What’s the Best Food for Dogs With Sensitive Stomachs?

Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD
By Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD on Dec. 10, 2019

Gastrointestinal (GI) upset or digestive issues are not uncommon in dogs. Signs such as intermittent vomiting, loose stools and excessive gas can be caused by a variety of things.

Some dogs develop digestive issues because their diet either contains too much fat or lacks sufficient fiber. In other cases, digestive issues may signal the presence of an underlying disorder, such as pancreatitis, bacterial overgrowth or intestinal parasites.

Every dog has individual needs, which means that the perfect diet for one dog may be a poor choice for another. Depending on the cause of your dog’s digestive issues, a change in diet may help alleviate their symptoms.

Here’s a breakdown of common dietary causes of indigestion as well as tips for how to choose the best food for your dog’s sensitive stomach.

Is Your Dog’s Food to Blame for Their Sensitive Stomach?

Common dietary culprits for indigestion include the type of protein, insufficient fiber and excess fat.

The majority of canine food allergy cases involve a reaction to the protein source, such as chicken, beef or egg. Most dogs with food allergies will also have other symptoms, such as recurring skin and ear infections.

Food intolerances are more common than allergies and can arise from any ingredient in a diet. An intolerance occurs when a dog has difficulty digesting a certain ingredient. For example, fats and oils are difficult for many dogs to digest.  

How to Manage Your Dog’s Sensitive Stomach

An intermittent episode of vomiting or diarrhea is not uncommon, but persistent symptoms should be addressed by your veterinarian. Your vet will want to perform a thorough physical exam to assess your pet’s overall health.

Since there are many causes of indigestion other than food, such as intestinal parasites and viral infections, these will need to be ruled out before focusing on your dog’s diet.

Your vet may also order a fecal exam, X-rays and blood work to help with the diagnosis.

Try a Bland Diet as a Short-Term Fix

A temporary switch to a bland diet may be the best option to help resolve your dog’s immediate digestive issues.

Boiled, plain chicken and rice are usually well tolerated, and small amounts of canned pumpkin may help resolve diarrhea.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe a probiotic, which is usually offered as a powder or liquid supplement that you add to your dog’s food.

Probiotics help to restore healthy bacterial populations in the intestine in order to improve digestive function.

Consider Switching to a Dog Food That’s Made for Sensitive Stomachs

Ask your veterinarian if you should switch to a new food that’s specifically formulated for digestive issues. These diets are available in over-the-counter and prescription formulas and include easily digestible ingredients to soothe your pet’s tummy.

Sensitive stomach diets for dogs usually:

  • Have plenty of fiber ingredients, such as psyllium or beet pulp, to help firm up loose stools

  • Contain low amounts of fat, which is helpful because fat can be difficult for many dogs to digest

  • Contain probiotics to promote beneficial bacteria in the gut

The food’s label should state that the diet meets Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrition standards. These guidelines ensure that the diet was developed under expert supervision and tested to ensure the accuracy, safety and quality of ingredients.

The label should also indicate that the food is nutritionally complete for your dog’s life stage. This guarantees that the diet will contain appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, vitamins and minerals.

Always follow the directions for transitioning your pet to their new food. When in doubt, it’s best to ask your veterinarian if your pet’s diet is appropriate for their specific needs. 

Try an Elimination Diet

In many cases, switching to a new diet will resolve your dog’s tummy trouble within a few days. However, if symptoms persist even after several different diets are attempted, or if your dog also shows signs of a more serious issue, such as food allergies, then a dietary elimination strategy may be necessary.

An elimination diet involves switching the pet to a prescription diet that is specifically formulated for pets with food allergies. Your veterinarian can determine whether this is a good idea for your dog.

Most dietary trials last eight weeks to allow digestive inflammation and infections to resolve. All other foods and treats are discontinued during the trial to avoid accidental exposure to an allergen. This includes table scraps, which should not be fed to dogs in general.

After the trial is complete, your veterinarian may recommend switching back to the old diet to see if symptoms return, or to a different diet for long-term maintenance. 

Be Patient

Anytime you switch your pet’s diet, it’s best to transition the food slowly over a period of 7-10 days. A sudden change in diet can worsen your dog’s digestive issues and make it more difficult to resolve symptoms.

Finally, remember that each dog has unique needs, which means that no single diet will be appropriate for all dogs with digestive issues.

You may need to try several diets before you find one that is well tolerated by your pet. This process can take several weeks or months, but the reward will be worth it for you and your pet.

By Dr. Natalie Stilwell

Featured Image: iStock.com/mari_art

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Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD


Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD


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