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Ask Dr.Fiona Your Own Question
Dr.Fiona, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 6273
Experience:  16 years experience as a companion animal veterinarian in British Columbia, California and Ontario
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My dog keeps being sick at night. He heaves and sounds like

Customer Question

My dog keeps being sick at night. He heaves and sounds like he cant catch his breath then he vomits. What could this be?
Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 8 years ago.
Welcome to Just Answer! I would like to help you and your Cairn Terrier with this question, but need a bit more information in order to better assist you.

What is usually in the vomitus?

Does he do this only at night? What sort of time?

When did this start?

How many times a day do you feed him, and at what times?

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

the vomit is usually bright yellow with nothing in it

It is always at night, between 2 and 6am

This started about 2 weeks ago, not every night at first then more frequent

We feed him twice a day, a quarter of a can and biscuits, about 715am and 530-6pm


Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 8 years ago.
Hi again,
With what you are describing, I would wonder if your dog might have bilious vomiting syndrome.

Basically, in small dogs their stomachs are tiny and their metabolisms are fast. They use up the food in their stomach very quickly, and then their stomach is empty. The stomach contains gastric acid, which is very irritating to the stomach lining, especially when there is no food to soak it up. When the stomach is empty, the acid irritates the stomach so much that the dog starts to feel nauseated. Then, he won't eat. So, the stomach remains empty and irritated. The dog then vomits - and it is stomach acid and bile that comes up!

So, it becomes a cycle - empty stomach --> nauseated --> vomit --> nauseated and so on.

The way to break the cycle is to get your dog eating many many small meals. Sometimes we have to give dogs with this problem an antacid to help them - common options are cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid) or ranitidine (Zantac).

Here is more about Tagamet:

More about Pepcid:

And more about Zantac:

Keeping your dog's stomach from getting empty will also help to break this cycle. This is particularly true of a BED-TIME MEAL. He needs to have something just before going to sleep in order to prevent his stomach from getting so empty overnight.   

Also, it is *really* important that he eats very soon after waking in the morning. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, so that we can get that stomach acid soaked up in some food and prevent the stomach from getting irritated. So, even if you have to resort to a bit of bread or low-fat crackers, then do that to get him to eat.

So, in summary, it sounds to me that your Cairn is vomiting bile and stomach acid because his stomach gets irritated from being empty for long periods. This is best treated by giving frequent small meals and antacids if needed. I am not sure why this has become a problem more recently. If you cannot control it with a bedtime meal and possibly with some Zantac, then you should see your vet.

Here's a link:

If getting your dog to eat breakfast is a challenge, you could try canned easy-to-digest foods from your vet (I/D or Gastro are a couple of brands) or pick up some jars of human baby food. Just make very sure the baby food has no onions, onion powder, garlic or garlic powder in it. Beech Nut makes a line of baby food that has nothing but meat (beef, chicken, turkey or veal) in it. Here's a link:

If you cannot find this, you could find another meat baby food - just read the label carefully to be sure there are no onions, onion powder, garlic, or garlic powder in it. YOu could put this as a little gravy on his crunchies.

Sometimes offering the food on your finger for him to lick it off will get him started on eating. Sometimes you have to put a bit in his mouth to get a dog started.

I hope that this has been helpful. If it has, please hit the green "Accept" button and leave feedback. I will still be here to provide more information if you need it!

The above is given for information only. Although I am a licensed veterinarian, I cannot legally prescribe medicines or diagnose your pet's condition without performing a physical exam. If you have concerns about your pet I would strongly advise contacting your regular veterinarian.