Cats vomit up hairballs, dogs cover the lawn in messy poo and pet owners wonder when to start panicking about their pets’ health.

Vomiting and diarrhoea are common in pets but are not diseases in themselves; they’re symptoms of underlying diseases or ailments which can be serious. 

Causes of acute vomiting and diarrhoea

The number one cause of acute vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs is ‘garbage disease’ or acute gastroenteritis as a result of eating something rotten or too rich for their systems. This usually causes a short bout of vomiting and/or diarrhoea and in many cases will blow over within a day or so. But sometimes dogs can become very dehydrated and may need veterinary care. 

There are several viruses that can cause acute vomiting and diarrhoea, the most serious of these being parvovirus or distemper. 

Foreign bodies (e.g. bones, stones, toys, ropes) in the digestive system are another common cause of vomiting in dogs and cats. Breeds like Bassets, Beagles and Bull Terriers, are more prone to this problem, as are puppies. Cats are less likely to present with foreign bodies in the digestive system unless they have other behavioural issues like wool sucking. 

Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), bladder or kidney infections, a blocked bladder, high fever, stomach ulcers and poisoning are all potential causes of vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Constipation can also cause vomiting, while parasites, including worms, can cause diarrhoea. 

Causes of chronic vomiting and diarrhoea

Chronic, or long-term, vomiting can be caused by many different diseases and it is a symptom that should not be ignored. Common causes include: 

  1. Kidney disease (particularly in cats)
  2. Liver disease
  3. Chronic pancreatitis
  4. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  5. Cancer in the stomach or intestines
  6. Stomach ulcers
  7. Parasites, e.g. Giardia and Coccidia

If your pet has a short bout of diarrhoea or vomiting, over-the-counter medication such as Diomec may be purchased at an EberVet Vetshop. However, It is essential to see a vet if your pet shows the following symptoms:

  1. Vomiting or diarrhoea in a puppy, kitten, or toy breed (e.g. Yorkie, Toy Pom) for longer than 6-12 hours. The smaller the animal the more prone they are to dehydration and other complications. 
  2. If vomiting has persisted for longer than 24 hours or if the animal is vomiting a lot (more than four times in 12 hours) 
  3. If the pet has diarrhoea and is not eating for 24 hours
  4. If the pet is eating but the diarrhoea lasts more than two days 
  5. If there is blood in the vomit or diarrhoea. 
  6. If the stool is dark or black in colour or if the vomit looks like coffee grounds
  7. If the pet is very lethargic and has dry gums
  8. If the pet has had chronic vomiting or diarrhoea, in other words vomiting or diarrhoea that has gone on for more than a week, even if it just happens intermittently

*Dr Ingrid de Wet is the senior veterinarian at EberVet Country Animal Clinic in Somerset West,

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