Dog Health

Dog Dry Heaving or Gagging? Here’s How You Can Help

February 27, 2024

Dog Dry Heaving or Gagging? Here’s How You Can Help

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Dog Dry Heaving or Gagging? Here’s How You Can Help

It can be quite worrying when your dog starts dry heaving or gagging. If your dog is having episodes like this, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to help. In this article we explore the possible causes of dry heaving or gagging, and what you should do for your pet.

What Is the Difference Between Dry Heaving and Gagging?

Dry heaving describes what your dog might do when it looks like he’s trying to vomit but doesn’t bring anything up. Quite often, your dog will assume a position that looks like he’s going to throw up. He will start having stomach contractions or spasms, but not actually produce anything. These violent contractions of your dog’s body will help to differentiate dry heaving from other conditions like coughing or reverse sneezing.

Dogs may do this when they feel nauseous, or when they are trying to vomit but are physically unable to. They may bring up a small amount of saliva with their attempts. Some people refer to dry heaving as retching.

Gagging is slightly different and describes a reflex action that occurs when something triggers the gag reflex in the back of the throat. This is a protective mechanism that stops animals from accidentally inhaling something rather than swallowing it. The odd gagging incident is normal, but if the episode is prolonged or your dog keeps recurrently gagging, then it could be a concern.

What Are the Causes of Dry Heaving in Dogs?

The most common causes of dry heaving in dogs are as follows:


Feeling nauseous can cause dogs to dry heave. This could be due to a tummy upset, with episodes of vomiting seen alongside this too. Your dog may dry heave before he vomits, or he might be retching after his stomach has already emptied and he’s got nothing left to bring up.

There are all sorts of things that can cause nausea, including dietary indiscretion (eating things he shouldn’t have done, like discarded food or manure), parasites, bacterial infections, viral infections, underlying liver or kidney disease, dietary sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, and pancreatitis. Nausea might also accompany other signs like drooling, inappetence, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort.

Gastric Dilatation-volvulus (Bloat)

This condition is a life-threatening emergency. In gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) the dog’s stomach becomes bloated, causing it to twist on its axis. This twisting is what prevents dogs from being able to throw anything up, despite feeling like they need to. It also obstructs nearby blood vessels, which can mean tissues start to die due to a lack of oxygen. This causes the release of toxins into your dog’s body. Without prompt treatment, this condition is fatal.

The condition affects large and giant breeds of dog more frequently than smaller dogs. As well as dry heaving, other signs of GDV (bloat) include a painful and bloated stomach, restlessness, pale gums, fast heart rate, panting, and collapse. Treatment usually involves emergency surgery to correct the twist and assess the damage caused to nearby organs. Outcomes tend to be better in dogs that have been treated promptly; however, some dogs can sadly still die soon after this major surgery.

Eating Grass

The jury is out as to why dogs eat grass. It is thought that if your dog is feeling mildly nauseous then eating grass can help them to vomit and feel better. On some occasions your dog may eat grass and then not be able to bring it back up, resulting in dry heaving. Your dog ends up passing the grass out in his feces instead.

An Obstruction In The Throat

If your dog has a physical obstruction in his throat or esophagus (food pipe) then he may be dry heaving in an attempt to dislodge it. This could either be a foreign body, such as a piece of grass, plastic, or bone that has got lodged, or a tumor or growth that is causing the irritation. Either way, the feeling will be very similar to your dog, an unpleasant sensation that he’s struggling to shift. 

Your dog may also paw at his face or mouth, drool, or cough. Veterinary attention will be required to diagnose and try to correct the problem.

Extreme Coughing

If your dog has a very bad cough, it may force him to cough so hard that he dry heaves. Inflammation in the throat can contribute to this as well and perhaps the underlying cause of the cough could be making your dog feel unwell and nauseous too. There are many causes of respiratory illness in dogs including infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough), pneumonia, and parasite infections. You must get your dog treated by a veterinarian so they can diagnose and treat the underlying disease.

What Are The Causes Of Gagging In Dogs?

Allergies could cause your dog to gag, as could other irritants like dust and smoke. Eating too quickly and almost inhaling a kibble could cause your dog to gag, as could any toy or treat that accidentally touches the back of the throat. 

Respiratory conditions like kennel cough could also irritate your dog’s throat and lead to gagging. Laryngeal paralysis, a condition most commonly seen in older dogs, can cause the larynx to become flaccid and unable to close properly. This condition especially affects breeds like Labradors, Bernese mountain dogs, and retrievers, and could cause bits of food and other material to contact the airway, leading to gagging.

When Do I Need To Call The Vet?

If you see any of the signs of gastric dilatation-volvulus then you must call your veterinarian immediately. Your dog stands more chance of surviving if he receives prompt care.

If your dog is otherwise well, with the occasional dry heave or gag, then it is probably nothing to worry about. However, if either starts happening more frequently or there are other symptoms, then you should get your pet checked over.

Your vet may need to perform further investigations to get to the bottom of the problem. This could include examining the back of your dog’s throat under anesthetic, taking x-rays, and running blood samples. The best course of action can then be decided.

What Can I Do To Stop My Dog From Dry Heaving Or Gagging?

Keeping your dog fit and healthy through regular vaccinations and parasite control can help reduce the incidents of both dry heaving and gagging. Preventing your dog from eating things that he shouldn’t do by keeping them out of his reach and treating any stomach upsets early on can also help.

If your dog is eating his food too quickly, which triggers gagging, then you might want to invest in a slow feeding bowl or a puzzle feeder to slow things down a bit.

A trip to the vets may be required if you can’t identify an obvious cause for your dog’s dry heaving and gagging episodes. It’s best to get things checked out so that your veterinarian can help treat the problem early.

Final Thoughts

Dry heaving describes the act of trying to vomit but not actually bringing anything up, whereas gagging is a reflex that occurs when something irritates the back of the throat. There are multiple possible causes for each, so if you have any concerns about your pet it’s best to get them checked over. This is especially the case if you believe they may be suffering from GDV (bloat). Prompt treatment will lead to the best outcome, so get your dog examined sooner rather than later if you are worried.


Why is my dog gagging but not throwing up?

Gagging usually occurs when the reflex in the back of your dog’s throat has been triggered. This could be because of something directly irritating the throat like smoke or pollens, an infection like kennel cough, or because the dog is trying to protect its airways from a choking incident (for example if he’s gobbled his kibble too fast).

What does it mean when a dog is dry heaving?

Dry heaving can occur for several reasons, but broadly speaking it is because your pet is either nauseous or because there is a physical obstruction. If your dog is doing it frequently or there are any other signs of ill health then you should get your dog examined so your vet can try and work out the cause.

When should you go to the clinic for dry heaves?

The occasional dry heave is probably nothing to worry about, especially if your dog seems otherwise well. However, if your dog is repeatedly trying to vomit and is unable to bring anything up then you should get them checked out by a veterinarian sooner rather than later. Other concerning symptoms would include panting, restlessness, inappetence, abdominal pain, bloating, and collapse.


Rebecca is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. Since her graduation from the Royal Veterinary college in 2009 she has gained a wealth of experience in first opinion small animal practice, in both clinical and managerial roles. She currently works in the South West and deals with a variety of routine and emergency appointments, but particularly enjoys medicine cases. Outside of work and writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, including her bouncy flat coated retriever George!
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