hours.
In addition to unsuccessful vomiting, the most common symptoms of GDV are:
- A swollen abdomen.
- Increased heart rate.
- Shallow or rapid breathing.
- Excess saliva.
- Pale nose or gums (a sign of dehydration).
- Cold body temperature.
- Pacing, restlessness, and other signs of anxiety.
Note: Sometimes GDV is referred to as bloat, but they are not quite the same: bloat is when the stomach swells, but there is no twisting. Bloat can sometimes happen for a short time after your dog eats, whereas GDV can have fatal consequences if not treated quickly.
Causes of GDV
We don’t know what causes GDV, and it can happen to any dog of any breed or age. However, statistics show that dogs with the following characteristics can be more prone to GDV:
- Large breed dogs who have narrow, deep chests. Example breeds are Saint Bernards, Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Weimaraners, Basset Hounds, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, and Standard Poodles.
- Dogs with poor eating habits. Dogs who eat one large meal per day rather than several smaller meals are more likely to not be able to digest their food properly. Additionally, dogs who eat or drink too quickly or who engage in exercise after eating are also more at risk. This is why vets suggest waiting 2 hours after meals to exercise your dog – even if it’s a game of fetch.
- Older dogs. Dogs who are over 7 years old are more at risk. Some experts believe this is because the hepatogastric ligament that keeps the stomach in place gets stretched with age. Increased body weight can also be a factor.
Another Medical Condition
Apart from GDV, other medical conditions can cause dogs to dry heave, such as:
- Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis. This respiratory infection can cause your dog to cough violently, which causes him to dry heave. Kennel cough is caused by bacteria and viruses in the air and is highly contagious. Dogs usually contract kennel cough at dog grooming salons and kennels, which is why most kennels will only host dogs who have been vaccinated.
- A tumor in the airways or esophagus. As the tumor grows, it will obstruct your dog’s airways and compress the esophagus. Your dog will have trouble breathing, and his throat may feel irritated, causing him to cough and dry heave in an attempt to rid himself of the irritant and get more air.
- A reaction to medication. Sometimes a dog will react adversely to medication or experience side effects like nausea, which can cause dry heaving.
- A loss in elasticity of the trachea. As dogs get older, the trachea (windpipe) can become less elastic. The rings of cartilage that comprise the trachea can weaken and get smaller in diameter, resulting in severe coughing and retching. In some dog breeds, such as Poodles, this condition is hereditary.
- Tonsillitis. If your dog’s tonsils are inflamed, his tonsils will swell, initiating his gag reflex, which causes him to dry heave.
Something Is Stuck In His Throat
It could be your dog has something stuck in his throat that he is trying to dislodge by vomiting.
Dogs can swallow all kinds of things: tissues, string, rocks, hair scrunchies, dog toys – the list is long!
On top of the dry retching, you may notice the following signs of a blockage in your dog’s throat or esophagus:
- Loud breathing sounds
- Excess salivation
- Dry heaving coughs
- Mauling or pawing at his face
When Should You Be Concerned About A Dog Throwing Up Without Food Coming Up?
If your dog throws up with nothing coming out as a one-off, there is likely no cause for concern. However, if your dog throws up repeatedly or shows any symptoms of a more serious problem, you should be concerned and act quickly.
Knowing the cause of your dog’s retching will determine whether to be concerned or not: as mentioned above, some causes are medical emergencies.
If you have any doubts, call your vet and let them know:
- All the symptoms you’ve observed.
- How long the retching has been going on.
- If any of the retching has brought anything up, or if it’s all dry heaves.
- What your dog has eaten recently.
If you need to bring your dog to the vet, your vet will do a physical examination.
They may wish to carry out chemical tests like blood tests, a urinalysis, etc.
Various imaging techniques (ultrasound, X-rays, etc.) can also help pinpoint the cause of the vomiting.
When You Probably Don’t Have To Worry
Sometimes dogs will eat too fast, causing lots of air to enter the stomach along with their food.
Some food can even go down the wrong pipe, blocking your dog’s airways and causing him to dry heave to try and get the food out.
If your dog dry heaves once or twice because he’s eating too fast, you probably don’t need to be concerned.
Your dog may dry heave a few times as a reaction to medication – this isn’t necessarily a cause for immediate concern, though you’ll want to monitor your dog to see if the dry heaving continues.
If it does, you’ll want to speak to your vet to make adjustments to your dog’s treatment.
When You Need To Be Concerned (and Act Quickly)
You need to be concerned if your dog dry heaves repeatedly or if you spot any of the following problems:
- A painful or bloated abdomen.
- Any breathing problems.
- A sudden, rapid heart rate.
- Pacing or other signs of restlessness.
- Lethargy (sleeping more than usual or being quieter overall).
- Vomiting for more than 24 hours.
- Dry heaving with rough sounds, as if something is stuck in his throat (see other signs above that may indicate a blocked throat).
- Signs of dehydration (sunken eyes, sticky or pale gums, less elasticity in scruff when you pull it gently).
- Sudden behavioral changes.
If in doubt, always call your vet.
Dogs are experts at hiding sickness because their instinct tells them they are more vulnerable to predators if they appear weak.
Your dog may not show signs of a serious problem until it’s too late to act.
You know your dog better than anyone.
It’s always better to make a phone call that may prove unnecessary but can put your mind at ease – or save your dog’s life.
What To Do About Your Dog Vomiting If Nothing Comes Up
What to do about your dog vomiting unsuccessfully depends on the cause, which you may not be able to identify. A vet visit is always recommended if you suspect any of the problems mentioned above.
If You Suspect GDV
If you suspect your dog has GDV, get him to the vet as a matter of urgency – you have very little time, and the faster you get him into emergency surgery, the better his chances of survival.
Once you get your dog to the vet, if it is indeed GDV, your vet will work to relieve the pressure on the stomach and the other internal organs.
Your dog will be treated for shock so that emergency surgery can then begin.
Unfortunately, GDV surgery often requires parts of the spleen and stomach to be removed.
The recovery process is long, and the procedure is costly – although necessary to save your dog’s life.
If Something Is Stuck In His Throat
You will understandably be nervous or even frightened if you think there’s something stuck in your dog’s throat.
Your dog may be able to vomit up the object on his own, but if he is having trouble breathing, you may need to give him an emergency Heimlich maneuver.
Sometimes you might see the object at the back of his throat.
It’s tempting to want to remove it yourself, but the best thing is to let your vet do it.
If you try and remove it yourself, you could tear or otherwise damage your dog’s tender esophageal lining.
If You Suspect Another Medical Condition
If you suspect another medical condition, here’s what to do:
For Kennel Cough
Get your dog to the vet, keeping him away from other animals.
Phone your vet first with your suspicions so that they can take the proper precautions upon receiving your dog.
Your vet will treat your dog with antibiotics and prescribe rest.
If your dog has a tumor (whether in his throat or elsewhere), the only thing to do is get it surgically removed.
When you bring your dog to the vet to treat his cough, your vet will check his throat and can pick up the presence of a tumor or another irritant or obstruction.
For Reactions To Medication
If your dog has recently started medication and you see he’s dry heaving, he may be feeling nauseous.
Call your vet to report the symptoms and see if you need to either wait it out or make adjustments to his medicine (do not change your dog’s medication without your vet’s advice).
For Loss In Elasticity Of The Trachea
You probably won’t know this is the cause of your dog’s retching until you take him to the vet.
If your dog’s trachea has become less elastic, your vet may recommend any of the following:
- Steroids (oral and inhalant administered using an Aerodawg device).
- Cough suppressants.
Your vet may also recommend preventative care, such as:
- Using a harness for walks rather than a collar (removing pressure from the trachea).
- Weight loss.
- Avoiding airway irritants (smoke, air pollution, allergens like dust or pollen, etc.)
As with other medical problems, you won’t be able to diagnose this independently.
If your vet diagnoses tonsillitis, they will probably give your dog a course of antibiotics to treat the tonsils as well as the infection.
Depending on the severity of the tonsillitis, your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatories to help relieve his pain.
How To Prevent Your Dog Vomiting If Nothing Is Coming Up
While you can’t prevent every possible vomiting scenario, there are some things you can do to help avoid future dry retching.
Here’s what you can do to help avoid vomiting problems:
- Break up your dog’s meals. Instead of giving large meals, feed your dog smaller meals more often throughout the day.
- Help your dog to eat more slowly. Try using puzzle toys or food-dispensing feeders that force your dog to work harder for his food. If you have more than one dog at home, try feeding them separately so they don’t feel like they have to rush or compete for food.
- Make sure you wait 2 hours after meals before exercise. Anything you can do to help your dog learn to stay calm after eating can help his digestion. If you love spending time with him right after his meals, try calm cuddles or some chill time on the sofa before going out for him to play. If he insists on going outside 30 minutes after eating, he probably just needs the toilet, so let him do that and bring him right back in again till more time has passed.
- Ensure your dog has fresh, clean water available at all times. If water is freely available throughout the day, he’ll be less likely to drink too fast. During exercise, give your dog a drink break every 15 minutes.
Note: If your dog has had or is in danger of developing GDV because of various factors, your vet may recommend gastropexy surgery. Gastropexy involves attaching the stomach securely to the body wall to reduce the chances of it twisting. Sometimes your vet may offer this if your dog has had to have emergency GDV surgery. Gastropexy doesn’t eliminate the possibilities of GDV 100%, but it does greatly reduce the chances of a recurrence.
By now, you likely know your appropriate course of action.
I would say that if in doubt, or if your dog repeatedly vomits without bringing anything up, don’t delay. Call a vet, and get your dog checked over.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Related guides that may be of interest:
- Dog Vomits After Exercise [Why & What Do Do About It]
- Dog Vomits Pink Foam [What It Means & What To Do]
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.