Not all dogs are walking garbage disposals. Some dogs, just like some people, suffer from sensitive stomachs that are easily irritated or upset. This can be challenging for owners struggling to find a way to make their dogs more comfortable at mealtimes. One possible cause of your dog’s sensitive stomach is his diet. Sometimes, finding the best food for dogs with sensitive stomachs can reduce your dog’s symptoms and get his GI tract back on track.
What Causes Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs?
Before you start searching for a better food for your dog, you need to figure out what is causing your dog’s sensitive stomach. Some dogs, just like some people, are sensitive to certain food ingredients. For others, a sensitive stomach could be a sign of a more serious problem.. Make an appointment with your vet to have your dog examined. While this might seem like investing a lot of money up front, remember that dog food is also expensive. You might actually save money in the long run by visiting your vet, and while you’re there you can ask for her opinion about your dog’s diet.
Once you have ruled out serious conditions like stomach cancer, it is time to examine the other possible causes of sensitive stomachs in dogs. There are a wide variety of food items that certain dogs have trouble tolerating. Other dogs are sensitive to certain proteins. Another possibility is that your dog’s food is lacking something, like sufficient fiber, vitamins, and minerals, or contains too much of something, like fat. Your dog’s food might not even be the problem. If your dog has a habit of getting into the trash or eats a lot of treats and table scraps, then it could be something else causing his upset tummy.
How to Determine if Your Dog Has a Sensitive Stomach
The term "sensitive stomach" is usually used to describe mild intestinal upset in dogs.
Symptoms of sensitive stomachs in dogs:
- Occasional vomiting
- Loose stools
Your dog can have one or all of these symptoms, but if any of the symptoms is severe then you should talk to your vet immediately. Vomiting and diarrhea are signs of many serious illnesses and even flatulence can be a sign of a disease or condition that requires veterinary attention.
Eliminate Extra Food Items
Finding out if your dog’s food is the issue is easy, although it might require some willpower on your part. Start by eliminating any extra food items from his diet. This includes table scraps, treats, and anything else your dog might enjoy nibbling on throughout the day. You should also check to see if your dog is sneaking into the trash, litter box, or any other forbidden treasure trove of things that make dogs sick. Not only will this help his stomach, it could also save him from a trip to the veterinary emergency room.
If your dog’s stomach is still upset after a few days without treats and scraps, and you are positive that he is not breaking into the trash while you are away, then it is time to examine the food itself.
Ingredients in Dog Food that Cause Upset Stomachs in Dogs
Every dog is a little different. Some dogs digest everything that goes into their stomach without an issue, including entire rolls of toilet paper. Others experience discomfort from the mildest change in their diet. There are a few aspects of dog nutrition you should be aware of that can help you find the best food for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
Food-related causes of sensitive stomachs in dogs:
- Protein source
- Fiber source
- Fat content
- Adequate vitamins and minerals
- Quality of ingredients
Some dogs just don’t digest certain types of protein well. For example, if your dog is on a chicken-based diet, try switching to a different protein source, like lamb, beef, or fish to see if that resolves the issue.
Sometimes dogs need a little extra fiber in their diets, just like people. Beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber, according to Merck Veterinary Manual, and “provides good fecal quality in dogs without affecting other nutrient digestibility.” Other recommended sources of fiber in commercial dog food include inulin and psyllium. Talk to your vet about adding fiber to your dog’s diet.
Diets that are high in fat are harder to digest than diets that are higher in protein or carbohydrates. Examine the ingredient label on your dog’s current food and see if fats and oils are listed in the first four ingredients. This is an indicator that the food might be too high in fat for your dog’s digestive system. Compare your current food to other brands and find a food that is lower in fat. An easy way to do this is by looking at the ingredients list and at the fat percentage in the nutritional information on the label.
Vitamins and Minerals
Most commercial dog foods contain adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in their formulas. However, if you are feeding a specialty diet, like a raw diet or a home cooked meal, it is possible that your dog could be suffering from a nutrient deficiency. Consult with your veterinarian to make sure you are feeding your dog all of the nutrients he needs for proper digestion, and adjust your pet’s diet accordingly.
Determining the quality of the ingredients in a dog food is tricky. Labels are technically not allowed to contain any information about the quality or grade of an ingredient. Instead, owners are left to guess based on price, published information, and the input of their veterinarians.
A good way to try and determine the quality is to look at any clinical studies performed on a particular brand of food. Choose a brand that statistically outperforms the competition, and don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer directly. Newer brands might not have many clinical studies, as studies require time to undertake and evaluate. This does not mean they are not a valid choice for your dog, but it is a good idea to check to see if the company employs a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist on its staff. This implies that the company is knowledgeable about the nutritional value of its product.
How to Find a High-Quality Dog Food
The Internet is full of advice about the best food for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Unfortunately, most of that advice is not founded on solid research. This makes it difficult to navigate forums, blogs, and web articles. The dog food company’s website can also be misleading – after all, they are trying to sell a product.
This is why the best place to start your search is with your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist. If you have not already consulted with your vet about your dog’s sensitive stomach, now is the time. You want to rule out anything serious before you start experimenting with different foods on your own. Your vet might be able to suggest a few brands of dog food that she prefers and can give you an idea of problematic ingredients and nutritional information to look out for as you start your search.
Most pet owners also do their own research. Look for articles and journals written by veterinarians and Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists. You want the best for your dog, so consult the best sources – the experts. Try to remain a little skeptical as you search for the best food for dogs with sensitive stomachs. If a company is advertising a miracle diet that sounds too good to be true, it probably is (unless it is a scientifically tested prescription diet).
Best Commercial Dog Foods for Sensitive Stomachs
Commercial dog food diets are the most convenient, and often the best food for dogs with sensitive stomachs. There are many options available in a variety of formulas to help you find a food that doesn’t irritate your pet’s stomach. Unfortunately, the number of options can be intimidating.
“Complete and Balanced”
The first thing to look for is a food that claims to be “complete and balanced.” This statement means that the food is specifically formulated to provide your pet with all of the nutrients known to be necessary for dogs. Choosing a complete and balanced diet helps eliminate sensitive stomachs that result from nutritional deficiencies, and ensures that your pet is getting the nutrition he needs for healthy digestion.
The next thing to look for is the label. Analyze the protein and fiber sources, as well as the fat content, to help you decide which commercial diet is the best choice for your pet. Make sure that your pet is eating the appropriate life stage version, and consult your veterinarian about any pet food recalls.
You might not find the best food right away. Finding the optimal diet for your dog’s sensitive stomach often takes time. You might end up transitioning him through several different foods before you find the one that works. While it is tempting to start him on the new food immediately to see the results, it is very important to transition your dog slowly off of the old food and onto the new. If you don’t, you could end up worsening his sensitive stomach or your dog could refuse to eat the new food.
Transitioning Your Dog to a Different Food
In general, the best way to transition your dog to a new food is to start small. The first meal should contain approximately 80-90 percent old food and 10-20 percent new food. Change this ratio slowly over the course of 10 days. You can always call your vet to get her recommendations about the best way to transition your dog to a new food.
Home Cooked Meals for Dogs with Sensitive Stomachs
Some dogs benefit from bland meals prepared at home. A simple dinner of cooked chicken and rice, without any seasoning, might help settle an upset stomach and diarrhea. These days, an increasing number of dog owners are turning to homemade diets for all of their dog’s meals. This can be an excellent option for dogs with sensitive stomachs, as long as owners make sure they meet all of their pet’s nutritional needs.
An easy way to do this is to check with your veterinarian to make sure the foods you are feeding your dog contain appropriate amounts of necessary nutrients. Another option is to use a website like balance IT®, created by Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist Sean J. Delaney, DVM, MS, DACVN, to help vets and owners balance the nutrition in their pets’ homemade meals.
Veterinary Prescription Diets for Dogs
Not every sensitive stomach can be resolved by a commercial diet or even a homemade diet. Your vet might recommend a prescription diet if switching non-prescription diets does not resolve your dog’s sensitive stomach.
There is no one food that works best for all dogs with sensitive stomachs, just like there is no one food that works best for people with sensitive stomachs. Finding the best food for your dog takes time and patience, and what cured your friend’s dog’s upset tummy might not do the trick for your pooch. Don’t get discouraged. With a little trial and error, you can find a diet that works for your dog, or you can always consult with a veterinary nutritionist and develop a plan custom tailored to your dog's needs.