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Why Is My Dog Dry Heaving? Our Vet Explains the 7 Causes & What to Do

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By Dr. Iulia Mihai

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Dr. Iulia Mihai

DVM MSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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When vets see that a dog is dry heaving, they tend to assume the worst, but for good reason. Dry heaving in dogs is one of the signs of a medical emergency: gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). Most of the time with GDV, surgical treatment is needed to save the pet’s life, though even surgery can’t guarantee survival.

However, dry heaving can also occur due to other conditions and be accompanied by other clinical signs. Conditions in which dry heaving can occur include nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, intestinal obstructions, cancer, and intoxication. It can also occur when dogs eat too fast or get too excited.


What Is Dry Heaving in Dogs?

Dry heaving is often confused with reverse sneezing, gagging, coughing, or vomiting. It happens when your pet tries to vomit, but nothing comes out. In some cases, dry heaving can sound like vomiting, burping, or even difficulty breathing.

Dry heaving caused by a GDV is more common in large and giant dog breeds, with some being more prone than others, including Weimaraners, Dobermans, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Standard Poodles, and Bernese Mountain Dogs, but it can occur in any breed of dog.

Sometimes, dogs spit foamy saliva, but this should not be confused with real vomiting of the gastric content. Dry heaving can occur as a one-time thing, or your dog can have multiple episodes that occur suddenly.

hepper-dog-paw-divider2The 7 Causes of Dry Heaving in Dogs

1. Nausea

Nausea is the feeling of being sick, which often precedes vomiting. In many cases, nausea eventually leads to vomiting, but the dog sometimes does not vomit actual gastric content—they dry heave or retch.

Nausea and vomiting are two clinical signs that occur in many medical conditions1, including gastroenteritis, gastrointestinal foreign bodies, parasites, liver and kidney diseases, poisoning, heatstroke, and viral infections. Keep in mind that these medical conditions can cause other clinical signs besides nausea and vomiting.

The clinical signs of nausea in dogs include:

  • Panting
  • Hypersalivation
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Repeated swallowing
  • Lip licking
  • Vocalization
  • Restlessness
  • Dry heaving
  • Nervousness
  • Vomiting

2. Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)

Gastric dilatation is a surgical emergency and happens when your dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluids and expands. This is called a stomach or gastric bloat or dilatation. This condition is more common in large and giant breeds, and in more severe cases, gastric torsion (volvulus) can also occur. With gastric torsion, your pet’s stomach expands and rotates around its axis.

As a result of this condition, dogs can suffer a series of aggravating complications. The increased pressure inside the abdomen affects the cardiovascular system and leads to ischemia of the stomach lining (local blood deficiency, caused by an obstacle in arterial circulation). Ischemia can lead to the necrosis of the stomach wall and eventually sepsis.

Clinical signs of GDV emerge rapidly and include:

  • Agitation
  • Excessive salivation
  • Swollen distended abdomen
  • Dry heaving

In severe cases, dogs can present with:

  • Pale gums (shock)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Poor pulses
  • Weakness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Collapse

Since GDV is a surgical emergency that can kill your dog if you don’t intervene in time, contacting the vet as soon as you notice the clinical signs is vital.

3. Gastrointestinal Discomfort

Gastrointestinal discomfort or gastrointestinal upset can occur when dogs suffer from bacterial or viral infections, intestinal parasites, food allergies, foreign objects, etc.

It may be accompanied by the following clinical signs:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Drooling
  • Dry heaving
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea

sick australian shepherd dog
Image Credit: Irini Adler, Pixabay

4. Gastrointestinal Obstructions

Gastrointestinal obstructions can occur due to tumors, parasites, coprostasis, or foreign objects. The obstruction can endanger your dog’s life if the clinical signs are not recognized and intervened in a short time.

Clinical signs include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Dry heaving
  • Vomiting with partially digested food
  • Vomit with fecaloid odor
  • Tense and painful abdomen
  • Lack of bowel movements
  • Straining or unable to defecate
  • Bloating
  • Fever, if the intestine is perforated and your dog has sepsis
  • Collapse

Since it is a medical emergency, it is vital to take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

5. Oral Problems

There can be several issues in your dog’s mouth that may cause pain and dry heaving or retching. Some of these causes include infections, foreign bodies, teeth or gum problems, or cancer in the mouth. These conditions can sometimes lead to tonsilitis, or inflammation of the tonsils, particularly in smaller breeds, although this is not a very common ailment.

Clinical signs of various mouth issues in dogs may include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Having an appetite but not eating (they go to the food bowl, smell it, and leave)
  • Chewing or swallowing awkwardly
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Discharge from the mouth
  • Dry heaving
  • Gagging or short soft cough
  • Fever

a white fluffy pomeranian dog not eating the food
Image Credit: Varvara Serebrova, Shutterstock

6. Upper Respiratory Infection

An acute infection of the upper respiratory tract may be caused by the direct invasion of the mucous membrane of the upper respiratory tract by viruses or bacteria. This condition is commonly referred to as Infectious tracheobronchitis or kennel cough and is extremely contagious.

If your dog suffers from an upper respiratory infection, you may notice the following signs:

  • Snorting
  • Sneezing
  • Dry hacking 
  • Discharge from the nose 
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Lethargy 
  • Fever
  • Breathing problems 
  • Coughing (either dry or productive)
  • Gagging
  • Dry heaving
  • Vomiting

Kennel cough can last for 1-3 weeks, and most dogs will develop a specific dry, hacking cough, which is often accompanied by dry heaving and sometimes vomiting. Treatment, if required, is symptomatic, focusing on pain relief and sometimes antimicrobials, but in very young, old, or sick dogs, it may lead to pneumonia. 

7. Eating Too Fast

Dogs that eat too quickly can suffer from digestive problems and a high risk of choking. This happens when they do not take the necessary time to chew their food properly. For large and giant dogs, the risk of developing GDV may increase because they swallow a large amount of air in a short time. Also, swallowing air (aerophagia) leads to bloating.

Here are the clinical signs that your dog may show if they eat too fast:

  • Dry heaving
  • Regurgitation
  • Vomiting
  • Excess gas soon after their meal
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Bloat

hepper-dog-paw-divider 5

What Should I Do if My Dog Is Dry Heaving?

If your dog dry heaves only once, it is probably not a reason to panic. But if your dog does this repeatedly, it means that something is wrong and you should take them to the vet immediately.

The veterinarian will talk to you about your dog’s medical history and perform a general examination and possibly additional tests. Most medical conditions that cause dry heaving can be treated with medication. However, GDV and intestinal obstructions are surgical emergencies and must be acted upon immediately. So, as soon as your dog shows the clinical signs, take them straight to the vet.

a veterinarian checking a sick dog using a stethoscope
Image Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko, Pexels

hepper-dog-paw-divider 3


Dry heaving in dogs is often confused with gagging or coughing. Dry heaving means your dog is trying to vomit but nothing is coming out of their mouth. The most common medical conditions in which dry heaving can occur are nausea, GDV, intestinal obstructions, foreign bodies, oral issues, or upper respiratory infections. Dry heaving can also occur if your dog eats too quickly. GDV and intestinal blockage are surgical emergencies, and you must act fast when the clinical signs occur; otherwise, your pet might die.

Featured Image Credit: Mumemories, Shutterstock

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