I. History Taking
A complete and detailed history is the first step in establishing a correct diagnosis of a vomiting disorder. The patient's
signalment will usually establish some level of probability for many of the differential diagnoses. For example, adrenocortical
insufficiency would be an important differential diagnosis for a two year old dog presented with an acute history of vomiting
and muscular weakness, with or without diarrhea. Similarly, the acute onset of vomiting in an unvaccinated puppy should alert
the veterinarian to the possibility of an infectious disease, for example, parvoviral or distemper viral gastroenteritis.
Chronic vomiting in an eleven year old dog, on the other hand, would elicit a different set of differential diagnoses.
Following consideration of the patient's signalment, the history taking should ascertain vaccination status, travel history,
and any recent dietary changes. Previous medical problems, medication history, and the possible ingestion of toxic substances
or foreign bodies should also be ascertained. These pieces of information can be quite useful in formulating a list of differential
diagnoses. Next, the veterinarian should be convinced that the pet owner is describing vomiting, and not some other sign.
For example, the coughing associated with inflammatory disorders of the upper airway will often be described as vomiting by
many pet owners. Gagging is also occasionally confused with vomiting. A careful history taking will usually discriminate
coughing and gagging from vomiting. Pet owners will also often confuse regurgitation and dysphagia with vomiting. Regurgitation
is the passive evacuation of ingested food from the pharynx and/or esophagus; the premonitory signs of retching and abdominal
contractions seen with vomiting are not observed with regurgitation. The description of regurgitation by a pet owner would
suggest a more proximal disorder of the pharynx or esophagus. Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing would also suggest a
more proximal disorder of the pharynx.
The history taking should then elicit the duration, frequency, and time of vomiting episodes, as well as the relationship
of vomiting to food and water consumption. Disorders of vomiting that are of short duration are usually self-limiting and
not worthy of extensive investigation; chronic vomiting histories, on the other hand, are more serious and certainly require
a more detailed investigation. Frequent vomiting usually occurs as result of systemic, metabolic, or endocrine disorders
or severe inflammatory disorders of the primary gastrointestinal tract. Vomiting that occurs in the immediate post-prandial
period is usually suggestive of overeating, excitement, or disorders of the esophageal body or esophageal hiatus (e.g. hiatal
hernia). Conversely, vomiting of undigested or partially digested food 8 or more hours post-prandially would suggest a distal
gastric (corpus, antrum, and pylorus) motility disorder or obstruction. Vomiting of water would be more suggestive of a proximal
gastric (cardia, fundus) motility disorder. Vomiting during the early morning hours often may result from gastroesophageal
Finally, the physical characteristics of the vomitus, including the color, amount, odor, consistency, and the presence or
absence of blood or bile should be ascertained. Undigested food in the vomitus implies a gastric etiology, while digested
food (chyme) implies an intestinal etiology for the vomiting. The presence of blood in the vomitus implies disruption of
the gastrointestinal mucosa; blood may appear as frank red clots or as a dark brown "coffee-grounds" material resulting from
acid proteolysis. Bile in the vomitus usually suggests only that the pylorus has permitted bile reflux. However, bile salts
are known to increase the permeability of the gastric mucosal barrier resulting in a syndrome of bile reflux gastritis. Bilious
vomiting, therefore, might provide a clue to the pathogenesis of the disorder. A fecal odor has been described with lower
intestinal (jejuno-ileal) obstruction.