Dogs are naturally scavengers so have evolved with robust digestive systems that allow them to safely eat the rather horrible things that they often seem to delight in finding and eating.
Even with this digestive toughness, from time-to-time things do go wrong and they get an upset stomach – so what do you do when this happens.
What causes stomach upset in dogs
There are two main types of gastrointestinal disorders in dogs - acute, or chronic.
Acute gastrointestinal upset appears suddenly, is generally a one off or rare occurrence and occurs for a short period of time and can even go away by itself.
Chronic gastrointestinal disorder is when the condition persists for a longer period affecting your dog for weeks or even longer and may reoccur. When there is this longer-term illness then that may indicate underlying problems.
In most cases, especially in acute digestive upset, the problem is caused by something they have eaten that they shouldn’t have eaten.
However, there are other possible causes including
- Food allergy or intolerance
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Worms or other parasites
- Underlying health problem such as kidney, liver failure or urinary tract infections,
- Stress can also trigger an upset stomach
Before you worry too much - the most likely reason they have an upset stomach is that they have eaten something that they should have left well alone.
When should you take them to the vet?
A bit of vomiting and diarrhoea is the body’s natural way of clearing the out the problem. It is nothing to worry about and not worth a trip to the vet. Just keep an eye on them and see if the symptoms start to improve.
You should take them to the vet if you see any of these
- The vomiting or diarrhoea is continuous or carries on for several hours or is getting worse
- The vomiting or diarrhoea carries on for more than 24 hours
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Signs of blood in the vomit or diarrhoea
- If they seem to be in pain
- If they seem tired or lethargic
If you see any of these signs, or if you are worried, then take them to the vet.
What are the signs of a dog with a stomach upset?
The most obvious signs that something is wrong with their digestive system are diarrhoea or vomiting.
Dehydration, tiredness, excessive gas, drooling, and loss of appetite could all be signs of a stomach upset.
A tip to see whether they are dehydrated is, gently pinch their skin between your thumb and forefinger. If the skin springs back quickly then they are well hydrated, if it goes back more slowly then they may be dehydrated.
Importance of a healthy microbiome
The microbiome is the name for the trillions of bacteria, and other microorganisms that live in the gut.
The microbiome plays a key role in digesting food but also helps boost the immune system, regulates hormones, supports a healthy gut and even plays a role in mood – so a healthy microbiome is important.
In a healthy gut the microbiome is balanced meaning that the good bacteria are multiplying so well that they block the bad bacteria. When there is a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut it is said to be in equilibrium.
However, a simple digestive disorder can upset this delicate balance.
In a healthy dog or cat, the cells that form the lining of the gut are closely connected by means of ‘tight junctions’ that allow water and nutrients to pass through, while blocking harmful substances.
Inflammation in the gut can disrupt these tight junctions damaging the gut lining and making the gut barrier permeable – so called “leaky gut”. When this happens bacteria, allergens and toxins can pass into the bloodstream causing the development and progression of many, more serious, diseases, including obesity, diabetes, kidney and liver problems, colitis, IBD, skin problems (allergies), joint issues (Inflammation) and even behavioral problems.
Many cases of leaky gut arise from gradual and long-term intestinal damage caused by issues such as food allergies, long-term use of antibiotics or prolonged periods of digestive malabsorption and maldigestion.
Prolonged periods of digestive disorder can unbalance the microbiome with an overgrowth of bad bacteria and reduced levels of good bacteria, giving rise to inflammation.
While short term exposure may not always cause leaky gut, longer term exposure may damage the gut integrity, potentially resulting in even more serious conditions.
Digestive disorders need to be managed to avoid them becoming something more serious
What do you feed a dog with an upset stomach?
The first thing to think about is water. Vomiting or diarrhoea can quickly cause dehydration, so you want to replace the water. Try giving them small amounts of water and keep doing that – so keep them hydrated but don’t let them gulp down water.
It’s generally not appropriate to stop feeding during digestive upsets. The small intestine is lined with tiny, finger-like projections called the gut villi. The gut villi increase the surface area for food absorption and digestive secretions. During digestive upset the gut villi become shortened, reducing nutrient absorption. Fasting will deprive the gut villi from nutrients, shortening the gut villi even more, making the problem worse.
So, you do need to feed your dog during digestive upset – but what do you feed?
Bland home-made diet of chicken and rice is sometimes recommended. Whilst this may give the digestive system some rest and help relieve diarrhoea or vomiting, it is not nutritionally complete so only suitable for very short-term use. A bland chicken and rice diet will also not include special ingredients, needed to bring the gut back into full health.
Specialist digestive support diets are designed for dogs with digestive upsets. They are made with highly digestible ingredients, to compensate for the reduced ability to digest food, and they have increased levels of electrolytes such as potassium and sodium to compensate for those lost during vomiting or diarrhoea, so even with an upset stomach these digestive diets assure your dog will be getting the nutrients they need.
SPECIFIC Digestive Support diets also contain AuraGuard, an ingredient that supports the integrity of the gut wall by increasing the level of cell proteins involved in the formation, maintenance and structure of tight junctions It also helps to increase the production of the mucous that provides a protective lining on the gut wall.
SPECIFIC’s Digestive Support diets also contain multiple ingredients to restore a balanced microbiome and bring the gut back into good health. AuraGuard and fermentable fibres (beet pulp, XOS and FOS) increase the levels of beneficial bacteria and decrease the levels of bad bacteria, promoting a more balanced and diverse gut microbiome.
Added postbiotics provide the healthy bioactive compounds produced by beneficial bacteria, supporting the immune system and supporting a balanced inflammatory response.
SPECIFIC Diets for digestive disorders
There are different SPECIFIC diets for support of digestive disorders, since the optimal type of food to help with digestive disorders will depend on the cause of the problem.
CID & CIW Digestive Support
CID-LF & CIW-LF Digestive Support Low Fat
CDD, CDW & CDD-HY Food Allergen Management
CRD-1 & CRW-1 Weight Reduction
CRD-2 Weight Control