Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Vomit?
Dr. Ivana Crnec
Many dogs eat their own vomit and this behavior may not make much sense to humans considering that the last thing any human being would want to do is eat is something that has been thrown up. Dogs seem to belong to a totally different planet when they engage in this behavior. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana explains why dogs engage in this practice.
A "Disgusting" Practice
All dog parents know first-hand that dogs do many nasty things on a daily basis. However, eating their own barf is probably on the very top of the list of disgusting dog behaviors.
For us, the dog’s fresh and still warm pile of vomit is quite disgusting, but for the dog it is a second opportunity to enjoy the delicious meal, especially if the reason for vomiting was eating too fast in the first place.
Basically, we may find this behavior strange, but for the dog, there are perfectly practical reasons for eating his own vomit. So, instead of going straight to judging, let us try to understand our dogs’ reasons behind this peculiar phenomenon.
Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Vomit?
So here is the million dollar question. Why do dogs eat their own vomit? Until dogs can talk, we can only make some educated guesses. There may be several reasons to why dogs eat their own vomit, but these are the most common.
Dogs Perceive The World Through Their Noses
Studies suggest that the dog’s nose in between 10.000 and 100.000 times more potent than a humans.' Therefore, it is safe to assume that dogs perceive and see the world through their noses, while we do through our eyes.
So, when there is a fresh pile of vomit on the carpet, we see a nasty mess, but our dogs smell a perfectly decent meal. It is all about criteria and expectations, right?
Mother Dogs Feed Regurgitated Food to Their Pups
Dogs eat vomit and regurgitated food because they are used to it. Namely, other dogs often regurgitate food and feed that regurgitated food to their young puppies.
This is predominantly true for wild dogs and our modern dog’s wild ancestors. Basically, mother dog would bolt meat from her kill and then regurgitate it as soon she gets back to the den where her puppies are waiting for her.
In 1995, a Swedish study showed that about 60 percent of the modern domesticated dogs regurgitate food to feed their pups.
Dogs are Opportunistic Scavengers
The dog’s wild ancestors had to survive in times of scarce resources. Therefore, they learned to eat whatever food they could find in order to survive.
Modern dogs are true to this surviving heritage and are willing to eat just about anything although their survival does not depend on it.
Regurgitated Food vs. Vomited Food – Which Tastes Better?
Let us start by shortly explaining the difference between the two. Observed form the outside, both regurgitating and vomiting look similar. However, things are not as similar on the inside.
Namely, regurgitation is a passive process in which the body rejects the swallowed food before it manages to reach the stomach.
On the contrary, vomiting is an active process in which the body expels the swallowed food after it reached the stomach and spent some time inside.
So, in the food battle between regurgitation and vomit, when it comes to taste, regurgitation is the winner. Why is that? Since it has not spent time in the stomach and is ejected shortly after being swallowed, it retains much of its original, pleasant aromas.
Is it Safe for Dogs to Eat Their Regurgitation/Vomit?
Yes, it is perfectly safe for a dog to eat his own regurgitation, as long as the regurgitated food does not contain inedible items (rocks, sticks, paper) or toxic materials.
However, when it comes to vomit, things are not as simple. Namely, dogs should not be allowed to eat their own vomit because when doing so, they may also eat the same toxins that initially triggered the vomiting (if toxin ingestion was involved).
For sake of safety, since one cannot know what triggered the vomiting, it would therefore be best to not allow the dog to eat it.
How to Prevent Dogs to Eat Their Vomit?
Dogs are extremely food motivated and if they regurgitate or vomit they will quickly engage in eating it. Therefore you need to act fast. However, this is easier said than done. Generally speaking, if you want to prevent your dog from eating its own regurgitation or vomit, you can either:
- Be faster than your dog and clean up the mess before he can start feasting on it. Alternatively, you can put your dog in another room while cleaning and then allow him to come back once the regurgitation/vomit is removed.
- Train your dog to obey the “leave it” command. Teaching your dog this command can be useful in many situations, not just for preventing eating vomit. However, when teaching your dog commands, you may need to seek professional help and hire a professional dog trainer.
Is the Underlying Cause of Regurgitation/Vomiting Important?
Yes, the underlying cause can be much more serious than the eating part. Generally speaking, regurgitation occurs when the dog eats something too fast.
Vomiting instead is usually triggered by a medical issue or when the ingested food is in some way inappropriate – contains inedible items, toxins or it is simply spoiled.
However, a dog who repeatedly or frequently regurgitates/vomits needs to be thoroughly examined by a vet. The vet will determine the underlying cause and suggest adequate management approaches or treatments.
Now That You Know...
All in all, as weird as dogs eating their own vomit may sound to us, for our dogs it is completely natural and even practical behavior. So, if you spot your dog feasting on its own barf, you are allowed to feel nauseated, but do not worry – eating vomit is a perfectly normal dog behavior and therefore your dog isn't crazy or mentally awkward.
However, the reason why the dog vomited in the first place might be worthy of further investigation. If your dog vomits because he is an overzealous eater and likes stuffing his entire meal in one mouthful, you should look into ways to stop your dog from eating fast such as using slow-feeding bowls and methods just to control his eating pace.
On the other hand, if you cannot get to the bottom of the vomiting cause, schedule an appointment at the vet’s office. Sometimes, there can be a medical issue behind your dog’s vomiting.
Finally, if in addition to vomiting, your dog shows other signs of disease do not wait for future developments and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.