Why Does My Dog Keep Gagging Like He’S Going To Throw Up But Doesn T?

Gagging refers to when a dog makes retching motions and sounds, like he’s about to vomit but nothing comes up. It can sometimes be accompanied by coughing, lip licking, and swallowing motions. This behavior is quite common in dogs and may seem alarming for owners when their dog starts making sudden gagging noises. Though gagging episodes can be normal occurrences, they may point to an underlying problem that requires veterinary attention. Determining the cause is key to getting proper treatment.

Gagging can result from a few different issues, ranging from minor causes like kennel cough to more serious conditions like heart disease. Possible culprits include irritation in the throat, esophagus disorders, a foreign object stuck in the throat, respiratory infections, medication reactions, and gastrointestinal problems. Sometimes, the gagging is behavioral and stems from anxiety, excitement, allergies, or a learned habit. Identifying if your dog is gagging from a medical issue versus a behavioral or environmental factor will guide how it should be managed.

Anatomy Behind Gagging

The gag reflex is controlled by the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) and serves as a protective mechanism to keep foreign objects from entering the airway (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9108207/). When the back of the throat is stimulated, it triggers sensory nerve fibers to send signals to the brain stem, which then activates motor neurons that control the muscles of the throat and palate.

This reflex causes an involuntary spasm of the throat muscles, forcing the palate to elevate to cover the opening of the airway and the pharynx to contract. The larynx is pulled upward and the epiglottis, a flap of tissue that closes off the trachea during swallowing, closes to protect the airway. These actions produce a gag or retching movement to expel the foreign object (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554502/).

The gag reflex is an important protective mechanism that prevents choking and helps keep food, saliva, and foreign bodies from entering the airway where they could cause breathing problems or aspiration pneumonia.

Common Causes of Gagging

There are several common reasons why a dog may frequently gag without vomiting up anything. Some of the most frequent causes include:

Kennel Cough – Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection in dogs. It causes inflammation of the voice box and windpipe, resulting in a harsh, dry, hacking cough. Kennel cough can also lead to gagging or retching motions as it irritates the throat (Source).

Allergies – Allergies to foods, chemicals, dust, pollen or other inhaled particles can cause postnasal drip, irritation and inflammation in a dog’s throat. This can stimulate the gag reflex as the body tries to clear out the irritation. Seasonal allergies often cause flare-ups of gagging or coughing (Source).

Acid Reflux – Gastroesophageal reflux, akin to acid reflux in humans, happens when stomach contents back up into the esophagus. The acid irritates the throat and triggers gagging motions. Certain breeds like Labrador Retrievers are prone to acid reflux issues (Source).

Eating Too Fast – When dogs gulp down food too quickly, they may start gagging or retching as the body tries to slow down and digest the meal. Eating too fast introduces excess air into the stomach, causing it to distend and push up against the diaphragm. This stimulates the gag reflex (Source).

Other Medical Causes

Some other potential medical causes behind gagging in dogs include:

Upper Respiratory Infection

An upper respiratory infection like kennel cough can cause gagging and coughing as it irritates the throat. Kennel cough is highly contagious between dogs and causes inflammation in the trachea and larynx, resulting in a gagging cough. It’s usually treated with antibiotics and cough suppressants (1).

Heart Disease

Heart conditions like an enlarged heart or heart failure can cause fluid buildup in the lungs. This fluid can irritate the throat and trigger gagging as the dog tries to clear their airway. Medications are usually prescribed to help remove excess fluid from the body (2).


Bloat is a life-threatening condition where the stomach twists, trapping air, food, and water inside. This causes the stomach to expand and put pressure on other organs. Dogs may gag, retch, or try to vomit unsuccessfully as the stomach squeezes the esophagus. Bloat requires immediate emergency surgery (3).

Foreign Object

If a foreign object like a stick, bone, or toy becomes lodged in the throat, it can cause gagging as the dog tries to dislodge it by coughing. Depending on the location, it may require sedation or surgery to safely remove the object (4).

Non-Medical Causes

Gagging can sometimes occur in dogs without an underlying medical cause. Common non-medical reasons for gagging in dogs include:

Nausea from motion sickness – Riding in the car or other vehicles can cause motion sickness and nausea in some dogs, leading to gagging or vomiting.

Irritation from dust – Exposure to dust, pollen, or irritants in the air can cause throat irritation that leads to gagging coughs as the dog tries to clear their throat.

Anxiety – Stress, separation anxiety, fear of noises, or unfamiliar environments can cause gagging behaviors in anxious dogs.

Excitement – Some dogs will gag or cough when overly excited or aroused during play.

When to See the Vet

If your dog’s gagging is persistent or worsens over time, it’s a good idea to have them seen by a veterinarian. According to PetMD, you should contact your vet if the gagging leads to actual vomiting or retching. Frequent gagging can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs medical attention.

The experts at Joii Pet Care also recommend seeing a vet if the gagging is accompanied by other concerning symptoms. These may include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, or behavioral changes. If your dog is having trouble breathing or seems to be choking or in distress, get them to the vet right away.

A physical exam and diagnostic tests can help determine if there is an obstruction, inflammation, infection, or other medical cause for the gagging. Getting a proper diagnosis is key to treating the underlying condition and relieving your dog’s discomfort.

While occasional gagging may be normal, especially if your dog ate too fast, persistent gagging or gagging combined with other symptoms warrants a veterinary visit. Your vet can advise you on next steps to help your pup.

Vet Diagnosis and Treatment

If gagging persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet for an exam. The vet will start with a physical exam, checking your dog’s vitals and assessing their overall health. They’ll also ask about your dog’s medical history, including how long the gagging has been happening and if it seems connected to any events or changes in their environment or routine.

Your vet may recommend diagnostic tests if the cause of the gagging isn’t clear from the initial exam. Tests can include bloodwork, urinalysis, x-rays, or ultrasound imaging to look for underlying disease or obstruction. Endoscopy or biopsy may also be recommended if masses or inflammation are suspected in the GI tract [1].

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the gagging. For example, dietary changes, antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, or surgery may be recommended for certain gastrointestinal issues. If a foreign object is lodged in the throat, the vet may carefully remove it. For cases of acid reflux, the vet may prescribe antacids or other medications. Identifying and managing stress triggers may also help in some cases of behavioral gagging. Your vet will tailor the treatment plan to your dog’s specific condition.

While gagging can be alarming, the vet’s expertise can help uncover the cause and get your dog the right treatment to stop the gagging and relieve any discomfort. With the vet’s guidance, most cases of gagging can be successfully managed.

At-Home Care

There are some things you can try at home to help soothe your dog’s gagging episodes:

  • Make sure your dog eats slowly. Place food in a puzzle feeder or muffin tin to slow down gobbling and reduce air swallowing, which can cause gagging.
  • Monitor your home and outside environment for potential irritants like smoke, dust, pollen, or strong odors that could be triggering coughing or gagging. Limit exposure when possible.
  • Try giving your dog some antacids like Famotidine or Pepcid AC if you suspect acid reflux could be causing gagging. Consult your vet on proper dosage.

While most gagging episodes are harmless, repeatedly gagging without bringing anything up could signal an issue needing veterinary attention. Contact your vet if gagging persists or worsens despite home care.


There are some steps you can take to help prevent gagging episodes in your dog:

Address any underlying conditions. If your vet determines there is an underlying cause for the gagging like acid reflux, allergies, or a respiratory infection, follow their treatment recommendations to address the root cause.

Slow down feedings. Eating too quickly can trigger gagging, so use puzzle toys or spread out portions to slow down eating and aid digestion. Avoid exercising right after meals.

Avoid common triggers. If you notice certain foods, environments, weather, or activities trigger gagging, try to limit exposure to known triggers when possible.

Consider medication. In some cases, vets may prescribe antacids or anti-nausea medication to control acid reflux and nausea leading to gagging. Follow dosage instructions closely.

When to Worry

While occasional gagging or intermittent vomiting may not be concerning, it’s important to monitor your dog closely for any worrisome symptoms or changes. According to PetMD, you should contact your veterinarian if the gagging worsens or persists beyond a day or two.

Signs that warrant veterinary attention include:

  • Gagging that continues frequently or gets more severe
  • Loss of appetite or refusing food and treats
  • Lethargy, weakness, or other signs of illness
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting blood or a strange color

Persistent gagging or dry heaving along with lethargy, appetite changes, or other concerning symptoms could potentially indicate a gastrointestinal obstruction, inflammation, or more serious underlying problem. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your dog shows any abnormal symptoms beyond occasional gagging.

According to Vetster, gagging that occurs frequently, especially at night or when lying down, warrants a veterinary exam to check for issues like acid reflux, hiatal hernia, or megaesophagus. Prompt veterinary care is crucial for identifying and treating any serious conditions.

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