Most dog owners have witnessed their dog eating their own vomit at some point. But why do they do this?
There are several reasons why your dog may eat their own vomit. To them, it’s just food. They also may find the smell appealing, it could be their scavenger instinct kicking in, or it may even be a territorial move.
We are going to explore the logic behind your dog deciding it is a great idea to eat their own vomit, and whether this is something that you should be worried about… so this will be quite the reading experience for you!
Spoiler alert: a lot of this time the behavior is due to instincts.
All About The Smell
As disgusting as this might sound, when your dog vomits – especially right after eating – they actually smell things in it that we as humans cannot.
Visually, we just see that it looks gross and we do not really think about the various smells going on. Our human instinct is to clean it up.
But, if your dog has been sick because they have eaten too quickly or something has not agreed with their system then they can smell things in the vomit that you cannot. Your dog will be able to smell the original smells and flavors from its food. Yeah, your dog has a pretty sharp nose.
The simple answer is that your dog might eat their vomit because to them, it smells pretty good. Here’s the thing, we know that if a human were to do that then it would be absolutely disgusting, and it would be completely unheard of.
But, dogs do not have the same social awareness as humans. And, they definitely do not find their vomit as gross as we do!
Acting On Instinct
The reason that dogs are drawn to behave in this way is because they are acting on instinct. This instinct is that if something smells good, then they will want to eat it! In the situation where your dog has just vomited, and to your horror is then trying to eat said vomit, then do not worry. This is surprisingly pretty normal.
We would like to say that your dog is actually doing you a favor and is cleaning up their mess for you, but we do not want to be too ambitious, this might not be your dog’s intention.
Your dog will definitely just be concentrating on the smell and how great their vomit’s odor is… so actually, yeah just stick to what we said earlier. This is a purely instinctive tendency.
Let’s Talk About Food Aggression
You might be sat thinning, what is ‘food aggression’? Well, here is your answer. Picture this: your dog has just been sick, but they immediately ignore it and skulk back towards you.
You roll your eyes, grab a poop bag and head to clean up the vomit. But, as you edge closer to your dog’s vomit they race out to the pile and race to eat it right before you can grab it and clean it up.
This might be a sign that your dog has food aggression, and this is a pretty common behavior with domesticated dogs. What this basically means is that your dog is pretty possessive or quite greedy over its food.
Yeah, this tendency can extend to their vomit… Well, technically it is theirs! This goes back to what we said before, this is a pretty big deal to your dog because they can smell their food within their vomit.
We have to be completely honest here, there is a pretty great chance that your dog will eat their vomit even if it does not smell particularly good. This is a territorial thing, they will just be doing this to avoid anyone else touching or eating it. By saying ‘anyone else’, we also mean you too…
Oh yeah, just because you do not want to eat your dog’s vomit, does not mean thTat your dog does not think that this is exactly what you want to do. Confused? Try being a dog who thinks everyone wants to eat their vomit!
To your dog, their vomit is a potential food source that is going to waste, and in a dog’s world wasted food is not good. They do not want to miss out on an opportunity to eat food. This is part of their nature, after all.
Dogs Are Scavengers – They Take Whatever They Can Get
Here’s the thing, even though you feed your dog at the same time every day, alongside multiple treats throughout the day, this just is not enough for them. No, your dog is wired so that they instinctively eat whenever they have the slightest window of opportunity to do so.
This comes from their wolf ancestors, who are opportunistic scavengers in the wild. This would involve them scaring other animals from their fresh kills and yet, they would still be pretty comfortable with stealing food from other packs with absolutely no regrets. Yeah, this is a sort of do as I say, not do as I do kind of moment.
The bottom line is that some dogs might eat their vomit because they are following these innate feeding instincts. Instead of looking at their pile of vomit and seeing it for what it is, or what humans would see it as, a pile of regurgitated food they would see it as a potential food source instead.
This makes sense when you think about where these instincts come from. For instance, wolves out in the wild might have a point where they would struggle to get good, nutritious food so they would have to eat whatever they could.
They would not be able to be too particular about the meals that they are wanting. They would have to just deal with whatever they could find, and so this is where this kind of instinct comes from. If it smells good, then why not eat it?!
Dogs And Their Learned Behaviors
As well as this behavior coming from their ancestral wolves, your dog’s instinct to eat their own vomit also comes from their mother.
When your dog was a young puppy and it was weaning on its mother, they eventually reach a growth and development stage where they stop feeding on their mother’s milk. Instead, the puppy would get food directly from their mother.
Usually, a mother will actually bring her puppy some solid foods just to help them grow. This takes a while for the puppy to get used to because some young dogs might find that hard food is too tough for them to chew, so what the mother does is she chews it up for them first and then gives it to the puppy. This softens the food so it is easier for the puppy to eat.
So, it might be a bit of a stretch but your dog eating up their vomit is a kind of learned habit from being a puppy. They might look at their vomit and eating it up will instill a memory from their youth.
To your dog, their pile of vomit will be a pretty rich food source – and so this is not necessarily behavior you need to worry about because it has technically been learned from their youth.
The only time where you would need to worry about your dog eating their own vomit is if they have vomited due to sickness or due to eating something toxic. This is not something that you would want your dog to eat back up because this could end up causing them more harm.
Continuing on the learned behaviors argument then we can also add cleanliness to the list. It can be a surprise to dog owners that their dog actually dislikes living in a messy environment.
Here’s the thing, it is pretty clear that your dog will adapt to pretty much any kind of living environment – but they do have an instinct to keep this environment relatively tidy and just generally free of various types of dirt and debris.
This is also pretty accurate when it comes to your dog’s vomit. For them, it is a source of embarrassment too because they do not want their pile of vomit to sit in their home. Your dog might eat its vomit just to help keep their home clean and tidy.
This kind of behavior is not just restricted to vomiting, your dog might also try and eat their poop. This is not the most pleasant interaction to watch but they do this because they know that they should not vomit or poop where they eat or drink.
So, if your dog has vomited close to where it usually eats then it might try to eat its vomit to avoid any contamination.
So, on the whole if your dog eats up their vomit this is not something to get super stressed about. This is instinctive and also learned behavior, but if it really bothers you then you can definitely train your dog to get out of this habit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I be worried about my dog eating its vomit?
Like humans, dogs will vomit at some stage in their lives. When it comes to eating their puke, you should just leave them to carry on. You should worry if your dog vomits without any cause, take them to the vet if this happens.
Does my dog eating its vomit mean that I am not feeding it enough?
No, this is not what this means. Dogs are scavengers and their instincts are to just eat as soon as they get the chance. This comes from their innate opportunistic feeding instincts, it is behavior that is hard wired into their genetic makeup.
Why does my dog eat its vomit when I try to clean it up?
This is all down to food aggression and happens especially if your dog is greedy or very possessive about its food.
This carries on to their vomit because they can smell things in it that humans can’t, to your dog their vomit smells edible. Your dog might eat its vomit to avoid another animal doing so!