It’s a scary sound. In fact, it can be gut-wrenching for you as a pet parent. You suddenly hear your dog gagging or retching like they are going to throw up. You watch, waiting for them to vomit, but they don’t. They continue gagging, without producing vomit.
This can be caused by many issues from swallowing wrong to life-threatening bloat. It’s important to know the causes of your dog gagging, and what you can do about it.
Why does my dog sound like he’s going to throw up?
Your dog can sound like they are going to throw up for many reasons. It can be a sign of a serious health issue, so it’s important to monitor your dog closely and watch for other signs there’s a problem.
Gagging or Retching
The sound your dog makes is typically called gagging or retching. If there’s no vomiting, it can also be called dry heaves. Gagging itself is caused because the throat spasms. Dry heaving or retching occurs because the stomach and esophagus reverse their activity.
It’s something you may have experienced yourself. If you’ve ever felt sick to your stomach and retched without vomiting, you know how your dog feels. It can occur for many reasons unrelated to nausea, however.
Nausea or Vomiting
Your dog may sound like they are about to vomit because they are about to vomit. It’s common for a dog to retch a few times and then produce vomit. Nausea can also cause gagging, without vomiting.
Object Stuck in Throat
Just like humans, dogs will gag if something is stuck in their throat. Foreign objects in the throat are a common cause of gagging. Sticks, toys, and bones are common culprits. However, many objects can get stuck in the throat.
Many gastrointestinal issues can cause gagging. Acid reflux can irritate the throat. An obstruction or tumor in the gastrointestinal tract can also cause gagging.
Gastroenteritis is a common cause of gastrointestinal issues. It means the stomach and intestines are inflamed. The signs of Gastroenteritis include abdominal pain, gagging, vomiting, and diarrhea.
They may also gag without vomiting, particularly after eating or drinking. It can be caused by bacteria, parasites, medications, and changing their food.
The trachea is composed of muscles and c-shaped bands of cartilage. If one or more of these c bands collapses, it’s known as a collapsed trachea. It can be either partial or complete.
Smaller breeds are at a higher risk of collapsed trachea, but it can occur in any breed. Some dogs are born with a congenital defect that puts them at a high risk for collapsed trachea. Other dogs develop it during their life. Collars increase the risk of the condition, because they put pressure on the trachea.
Bilious vomiting syndrome
Bilious vomiting syndrome occurs due to bile in the stomach. Bile helps your dog break down food. However, when there’s no food in the stomach, excess bile can irritate the stomach lining. Over time, this irritation can cause nausea and vomiting. Bile vomiting is often yellow and can be frothy.
Respiratory diseases aren’t as dangerous to your dog as bloat, but they still require veterinary treatment. Dogs can get bronchitis, just as humans can.
Initially, your dog may have a cough with bronchitis. As the condition progresses, you’ll notice coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, gagging, and vomiting.
Dogs can also develop pneumonia. The symptoms are similar to those of bronchitis. Your dog will likely run a fever as well. Vomiting can occur with pneumonia as the body attempts to expel fluid from the lungs.
Why is my dog gagging but not throwing up?
There are several reasons your dog could be gagging but not throwing up. It could be something minor, or a serious medical issue.
Bloat occurs when your dog’s stomach can’t relieve gas. It’s more common in broad-chested large breeds, but it can happen to any dog. The gas in the stomach builds and begins to ferment. This causes intense pressure. If it continues, it will cause stomach torsion.
Dogs with bloat can’t vomit, poop, or pass gas. They will gag or retch severely in an attempt to vomit the contents of their stomach to relieve the pain, but nothing can come out.
Bloat is life-threatening and comes on very quickly. A dog can begin having symptoms and die from bloat in a matter of hours. If treatment is provided before stomach torsion occurs, there’s a much higher recovery rate.
In addition to gagging, your dog will clearly be in pain. Their stomach will appear swollen and hard to the touch.
Kennel cough is a common canine respiratory disease. As the name suggests, coughing is the main symptom. In addition to coughing, your dog may gag frequently.
Laryngeal Paralysis affects the larynx. It sits just above the trachea and esophagus. The muscles of the larynx contract and relax to open or close the larynx. This allows dogs, and people, to breathe and swallow. If you were to breathe when swallowing, liquid or food would end up in your lungs, leading to health problems.
Laryngeal paralysis occurs when the larynx should open, but it can’t open fully. This restricts breathing. Like the other respiratory difficulties we’ve mentioned, this can cause your dog to gag.
Other symptoms include wheezing and labored breathing. Your dog may be unable to exercise or tire easily, depending on the severity.
Food or Water
It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. You take a drink of your beverage, and begin coughing and gagging. When asked what happened, you say “it went down wrong”.
Dogs can also experience this. It’s one of the less concerning reasons dogs gag without throwing up. If this is the culprit, it should resolve within a few minutes.
Most owners don’t think of intestinal worms as a cause for respiratory problems. However, a parasite infestation can cause the worms to move into the lungs.
When the parasites infect the lungs, it affects breathing. Your dog may wheeze and cough frequently. They may also gag due to breathing difficulties.
Allergies or Sinusitis
Allergies or sinusitis can cause your dog to gag as well. Have you ever had excess mucus due to allergies cause a tickle or irritation in your throat? You probably coughed or cleared your throat.
Dogs will usually gag as a way of clearing their throat. If it is accompanied by sneezing, runny nose, or watery eyes, allergies may be what’s causing your dog to gag.
What to do about my dog gagging but not throwing up?
What to do about your dog gagging but not throwing up will depend on the cause of the gagging.
Check for Obstruction
An obstruction in the throat can quickly be a medical emergency. It can damage the throat or esophagus. It can also obstruct the airway which blocks your dog’s ability to breathe.
If your dog is gagging, you’ll need to check for an obstruction. Open their mouth and inspect their mouth and throat. If you see an object, remove it if you can safely. If you can’t, you’ll need to rush them to the vet.
If your dog gags for a moment and stops, it’s probably nothing to worry about. Keep an eye on them for the next few hours. If they seem fine, you shouldn’t be concerned.
If your dog is gagging frequently or cant’ seem to stop, there’s likely a medical cause. It could be something relatively minor, like allergies. However, it’s best to bring your dog to the vet to be sure.
Check for Symptoms of Bloat
If your dog is gagging heavily, check for signs of bloat. Particularly if they seemed fine a few hours before, but are now gagging constantly. Symptoms of bloat include a swollen stomach, inability to vomit or pass gas, and frequent severe gagging.
It requires immediate veterinary treatment. There’s nothing you can do for your dog with bloat except get them to the vet immediately.
Check for Symptoms of Respiratory Disease
If your dog is wheezing and gagging, chances are they have a respiratory disease. Vomiting can occur with some respiratory diseases, but gagging without vomiting is more common.
You may also notice that your dog is lethargic or tires easily. They may have a reduced appetite. You may notice they seem to have difficulty breathing. Respiratory disorders require veterinary evaluation and treatment. Some get worse if not treated.
Parasites are common in puppies, but adult dogs can pick them up from the environment or feces of infected dogs. The easiest way to check for parasites is to look for small worms in your dog’s stool.
Other symptoms include weight loss and fatigue. Severe cases can cause breathing difficulties and gagging. Parasites need to be treated by a vet, and it will only get worse without treatment.
Your dog can have parasites without their being visible evidence in the stool. Some types are not visible in stool, or are too small to be easily seen. If parasites are suspected, your vet can perform tests to determine if your dog has parasites.
Watch and Wait
If your dog has no symptoms other than gagging, you may decide to watch and wait. They may be coming down with a stomach illness or experiencing acid reflux.
If your dog stops eating, shows signs of being in pain, or has breathing difficulties, take them to the vet. If they begin vomiting severely, they’ll need to be seen as well. If they are gagging but still their normal selves otherwise, you can monitor their condition. It may improve quickly on its own.