Great Dane Dry Heaving: What It Means+ What To Do

Dry heaving or retching is an attempt to vomit accompanied by a hacking sound but without the production of vomit. 

A dry heaving Great Dane is usually nauseated and their whole body spasms in an attempt to vomit but nothing usually comes out. 

So what causes Great Dane dry heaving?

Let’s look at the common reasons behind a Great Dane’s dry heaving, the potential complications, and when to seek help.

Great Dane dry heaving occurs because of bloat, collapsed windpipe, allergies, esophageal or stomach obstruction, parasitic infection, and poisoning. In all dog breeds, especially Great Danes, dry heaving is an emergency because it is a symptom of gastric dilation volvulus which is life-threatening.

great dane dry heaving

Common Causes Of Great Dane Dry Heaving

The most common causes of Great Dane dry heaving include:

Bloat

Bloat is a serious life-threatening condition in dogs, especially in large deep chested dog breeds, like the Great Dane.

Also known as Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV), it occurs when the stomach of a Great Dane fills up with excessive air and twists itself.

The twisting of the stomach restricts blood flow to other organs and a Great Dane quickly succumbs to shock and death within a few hours if not treated.

One of the main symptoms of bloat is dry heaving, including, a swollen stomach, restlessness, pale gums, labored breathing, lethargy, fever, excessive drooling or licking of the lips, and foaming at the mouth.

Read more here on bloat in Great Danes, the complications and how to prevent it.

Collapsed windpipe

A collapsed windpipe or trachea can also lead to Great Dane dry heaving. A collapsed trachea occurs when the cartilage rings of the windpipe give in resulting in a small airway.

This causes difficulty in breathing causes dry coughing and heaving. 

Allergies

Allergies resulting from either food allergies or environmental allergies cause allergic reactions including itching and swelling of the throat, face, and tongue.

The swollen airways cause coughing and dry heaving in an effort to breathe because of the constricted airways that make breathing difficult.

Environmental allergies stem from inhalation of dust, pollen, dust mites, or smoke while food allergies can be from certain food ingredients such as protein, gluten, or grains.

Nausea

Nausea also results in Great Dane dry heaving. Nausea can result from motion sickness, stomach upset, medication, eating too much or too quickly, and infections of the ear.

Respiratory illness

The presence of respiratory illnesses can also cause coughing and dry heaving as a symptom. These illnesses include Kennel cough and bronchitis.

Kennel cough is caused by a bacterial or viral infection and is characterized by a honking cough. The infection is highly contagious and gradually develops into pneumonia. 

Bronchitis is also a respiratory illness that causes coughing, dry heaving, difficulty in breathing, vomiting, gagging, wheezing, and loss of consciousness. 

Intestinal conditions

Digestive tract problems including infections, organ dysfunction, cancer, and diseases can also cause dry heaving as a symptom.

Other symptoms that also present with dry heaving due to intestinal conditions include throwing up, mucus or blood in stool, constipation, bloating, and stomach pain.

Esophageal or stomach obstruction

Obstruction of the esophagus (throat), or stomach also causes dry heaving. Obstruction can be from items ingested such as toys, grass, sticks, or bones and also from tumors.

The obstruction causes dry heaving of a Great Dane in an attempt to remove the object from the throat and clear the airway. In this case, they experience difficulty in breathing, cough, and appear to be choking.

Signs of stomach obstruction with dry heaving include constipation, fatigue, and vomiting.

Obstruction of the throat can also result from eating too fast which can cause food to block the throat. In this case, a Great Dane will heave to try to force out the food to clear its throat.

Parasitic infection

Infection by parasites including heartworms, roundworms, and hookworms. These parasites have a lifecycle that involves passage through the respiratory tract in their host.

This migration causes coughing with dry heaving, wheezing, increased breathing rate, weakness, vomiting, and weight loss.

Poisoning

A Great Dane may accidentally ingest substances around the home which may cause throat irritation, stomach upset, and nausea.

Due to this irritation, a Great Dane will heave. Toxins that may be ingested include household cleaning products, gardening chemicals, plants, spiders, or some frogs.

Complications

Dry heaving in a Great Dane is often an indication of a serious underlying problem and is regarded as an emergency. It is a cause for concern.

Complications of this include shock and quick death if the underlying condition is bloat, which is very common in Great Danes.  

Related: 

Great Dane dry heaving accompanied with other symptoms also indicates other serious health conditions including poisoning, respiratory illness, esophageal obstruction, collapsed windpipe, or infection, which are all life-threatening if left untreated.

When to Seek Help for Great Dane Dry Heaving

Dry heaving or Great Dane retching is not normal, it is a medical emergency and requires medical evaluation by a veterinarian. 

Seek medical help when you observe: 

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Enlarged stomach
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Your Great Dane dry heaving in pain 
  • Pale mouth and nose
  • Restlessness
  • Whining in pain when the abdomen is touched
  • Severe allergies causing scratching, itching, and licking
  • If your dog has a pre-existing health condition or is on medication

The veterinarian will conduct a physical exam on your dog and conduct various tests to diagnose the cause. They will also ask you about additional symptoms you may have observed.

Treatment

Treatment of Great Dane dry heaving ultimately depends on the underlying cause that is determined from the different diagnostic tests conducted.

Depending on the diagnosis, the veterinarian will provide medication for the health condition identified.

Bloat is treated through emergency surgery to correct the twisted stomach. The surgery is referred to as stomach tacking, which also prevents future twisting of the stomach due to bloat. 

Read here more on stomach tacking in Great Danes to understand more on this and how it saves many Great Dane’s lives.

A Great Dane with collapsed trachea is provided with sedatives, cough suppressants, and bronchodilators. In severe cases, surgery may be required to open the airway.

And if dry heaving is due to parasitic infection, dewormers and medication will be prescribed. 

Also if your Great Dane ingested an object that led to esophageal obstruction, removal of the object will be done. 

Dry heaving due to allergic reactions is treated by the administration of medication and controlling your Great Dane’s environment by minimizing exposure to allergens around the home. 

This also includes diet changes to address food allergies. A low fat, low protein, and high carbohydrate diet with few ingredients that may be allergens such as gluten or soy may be recommended.

Treatment may also antibiotic administration for infections such as kennel cough and also anti-inflammatory or cough suppressing medications.

See also: Do Kennel coughs sound like hiccups?

Takeaway

Great Dane dry heaving and also the presence of other symptoms often indicate a serious underlying problem that needs to be looked at.

Dry heaving can be caused by various health problems which can be life-threatening if treatment is not provided immediately. 

Dry heaving should not been ignored.

It is therefore important to immediately contact your veterinarian when you notice your Great Dane dry heaving.

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