Oh Barf: Vomit versus Regurgitation: What’s the difference and what’s the big deal?

There are many, many reasons why our pets may “bring up” something, and it’s easy to assume that what they are doing is vomiting. But what if we told you that in addition to the reasons to vomit, there are many other reasons why they might regurgitate!  Being able to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation helps us diagnose pets and get them feeling better faster.

To vomit means to force out matter from the stomach through the mouth. It is an active movement in which the abdomen contracts and forces the stomach contents up and out. The material can be an array of colors depending on what was eaten or what the underlying condition is, and can contain some digested food, as the stomach has begun to process it.  The list of diseases causing vomiting includes stomach upset, foreign bodies stuck in the stomach or intestines, pancreatitis, or countless other conditions that can make the pet feel nauseated. The list is far too extensive for this blog!

In regurgitation, undigested food and saliva from the esophagus is expelled, usually in a tubular slimy form.  It is undigested because it has only come up from the esophagus and has not made it to the stomach for digestion. Regurgitation does not involve the stomach, so your pet will not show the “heaving” seen in vomiting, but may look uncomfortable and retch or cough during the process. Regurgitation is usually a sign of disease or obstruction involving the esophagus.  Examples include inflammation, obstruction from inside or outside the esophagus, or abnormal function of the muscles of the esophagus.

There are different causes of vomiting and regurgitation and if we are able to distinguish which symptom your pet is showing, it helps us find the underlying cause.  If you notice your pet is vomiting or regurgitating, please speak with your veterinarian.