For an animal with a reputation for having an iron constitution, capable of (and often hell-bent on) eating anything in sight, dogs are surprisingly prone to upset stomach and other digestive issues.
There are countless causes of stomach upset, but diet is one huge factor in your dog’s digestive health. So finding complete and balanced pet food that’s highly digestible, that agrees with your dog’s stomach, and that fuels their long-term overall health is key.
Here’s what to do if your dog is showing signs of tummy troubles, and advice for what to feed your dog with a sensitive stomach.
Signs of digestive problems
Stomach troubles show up in many forms, including the following:
- Excessive gas
- Diarrhea / soft stool
- Blood in stool
- Straining to poop
- Vomiting or regurgitation
- Pain and/or decreased mobility
- Excessive salivation
- Loss of appetite
What is a “sensitive stomach?”
Some dogs struggle with sporadic diarrhea for years; some can’t seem to handle any foods outside of their daily diet; still others don’t seem to tolerate their food at all. But in general, a sensitive stomach typically describes ongoing digestive issues of varying type and intensity. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, you’ll likely see (or smell, as the case may be) one or more of the following:
- Intolerance for many foods/sensitivity to small dietary changes
- Periodic loose stools or diarrhea (“unpredictable poops”)
- Bouts of vomiting or regurgitation
- Lots of gas
For dogs with a sensitive stomach, these issues tend to go on for long periods of time, and resist various forms of treatment or intervention.
What causes stomach problems?
There are many, many different underlying issues that may cause a sensitive stomach and ongoing digestive issues. Some of them include:
- Dietary indiscretion or overeating
- Allergies or food intolerances
- An imbalance or other disruption of the the gut biome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intestinal blockage
- Livery or kidney disease
That incomplete list shows just how many factors can influence digestive health, and while certain breeds can be more prone to gas and stomach upset (brachycephalic dogs are notorious for their gaseousness), stomach issues can be a problem for any age, or breed of dog. “Sensitive stomach” itself is not a diagnosis—there is ultimately something responsible for the issue, and it’s just a matter of finding out what it is.
What to do for a dog with a sensitive stomach
First, take steps to determine what might be causing your dog’s digestive woes.
It’s important to understand if your dog’s stomach issue is a temporary consequence of eating the wrong thing or some other obvious trigger, or if it’s a more serious or ongoing problem.
If your dog has a bout or two of diarrhea, or if they vomit or regurgitate once or twice, and they otherwise seem ok, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
If your dog is in pain, or is vomiting blood, has vomited more than once or twice, or has more than a day or two of diarrhea, see your vet.
Your vet will help identify the causes of your pup’s stomach problems. They’ll work to determine whether the issue is a primary gastrointestinal (GI) disease or an extra-GI disease. Primary GI disorders are issues that directly affect the GI tract, like parasites, or infections, food sensitivities, and IBD. Extra-GI diseases are illnesses that affect some other system (e.g. the metabolic or endocrine systems) but have a negative, indirect effect on your dog’s digestion (like kidney or liver dysfunction, and pancreatitis).
Depending on their assessment, a vet may recommend a range of different tests, treatments, or protocols like an elimination diet.
If you’ve ruled out an acute, serious issue like a blockage, and have taken steps to address other problems like allergies, and your dog still has a sensitive stomach, it can be a good idea to try a different diet.
What to feed a dog with a sensitive stomach
No food is a miracle cure for every digestive ailment, but for dogs who struggle with chronic sensitive or upset stomach, a switch from heavily processed kibble and canned food to a fresh diet may help.
It helps to know what you’re feeding
The Farmer’s Dog food is made from human-grade ingredients and to human-food safety and quality standards, according to FDA and USDA regulations. That human-grade designation means that the ingredients used to make the food, and the place and the way the food is made, meet the same safety and quality standards that govern the food humans eat. And that means you know exactly what you’re feeding. Traditional kibble is made to the standards of animal feed, so there are much less stringent rules about what can find its way into the bag.
Kibble can often contain ingredients not listed on the label—one study showed that almost 40% of pet food products contained meat not listed on the label.
Additional, hidden, substances can also be found in ingredients that do appear on a kibble label. Some pet foods may list “natural flavor” as an ingredient without stipulating the ingredients contained in that flavor. So, people may believe they are buying a food free of a certain type of protein, when that protein is actually contained in the product via “natural flavor.” This is why many people whose dogs have stomach issues from allergies and other ailments find improvement when they switch from heavily processed food to a fresh diet.
Fresh meat and vegetables mean better digestibility
“Ick factor” aside, the feed-grade ingredients that can end up in pet food are also less desirable as dog food ingredients because they don’t provide as much nutritional value to your dog as real muscle and organ meats do. The powdered “meals” and corn and other starchy fillers in kibble may be poorly digested, and result in gas, stomach turmoil, and unpredictable, extra-large, or soft poops. Studies have also shown that the extrusion process used to make dried balls of kibble reduces food’s bioavailability—the degree to which your dog’s body tissues can access and use food nutrients. As one study concluded, the undesirable effects of extrusion include reduction of protein quality, decrease in palatability and loss of heat-sensitive vitamins. So, for dogs who have struggled with stomach problems, many commercial dry diets that are designed to be “easy to digest” may not be the best solution.
The Farmer’s Dog recipes are made from lightly cooked, fresh meats and vegetables. Our own feeding trials, and industry research, show that this kind of fresh food is highly digestible— more digestible than extruded kibble. That means your dog is absorbing and using the powerful nutrients in the food.
A digestible diet will affect the quality and quantity of your dog’s poop—it’ll be less voluminous, and less stinky than their poop on a kibble diet. Once again, many dog owners who switch from dried pellets to fresh food marvel at the changes in their pups’ poop, and the resolution of sensitive stomach issues, including the intermittent diarrhea or vomiting that they thought was “just the way it was.”
Digestibility is just one part of a healthy diet, but we think it’s a crucial part, and an important factor in choosing your pet food.
The Farmer’s Dog story: one dog with a sensitive stomach
We’ll be frank: this is an issue close to our hearts. A dog with a sensitive stomach and ongoing digestive issues is the reason The Farmer’s Dog exists. The company’s founder, Brett, has a Rottweiler named Jada who, from the time she was a puppy, had constant digestive issues. After he tried every treatment, and every brand of kibble, a vet recommended that he feed her fresh, simple, home-made food. She got better almost overnight, and Brett and his partner started making fresh food for more dogs.
Whether your dog has a sensitive stomach and you’ve tried everything like Brett did, or you’ve just started to search for a diet that will contribute to your pup’s digestive health, head to The Farmer’s Dog to learn more about a pre-portioned plan that’s just right for your dog (and, in the meantime, make sure to steer clear of those sidewalk treats!)