[Guide] What the Color of Your Dog's Vomit Might Mean

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

[Guide] What the Color of Your Dog's Vomit Might Mean

We pet parents never like seeing our babies suffering, and sometimes, even thinking about the idea is enough to turn our stomachs. But we're all living beings, and our fur babies are often a little gross or off-putting. If we want to take proper care of them, we can't avert our eyes; we need to see what's going on and learn what it means.

Dogs like to get into things they shouldn't. And, since they have a limited number of ways they can interact with the world, they often just put things in their mouths. Often, that means they're licking, chewing on, or even eating things they shouldn't be. Sometimes, it's fine, even if it's a little gross. Sometimes, it can lead to an upset stomach. In worse cases, it can cause something worse, like an infection, an intestinal blockage, or another dangerous problem.

Fortunately, there are ways you can tell what's going wrong and how concerned you need to be, and whether you can just sigh, clean up, and move on, or if you need to rush your poor pooch to the vet. Unfortunately, it involves inspecting the vomit that comes out of your pup to interpret what it means. It's not like reading tea leaves or palms, but luckily, it's a lot more useful.

Vomiting vs. Regurgitation vs. Coughing

One of the first things to learn is that, though we use the terms to mean the same thing in general, vomiting and regurgitation are actually different things.

Have you ever had a case where your dog is so happy to be fed, possibly after a long play session, that they absolutely go to town on that bowl of food? It feels like a cup of kibble disappears in the time it takes you to blink.

Then, seconds later, it's back; a little chewed, a little damp, but right there on your floor, your pooch having barely gotten it all down before it comes right back up.

While unpleasant for you – and possibly just as attractive as the first time around to your doggo – this is regurgitation. Your dog ate their food much too quickly, and their body wasn't prepared for it, so it just pushed it right back up.

Regurgitation almost always happens pretty much immediately after eating, with little or no delay. It also comes with little or no warning,no retching, heaving, or contractions indicating they're trying to purge their stomach. That's because regurgitation usually happens when the stomach isn't even open for business, at least not for the sudden burst of food coming its way.

Regurgitation is not vomiting, and it's usually not dangerous unless it's happening every time your fur baby tries to eat. If it is, they may have something wrong that is preventing them from keeping food down, and it's a good idea to call your vet about it if it happens more than a couple of times in a row. A little regurgitation from an excitable pup is nothing to be too worried about, though. It just means you should get a slow feeder.

A Dog Feeling Unwell Image by Toe Beans

How about a second scenario? Have you ever had a time when your dog starts hacking and retching, like a chain smoker trying to clear their lungs, until something gross and gooey comes up? Often, it's white or clear, foamy, maybe a little yellow, and has the same sort of consistency as whatever you hack up when you're sick.

This is phlegm and spit more than anything, and it's not vomiting, it's coughing. It's more coming from the sinuses, throat, and lungs, rather than the digestive system. It can be a sign of a respiratory illness, like kennel cough, so if it happens frequently you should call your vet. Otherwise, though, it's not much different from you clearing your throat.

Vomiting is different from either of the above. Vomiting happens when your dog starts retching and hacking, clearly trying to expel something. You have a bit of warning to put something in front of them or take them away from the nice carpets, but probably not a lot of warning. Vomiting is expelling the contents of the stomach, which means it will contain whatever your fur baby has swallowed, whether it's food, bile, roadkill, parts of a toy or bone, or whatever else they've gotten into.

Vomiting is the most dangerous of the three, in general. It's a natural process where the body expels something causing it problems, but that means something is causing problems, and it's not always directly something your fur baby ate. If, for example, they end up with an impacted bowel, they won't be able to defecate, and food will get backed up in their system. Eventually, trying to eat more simply won't work, and if they try, they'll vomit.

When a dog vomits, it can be caused by a wide range of different problems, and those problems can be partially diagnosed through an inspection of the vomit itself. It's gross and unpleasant, but it has to be done.

Interpreting Dog Vomit

Knowing what vomit means can be the difference between taking your time cleaning up and rushing your fur baby to the vet before something terrible happens. So, let's talk about it, unpleasant though it may be.

Cleaning Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

Color and texture are generally related, so we'll cover them both as we go.

Before diving in, though, it's worth saying one thing: vomiting, while natural, is a sign of something wrong. Sometimes, something is as minor as a bit of an upset stomach and resolves itself immediately. Other times, it can be caused by an infection, a parasite like worms, poisoning from eating something toxic, or an injury.

Vomiting more than once in a day and more than a couple of days in a row is almost always something you need to talk to your vet about. At the very least, give them a call, describe the issue, and they'll ask you questions about what's going on and can tell you if you need to bring your dog in right away. Sometimes it's a clear emergency, of course, but if you're at all unsure, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

White Vomit

If your dog's vomit is white, it's either smooth or foamy in consistency. This can be regurgitation, but it can also be a sign that your fur baby ate something mildly toxic to them and they're purging it. It can also be a symptom of digestive upset, acid reflux, or an intestinal blockage, though the latter is less common.

White Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

White vomit tends to happen the most because your fur baby had an upset stomach and tried to eat some grass to soothe it. It often doesn't work and, worse, since grass often has chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides on it, it can be dangerous.

White foamy vomit can also be caused by bloating or other gastrointestinal issues. If they're trying to vomit repeatedly and can't seem to get up anything more than white foam, call your vet ASAPbecause they may have an intestinal blockage. If, on the other hand, it resolves itself after a few attempts, contact your vet for an appointment when you can, but you usually don't need the emergency trip.

Green Vomit

Green vomit is almost, but not always, caused by your fur baby just eating way too much grass. It can also be caused by them eating something that contains green food coloring, probably something they shouldn't have been getting into, which is why they're vomiting it up.

Green Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

Green is also the color of bile, which can indicate some minor illnesses or food allergies. You should usually be able to tell whether or not there's grass in the vomit, and if there isn't, it may be slightly more of a cause for concern. That said, pretty much all of the causes of green vomit – except for poisoning, which will have other symptoms as well – are minor, so it's not something you need to be too concerned with.

As always, though, if your dog keepsvomiting repeatedly throughout the day or across several days, it's more likely to be an illness or emergency, and you should contact your vet right away.

Yellow Vomit

Yellow is one of the most common and least dangerous colors for vomit. It's tinted with bile, but not a lot of it. Yellow vomit is usually just a case of an empty stomach disliking something that hit it or a case of acid reflux. It's unpleasant, but it's not dangerous.

Yellow Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

The exception is if it happens regularly. That can be a sign of a stomach disease, a consistent food allergy, or some kind of gut inflammation that is causing an imbalance in their system. All of these are non-emergency problems, but they should still be addressed as soon as you can get a standard appointment.

Brown Vomit

Brown is one of the trickier colors to diagnose, because it's either virtually harmless, or quite dangerous. Why? Basically, brown vomit can be caused by three things.

First, it can be partially digested food. This is most common if your fur baby has some kind of upset stomach after eating, and vomits up their food partially digested. This usuallyhas a chunkier texture, more like wet and chewed food, and while it's certainly disgusting, it's actually the least bad of the three causes.

Brown Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

Second, it can be feces. Dogs love to get into things they shouldn't, and you've almost definitely had to stop them from eating both their own excrement and whatever piles they find from other creatures out on their walks. Unfortunately, you probably can't keep them under your watchful eye 100% of the time, and they may have slipped the net and found something to eat that they shouldn't have. Then, when it comes back up, it's brown like it was when they first ate it. This, while disgusting, isn't dangerous at all unless the feces they ate had something like worms in it that have gotten into your dog.

The third is the more dangerous of the three, and it's blood. Usually, blood in vomit is more obvious. But, blood further down the digestive tract is partially digested, and that oxidizes it, just like how blood dries brown, basically. If there's a little blood in their vomit, it can look brown. How can you tell? Basically, just use something white when you clean it up, like paper towels. The redness will be more obvious against something white. If you see red, then you should call your vet.

Red Vomit

Red or pink vomit is one of two things. It could be red food coloring or dye from something they are, whether it's a human candy or even kibble that has dye in it. That's distressing but not really dangerous beyond the fact that they were eating something they shouldn't have.

Red Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

The more common cause is blood. The "good" news is that if the blood is red, it's fresher blood. That means it could be coming from something like a cut in their mouth, a scratch in their throat, or a gastrointestinal problem.

I put good in quotes because any blood in the vomit, especially if you don't see an obvious mouth wound, is dangerous. It's definitely emergency vet time, so don't delay.

Black Vomit

Black vomit is one of the worst kinds of vomit. It usually has the appearance sort of like coffee grounds. Unless your dog, well, ate and vomited up actual coffee grounds, this is a sign of a very serious problem. It's blood, again, but it's blood that was digested, so it's deeper in their system and probably more dangerous. Definitely take them to your emergency vet ASAP, as this can indicate a life-threatening problem like a gut puncture, among other things.

Black Dog Vomit Image by Toe Beans

None of us like to see our fur babies in distress, and definitely none of us like to be cleaning up piles of vomit on the carpet, furniture, crate, or other floors. While cleanup is important, you can't just close your eyes and mop it up; it's critical to know what you're dealing with to make sure there isn't a worse problem at hand.

Hopefully, your fur baby is okay, and you don't have to worry. I'm rooting for you!

Now, after reading this article, if you have any non-medically-urgent questions, be sure to let me know in the comments section down below. I'd be more than happy to help you out however I can!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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