Why is My Dog Dry Heaving and How to Stop It

Last Updated on April 20, 2023

While occasional vomiting in dogs is considered normal, dry heaving may be a cause of concern. What looks like an attempt to dislodge something from their throat can sometimes be sinister in nature. 

Below, we’ll explain what causes dry heaving, how you can help alleviate your dog’s symptoms, and whether you need to bring your dog to the vet immediately. 

Dachhund dry heaving

What is Dry Heaving in Dogs?

Dry heaving in dogs is very much like vomiting, except nothing comes out. It can be alarming to witness as your dog may look like they are in distress. Full-body spasms usually accompany dry heaving with a horrible sound.

Here is an example of what dry heaving sounds in dogs like:

Learning the difference between the different sounds that your dog makes can save his life. 


Dog’s Symptoms

Causes of Dog’s Behavior

Dry heaving or Retching Sporadic convulsions accompanied by a hacking sound without producing any vomit Collapsed windpipe, obstruction, allergies, parasites, gastric dilation volvulus, stomach obstruction
Gagging A less severe form of dry heaving; a combination of a retch and a cough caused by an inflammation in the larynx Laryngeal paralysis or kennel cough
Reverse sneezing Loud, forceful, repeated inhalation (sounds like a snort) Irritated soft palate, allergies, overexcitement, elongated soft palate, pulling on the collar
Coughing Short and curt audible expulsion of air sometimes accompanied by saliva Heartworm, congestive heart failure, distemper, lung problems, fungal infections
Vomiting Retching with results Eating too quickly or indigestion

What are the Common Causes of Dry Heaving in Dogs?

Sick Bulldog lying
Source: @princess_bulldog_diaries / IG

If you’re sure that your pup is dry heaving, you might want to identify the cause of the behavior. Could it be something malignant, or is it something you can safely ignore? 

Below, we have the most common causes of dry heaving in dogs: 

1. Heaving Due to Illness

Respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia may cause dry heaving in dogs. In some cases, your dog may inhale or suck in grass seeds or dirt that can result in an infection in their airways.

Both instances can cause your dog to cough violently, which leads to dry heaving.

2. Parasitic Infections

Deworming your dog is a necessary precaution against parasites that can cause coughing and dry heaving in dogs.

While tapeworms and roundworms often cause mild infestations that can be dealt with easily, heartworms are deadly, especially if left untreated.

If your dog has been infected with heartworms, treatment is costly, and some dogs never regain their previous vigor. Therefore, in this case, prevention is truly better than cure.

3. Foreign Objects in the Airways

Dogs are mouthy creatures and can often be found chewing on things they aren’t supposed to. Depending on the size of the foreign object, your dog may reverse sneeze or paw at his muzzle. 

Large objects such as a sock or tennis ball can obstruct their airways, leading to suffocation.

However, if it’s as small as a blade of grass, it will be more irritating than harmful, and drinking some water ought to alleviate your pooch’s symptoms. 

Training your dog not to eat anything outside of their food bowl can prevent them from eating toxic or dangerous objects. 

4. Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (Canine Bloat)

Bloat, or GDV, is a life-threatening condition caused by a stomach twist, or torsion, which traps air and cuts off blood supply to your dog’s intestines. 

Large breeds with deep chests and dogs that eat rapidly are at risk of GDV. The following breeds are most susceptible to gastric torsion, especially the older dogs:

Bloating is often accompanied by dogs going into prayer position – their forelegs on the ground and their hindquarters elevated.

Limiting activities immediately after meals can prevent stomachs from twisting and encourage your dogs to eat slowly. You can opt to hand-feed, offer smaller meals throughout the day instead of one large meal a day, or use a slow-feeder.

In the case of GDV, surgery is almost always guaranteed. A DVM will take an x-ray of your dog’s stomach to confirm gastric dilatation and untwist the stomach during the operation. 

5. Kennel Cough

A respiratory infection, kennel cough causes dogs to cough violently to the point of gagging. Common causes of kennel cough in dogs include Bordetella, parainfluenza, and other viruses.

Inoculating your dog against kennel cough can prevent your dog from contracting this disease from an infected dog. Dog parks and dog groomers can be hotspots for this disease.

Golden Retriever having a respiratory therapy
Source: @jagger_baf / IG

7. Distemper Coughs

Puppies rarely survive distemper as it’s a disease that attacks several body systems, including the central nervous system. In addition, otherwise, healthy survivors can sometimes suffer from lifelong seizures. 

Distemper coughs can easily be mistaken for kennel cough, but dogs with distemper will also have runny noses or yellow discharge from the eyes. 

The only way to prevent distemper is to get vaccinated against the disease. 

8. Tonsillitis or Pharyngitis

Swollen tonsils can affect your dog’s breathing and trigger their gag reflex, which may cause your dog to dry heave. 

Most common in smaller or brachycephalic breeds, tonsillitis is often caused by a bacterial infection. In some cases, allergies or a viral infection may be associated with canine tonsillitis.

9. Tumor Partially Obstructing the Throat

Tumors or polyps in the throat can cause chronic dry heaving in dogs. As the abnormal growths press on your dog’s esophagus, irritation may occur, causing your pooch to cough and dry heave in an attempt to dislodge the irritant. 

Removing these growths surgically is the only way to help your pup find relief. 

10. Nausea

Dry heaving can be accompanied by vomiting. Nausea is often associated with dietary indiscretion but can also be linked to intestinal parasites, infectious diseases, pancreatitis, and other health problems. 

In very young puppies, vomiting can lead to dehydration and should be treated as an emergency. A vet should see dogs that are refusing food and are lethargic.

11. Eating Too Fast

Some dogs inhale their food as though they’ve been starving. Eating so quickly can sometimes lead to food traveling down the wrong pipe or getting itself lodged in your dog’s throat, making them dry-heave. 

Eating too quickly can also lead to GDV, so if you notice your pup dry-heaving regularly during meals, you can invest in a slow feeder to prevent this from happening.

When Should You Worry About Your Dog’s Dry Heaving?

Unwell dog due to Ehrlichia infection
Source: @babette_the_dog / IG

If there’s a logical explanation for your dog’s dry heaving, you probably don’t have to worry too much about it. 

But from a vet’s standpoint, dry heaving can be much more worrying than vomiting as it means that your dog is having trouble removing the irritant

If you have no idea what’s causing your dog to heave and he’s showing signs of distress, you might want to send him to the vet ASAP.

What are the concerning behaviors you should look out for?

Dry heaving may be a cause for concern, especially if your dog also presents these symptoms:

  1. Distress
  2. Lethargy
  3. Runny nose
  4. Fever
  5. Sneezing
  6. Restlessness
  7. Swollen abdomen
  8. Excessive drooling
  9. Pale gums
  10. Labored breathing
  11. White foam around the mouth

What does it mean if your dog keeps dry heaving?

Continuous heaving may be caused by something as innocuous as a stray kibble, or it can be something as serious as GDV. If chronic heaving is hounding your dog, there must be a source of irritation. 

How Do You Stop the Dry Heaving in Dogs?

King Charles Cavalier dog drinking water
Source: @babette_the_dog / IG

First, you will need to identify the source of your dog’s dry heaving. Then, you’ll have to remove the irritant, whether it’s caused by a virus, a condition, parasites, or a foreign object.

What are the treatments for dry heaving in dogs?

Dry heaving, if left untreated, can be dangerous to your dog. If illnesses, parasites, or tumors cause your pup’s dry heaving, then it would be best to get assistance from your vet. 

If your dog exhibits tonsilitis or kennel cough symptoms, anti-inflammatories can help alleviate any pain or swelling. For bacterial infections, oral antibiotics may be helpful, but please check with your vet first. 

However, if your pup has GDV or gastric dilation-volvulus or develops bloat, they would usually need surgery immediately. This condition can lead to death if left untreated.

What home remedies can I give my dog for dry heaving?

As a dog lover, you might wonder if there are any home remedies for dry heaving. 

You can try to get your dog to drink water to see if that helps improve his condition. Water can help dislodge any grass or small objects in your buddy’s throat. 

Since irritants in the throat usually cause dry heaving, the best remedy is to dog-proof your home until your dog learns not to chew on any potentially harmful objects.

Other Ways to Prevent Dry Heaving

If eating is the cause of your dog’s dry heaving spells, or if you want to minimize the risks of bloat, you can do the following: 

Invest in a Slow Feeder: You can get a slow feeder from Amazon or Chewy. This will force your dog to slow down and chew his food properly instead of gulping everything down with copious amounts of air.

Limit Activity for Half an Hour: It’s a good idea to encourage your dog to relax after meals to give the food a chance to settle. Most gastric torsion cases come from dogs who exercise too soon after eating.

Stick to a Feeding Schedule: Dogs are more likely to act like ravenous beasts when they aren’t fed regularly. Therefore, giving them a feeding schedule and sticking to it will reassure your dog and teach them to expect food at regular intervals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Veterinarian examining Beagle dog with stethoscope
Vet examining a Beagle dog with stethoscope

Is it possible for dogs to experience dry heaving while acting normally?

Yes, as mentioned above, your dog may experience dry heaving if they eat too quickly. Benign tumors in your pup’s trachea or throat can also cause retching.

If you notice their dry heaving happening more frequently, then it’s time to make an appointment with your vet.

Why is your dog dry heaving at night?

Sometimes an empty stomach can cause your dog to dry heave due to acid reflux. If you have a puppy that’s dry heaving at night, try giving him a snack prior to bed to see if that helps. 

How much is the treatment for dry heaving in dogs?

The costs associated with relieving your dog from dry heaving greatly depend on what is causing the heaving. 

  • For kennel coughs, tonsillitis, and minor respiratory infections in dogs, you’re probably looking at around $100 – $200. 
  • Heartworm treatment depends on the severity of the infestation and breed of dog you have, costing anywhere from $1,00 to $3,000.
  • Gastric dilation surgery will set you back $5000.
  • If the dry heaving is caused by tumors, that’s upwards of $8500. 

What are helpful products for your pet in preventing dry heaving?

There are a few products to help you prevent dry heaving in your dog. If your pup’s dry heaving is due to digestive problems, your veterinarian may recommend probiotic supplements. 

Consult with your vet first before giving your pup any supplements or medications.

Evaluate Whether Your Dog’s Dry Heaving is Cause For Concern

Shichon dog on vet due to ear infection
Source: @bella_and_linda / IG

Now that you have a pretty broad understanding of dry heaving and its causes, you should be able to assess whether your dog requires emergency veterinary care.

However, if you are in doubt, don’t hesitate to send your dog to the nearest ER. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

Make sure to share this article with your dog owner friends – who knows; you might just save a life!

Further Reading: Learn More About What Ails Your Furry Friend!

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