Nothing gets us out of bed faster than the sound of retching in the middle of the night!
But what about those times stuff just flies out of their mouths like in the movie "The Exorcist"? (You know the scene we're talking about: split pea soup!)
We know, it's not our favorite thing to talk about but it's important to know the difference between vomiting and regurgitating.
That Retching Sound
It's the full body, gut wrenching, 'hork, hork, hork, HEAVE-HO!' we all dread. That's right: vomiting.
Vomiting involves the abdominal muscles and is a forceful expulsion of stomach contents up the esophagus and out through the mouth.
The material brought up can be a variety of things and is known as vomitus. What might come up? All of these are types of vomitus:
Where did that come from?
Regurgitation is when stomach contents come up the esophagus, into the mouth and may or may not make it out. This can be referred to as 'urping' or 'acid reflux'.
Essentially the big difference between vomiting and regurgitation is with regurg you don't see the classic abdominal crunches or hear that retching sound. These are silent.
Some pets will urp something up (regurgitus), smack their lips, and swallow it right back down. You may not even be aware your pet is doing this because it can be subtle. Sometimes regurg can cause coughing or gagging in pets.
Don't be fooled by a pile on the ground though. Sometimes the gastric contents come up and out like in 'The Exorcist' and it can be a large volume. These also tend to be more tube shaped like the esophagus, and can have mucous coating it. So, just because you see a pile of stomach contents on the ground doesn't guarantee your pet is vomiting, it could be regurgitation or it can also be expectorant.
Wait? What the heck is expectorant?
The last type of bodily fluid to come up and out is expectorant. This is when a pet is coughing and they hack something up. This can be from coughing too long or too hard and they can make themselves vomit.
Cats with asthma may go undiagnosed for years with vomiting or hairballs, when in fact they may be coughing from asthma and then bringing up expectorant or causing themselves to vomit.
So, it's important to know if your pet has a cough: did the cough start before or after the 'vomiting' episode?
When in doubt: shoot a video of what your pet is doing with your smartphone and show it to the veterinarian. Videos are great ways for veterinarians to see exactly what you are talking about and can be a huge aide when diagnosing and treating your pet.
We hope this didn't gross you out too much. And we hope the next time your veterinary team member asks you, "does your pet vomit," you can respond back with "yes," and feel confident with your answer; or "no, actually he's been regurgitating," and know you are helping your veterinarian diagnose your pet better.
What did you think of the article? Is there anything we missed that you'd like us to cover? Leave us a comment below and we'll be happy to answer your questions!
Yvonne Brandenburg, RVT, VTS (SAIM) is a Registered Veterinary Technician practicing in California and obtained her Veterinary Technician Specialty in Small Animal Internal Medicine in 2016. She is the founder of InternalMedicineForPetParents.com. For more about Yvonne visit her author page here.
This website is NOT a substitute for veterinary care with a veterinarian. We recommend you follow the advice and treatment plan as prescribed by your veterinarian, and only after discussing anything found on this website with your veterinarian, with their approval, implementing advice found here.
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