Like their human guardians, some dogs struggle with various stomach/GI issues. What should be one of the highlights of their day ends up being miserable for them when mealtime results in vomiting, diarrhea, gas, bloating, or other problems.
“Stomach” issues are a broad term for any issue within the gastrointestinal tract. Stomach/GI issues are fairly common in dogs, as gastrointestinal diseases account for about 10% of veterinary visits.
Though identifying stomach issues may be tricky to figure out, pets can get their GI tract back on track with the right diet and treatment.
The digestive system serves essential functions and is a vital system to the health and wellbeing of your dog. The digestive system takes in food and processes it, absorbs nutrients from the food, maintains fluid and electrolyte balance, and gets rid of waste. In addition to these functions, it is also home to the microbiome, a complex community of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa.
It’s responsible for vitally important functions.
-It keeps harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli in check.
-It makes vitamins that give your dog energy.
-It helps your dog digest his food more effectively.
-It is home to upwards of 80% of the immune system.
The digestive system extends from the oral cavity all the way to the anus. It includes the mouth, which consists of salivary glands, tongue, and teeth, the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestine, the liver, the pancreas, the rectum, and anus.
When a dog eats, the food enters the mouth, slides down the esophagus, and reaches the stomach. In dogs, the process of digestion begins in the stomach because they do not have enzymes in their mouths that break down food the way humans do. A dog’s stomach contains acid 100 times stronger than in humans, hence why they can eat raw diets and things on the ground indiscriminately without becoming sick.
Once the food is broken down enough, it moves onto the small intestine, the next stage of the digestive process. The small intestine is where the dog’s body absorbs the nutrients that they need from their food. Only waste products remain, waiting for expulsion from the body.
From the small intestine, the waste moves into the large intestine, where it absorbs water and any residual nutrients before being passed as stool from the rectum and the anus.
Because a dog’s digestion is impacted by so many factors, it can take some time to pinpoint exactly what is causing their sensitive stomach. It is a complex system involving multiple organs that are interconnected with the rest of the body. Stomach and digestive issues can be both acute (fast-acting and usually tied to a specific cause) or chronic (long-term and may have multiple causes).
Commonly diagnosed GI conditions include some of the following but are not limited to these conditions.
Acute gastroenteritis is inflammation or infection of the gastrointestinal tract which occurs primarily in the stomach and intestines. This condition tends to be short-term and is often caused by eating rotten food, eating something toxic, internal parasites, stress, or consuming any substances that a dog should not eat. Some symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and little to no appetite.
Colitis can be either acute or chronic inflammation of the membrane lining, specifically of the colon. Parasites, tumors or polyps, food allergies, an abrupt change of food, consumption of substances or items not meant to be eaten, and a few chronic diseases are some of the primary causes of colitis. Dogs under the age of 5 are more prone to colitis. Inflammation of the large intestine usually results in frequent and painful passing of diarrhea that may contain mucus and blood.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is the inability to produce enough pancreatic enzymes to digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Dogs with this difficulty in digestion have poor absorption of nutrients which can lead to malnutrition. EPI often causes weight loss despite a normal or even increased appetite, and large volumes of pale, fatty feces are produced. Occasional vomiting may occur.
Gastritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach that causes sudden or long-term vomiting. It is often caused by dietary indiscretion, which is another term for a dog eating something it shouldn’t. Aside from eating something that irritates or injures the stomach lining, gastritis can also be caused by parasites, illnesses, or medications. Gastritis itself can be a symptom of another illness. It can be both acute or chronic.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is considered a syndrome rather than a disease. It is caused by reactions to a chronic irritation of the intestinal tract, though it can also occur in the stomach as well. IBD results in the lining of the intestine becoming inflamed with inflammatory cells, resulting in an allergic-type reaction inside the intestine. Due to inflammation, it makes it difficult for dogs to digest and absorb nutrients. Some signs are chronic bouts of vomiting, chronic bouts of diarrhea, and having a poor appetite. A few dogs might experience the opposite and actually ravenously eat due to poor nutrient absorption.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation or infection of the pancreas. The pancreas is part of the digestive tract located behind the stomach that produces enzymes and hormones. Acute Pancreatitis is seen as vomiting and painful abdominal signs, which are often very serious. Guardians should bring their pet into the vet quickly, if those symptoms occur. Some causes of pancreatitis are feeding foods high in fat or chronically high in carbohydrates. In addition, infections, disease, or trauma can also cause pancreatitis.
Parasites can contribute to digestive upset. Some common parasitic infections which cause gastrointestinal upset are giardia and coccidia. Giardia can often go undetected in some dogs, who may go from being asymptomatic to developing diarrhea and vomiting. They will show signs within a couple of days of exposure, which is often drinking water contaminated with giardia. Coccidia impacts the small intestine and also causes vomiting, in addition to bloody diarrhea. It is important to treat the parasites at the vet to prevent further issues.
A few sources of stomach/GI sensitivities can be caused by:
There are multiple different signs of digestive issues in a dog. There is a difference between acute sickness and chronic digestive issues. Chronic digestive issues will continue for a longer period of time. Keep in mind that dogs usually won’t have all these symptoms at once, so even just a couple of these signs should alert you that something is amiss.
Signs of digestive issues can include:
While some of these symptoms might not be a serious veterinary situation, you should immediately contact your veterinarian if any of the following occur, especially in conjunction with each other:
The most important thing you can do to minimize stomach issues and improve your dog’s overall health is to feed a clean, wholesome diet that balances the biome and decreases heat and inflammation. Healing from the inside out is crucial because simply treating a symptom or two masks the problem, and for chronic cases, it will reappear.
Whole foods fuel beneficial bacterial growth and diversity, including pre and probiotics, which balance the microbiome. The microbiome is housed in the lower half of the digestive tract, and whenever it becomes imbalanced, bad bacteria can take over, leading to bad gas, gurgly guts, off and on soft stool, and even diarrhea. Restoring gut health starts with fixing the microbiome. Feeding foods rich in prebiotics and providing a high-quality probiotic with live strains can slowly help restore balance.
The onboarding should be very gradual when transitioning onto a new food or supplement. Take at least two weeks to gradually increase the amount of the new supplement or food until you’re finally at the full dose.
Observe your dog closely over this timeframe, especially their stool, to attempt to understand what he can tolerate and what he cannot. Noting signs such as bad gas or soft stool can help to identify what triggers the G.I. inflammation.
It’s also worth taking the time to slowly introduce the new food to see if he’s going to have a reaction or not because if he does have a reaction, it will be milder, and his recovery should be quicker.
Diet is the best way to support digestive health. Feeding a diet that maximizes nutrient absorption and minimizes taxing the digestive system is ideal.
There are several important aspects of a diet suitable for a dog with digestive issues and a sensitive stomach:
In a dog with digestive issues, the goal is to minimize potential triggers while making digestion as smooth and effective as possible. Reducing inflammation while nourishing the body is also important, and all of these goals can be done using clean, whole food nutrition.
The key to achieving this is feeding novel proteins, foods rich in antioxidants to reduce inflammation, and foods designed to be easily digested.
The quality and source of protein are crucial to a canine suffering from digestive issues. Clean, wholesome meats and organs are easily absorbed. Quality meat like grass-fed beef and liver is an optimal protein because it contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and bioavailable protein without overloading the GI tract. Your dog’s digestive system is designed to absorb almost all of beef and liver. Eggs are also easily-absorbed, complete proteins.
Nourishing and building a healthy GI barrier requires good fats. Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are important in developing a healthy GI barrier. Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their benefits, including their anti-inflammatory properties, skin-nourishing properties, and immune-balancing effects. The ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids is key for pets with GI issues. You want high omega-3 fatty acid content as well as a proper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. The ideal ratio is less than 1 to 1. Most commercial kibble has a ratio of 40 to 1.
Ideally, these omega-3 fatty acids will come from marine sources or grass-fed meats like beef.
Ground krill is a rich, clean source of these omega-3 fatty acids– because krill are so low in the food chain, they do not accumulate toxins like those found in salmon or cod oils.
Nourish the Microbiome
High Levels of Healthy, Whole Food Fiber Sources
Sweet potato is a low glycemic carb full of numerous health benefits due to all of its vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This includes vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron.
Blueberries are a well-known prebiotic and fiber-rich, just a cup of blueberries fulfills 14% of daily fiber intake. Plus, with the highest amount of antioxidants among any fruit, blueberries help counteract oxidative stress to decrease inflammation.
Bananas are gentle and highly digestible, full of dietary fiber to help regulate the digestive tract while also being an important prebiotic. In addition, they provide vitamin C and many other minerals and are anti-inflammatory.
Ginger is an excellent anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory spice great for dogs with sensitive stomachs. It helps settle the stomach, stop vomiting, and is also an antioxidant. Being a digestive aid is what it is most well known for.
Cinnamon is a warming spice that is soothing on the stomach and easy to digest.
It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and it complements ginger very well.
Aloe is a gut-soothing herb also high in fiber content. Aloe helps keep the body from dehydration and helps constipation. Aloe also supports the gut with digestion by keeping gut bacteria in balance.
Feeding a diet that maximizes nutrient absorption with clean, digestible proteins and diminishes gut inflammation can help manage certain gastrointestinal conditions.
And ultimately, a healthy, well-balanced dog on a good diet is one less likely to be susceptible to chronic stomach issues.
Note: The information provided is educational and does not represent medical advice regarding pets. Please see your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition.