Sensitive Stomachs

It is common for many different breeds of dogs to have sensitive stomachs. What I mean when using the term, “sensitive stomachs,” are puppies and dogs who seem to easily get upset stomachs. These are exhibited by severe, gooey salivation; watery diarrhea; and possible vomiting. This can happen to any dog and the true reason is unknown. I have had a puppy owner contact me concerning this issue and none of the littermates, nor the parents have ever presented with a sensitive stomach. It is just that individual pup that has the issue. Just like some humans have sensitive stomachs, so do some pups.

Sensitive stomachs can last for as little as two to three days. Small upsets in the system are not really anything to worry about or try to fix. It is when the system stays upset for weeks. This can be for as little as two weeks and up to six months. Sadly, this issue can last longer, but usually, owners will find the issue by the six-month mark. It is imperative that you work to try to figure out the cause of the system upset.  This way, your pup can be as happy and healthy as possible. 

Reasons for Sensitive Stomachs

Sensitive stomachs can show up for multiple reasons. These include stress, sensitivity to food, and/or rapid change in diet. In addition, a short bout of sensitive stomach can be caused by the ingestion of something that does not agree with the puppy/dog’s system.

Short-Term Sensitive Stomachs

If your dog has rare and random bouts of diarrhea, you may not have to go through the whole process of finding a new food. The addition of a second dog food and human-grade treats could be all your dog needs. Nonetheless, it will not hurt your dog to put him/her on a probiotic supplement. For this, I recommend Bac-Pak Plus.  It is a great product and it is relatively inexpensive. 

As long as your dog does not have mucus or blood in his/her diarrhea, you can treat the issue yourself. You will use Kaopectate at 1cc/ml per 5 lbs. You can give this three times daily. If the dog’s diarrhea does not clear up within 72 hours, your dog becomes lethargic, or stops eating/drinking, you need to take your dog to your veterinarian.

Lasting Sensitive Stomachs

If your puppy/dog seems to have an extremely sensitive stomach that you cannot get under control, there is usually an underlying reason. First and foremost, you need to take your pup to the vet and get the necessary antibiotics. In addition, you should start your dog on one of the rice based meals that are noted below. Start with chicken and rice and move through them until you find the right one for your dog. This will also help you pick the correct food to choose once your pup has been weaned off of the meat and rice.

Supplements are also extremely beneficial. The reasons and types of supplements are explained in detail on our supplements page. Sometimes, just the addition of these supplements to your dog’s diet will fix the sensitivity without having to go through all of the trouble of sensitivity testing.

Some Causes of Sensitivity

At some point in your life, you have probably heard someone say they have an “iron stomach.”  These are people that can eat ANYTHING and never have any issues. In dogs, this is also a possibility. There are dogs that can eat just about anything without having any resulting tummy troubles. Believe it or not, stray dogs usually have this trait and rarely deal with the issue of sensitive stomachs based on food. The reason for this is that they have eaten whatever they could to stay alive. They do not have a loving owner who will feed them premium food and never let them get into the trash. In turn, their system has adjusted. Not only has their stomach adjusted, but their immune system has also adjusted. 

Looking at the issue from the stray dog perspective brings up an interesting point. The reality is that it is better to allow your dog variety than it is to over-shelter them. In my YEARS working with dogs, I have had many owners share their canine nutritional beliefs with me. One that I hear often is that the dog should be kept on high quality (they are basing this term on cost, not content) food, not given treats, and NEVER given “human” food.  If one or more of these are ideas that you stand by, please consider looking at canine nutrition in a different way.

1. Cost does not Equal Quality

Just because a dog food costs a lot does not mean it is good food. When purchasing dog food, you are not only paying for the ingredients. In actuality, you are paying for the ingredients, the packaging, and the advertising. There is a possibility that you are feeding your dog (trying to do right by them) a food that really is NOT a good food. For additional information, please check out our “Feeding your Golden” article. (Do not let the title fool you, the information on this article is not breed specific, it is just focused on goldens since they are my focus).

2. Treat Choices

If you are an owner that feeds meaty treats such as Snausages®, Pup-Peroni ®, or any other soft meaty treat, this could be a cause of sensitive stomachs. First of all, the fat content in one of these treats is the equivalent of giving yourself half of a candy bar. Think about it, for every treat you give your pup, eat half of a candy bar. You would probably end up sick to your stomach with diarrhea. 

These are not healthy treats. If you are feeding these to your pup/dog for a treat, you should take your pet off of them for 7-10 days. If the loose stool stops, once you stop feeding these treats, you will know this was the issue.  

Just because you take your puppy/dog off these treats does not mean you have to take them off of all treats. However, we do not recommend that you use store bought dog treats.  Instead, we recommend using other great treats for dogs. All of these are easy to store, easy to handle, and good for your dog.

3. Myth: Human food is bad for dogs

For some, the treat options above may be confusing.  You may have been raised your entire life being told that human food is BAD for dogs.  Heck, every Thanksgiving my grandmother still warns me not to give the dogs any of the cooked turkey because it is bad for them.  Is this the truth?  NO.  Not at all.  Giving your dog human food can actually reduce the occurrence of sensitive stomachs. There are MANY human foods that are actually GOODfor dogs.  There are only two issues you need to consider.  First, you need to know which foods are toxic to dogs. Second, you need to use some common sense.  (Do not feed your puppy/dog meat bones, seeds, pits, peals, etc.) Third, do not overdo it.

Beneficial Tolerance

Another benefit to using human food as treats is it allows your dog to build up a tolerance of sorts for an assortment of foods.  In time, this can be extremely helpful to your dog.  It could also be helpful to you since you will not have to worry about system interruptions just because you accidentally dropped a piece of meat on the floor and the dog grabbed it before you did.  

Once again I will associate this with a human example.  There are people who I have known who are vegetarians. They never put meat into their body and they have stayed away from it for years.  For these people, if they do eat meat, their body reacts quite violently. This is because their system has essentially “forgotten” how to process that food product.  Your puppy/dog’s system can have a similar experience when something they NEVER eat is ingested.

I would suggest that as many as 50% of the dogs out there with sensitive stomachs have this issue because their owners are trying to “protect” them. Nonetheless, the other 50% truly have a sensitive system/stomach. These pups are the ones that need you to do the work to help figure out what food will help ease their suffering.

Testing for Food Ingredient Sensitivity

IF none of your food testing seems to help your dog, it is time to go to the vet and have a veterinary diet prescribed for your fur-baby.

This brings me to the discussion as to what to do if you believe your puppy/dog may have a sensitive stomach due to their food. A sensitive stomach does not mean that your dog is allergic to something in the food. Instead it means that there is something in their food that does not agree with their system. If the food is causing an upset stomach/diarrhea, it is not an allergy, it is a stomach issue due to a sensitivity to one of the ingredients in the food. 

First, I recommend that you read the article I have written titled “Feeding Golden Retrievers.”  This should help you understand more about how and what you should look for when feeding your dog. Although this article focuses on Goldens, it is pertinent information for other breeds also. Second, you need to take your puppy/dog off of his/her current dog food and cleanse the dog’s system.  To do this, you will need to cook for your pet for the next 7 to 28 days.

Chicken and Rice

To cleanse your dog’s system, you will need to feed him/her chicken and rice for seven days.  Keep it simple.  Since we are trying to figure out WHAT is causing the upset tummy, you do not want to load up the chicken and rice with other ingredients such as vegetables or yogurt.   You will mix the chicken and rice as 1 pound of chicken per 1 cup of rice.  BOIL the chicken, do not roast or bake it. Feed 1/4 – 1/2 cup of mixed chicken and rice a day per 5 pounds of dog.  You need to break the feeding into 2 to 3 feedings a day. If after 7 days, the dog’s stool has returned to normal, you know that the dog’s system is fine with chicken. At this point, you can find a primarily chicken food that meets the age-required needs of your dog.

Chicken Did Not Work

If the stomach sensitivity returns, you know that the main protein is not the issue and that it is a different additive in the food. First, you must return to seven days of chicken and rice and then you can try a different food (don’t just change formulas, change brands). Make sure that you compare ingredients between the first and the new food.

Try to find a food that does not share ingredients with the first food you tried (or at least note the shared ingredients) and see if the new offered food works better with your pet’s system. You can complete this whole process a third time if the results are the same after the second try. At this point, you need to stay away from any ingredients that were shared in the first two foods that are in the first 12 ingredients. If after the third food, your dog’s system continues to show sensitivity, it is time to get a veterinary prescribed diet.

After 7 days, if the dog’s stool has not returned to “normal,” there is a chance that your dog actually has a sensitivity to chicken. (Rice sensitivities are almost unheard of) If this is the case, remove the chicken from the mix and add boiled beef.

Beef and Rice

The next mixture to try is beef and rice.  To mix the beef and rice, you will first need to BOIL the hamburger or steak.  If you use hamburger, you need to use the 97% lean meat.  If you use steak, you need to use a lower fat cut such as sirloin. To cook the steak, you will need to cut it into small pieces and boil.  To cook hamburger, you will break it up and drop it into boiling water. Make sure the meat is cooked before you mix it with the rice.  You will mix this at the same 1:1 ratio as the chicken and feed the same portions. 

If after 7 days, your pup’s stool has returned to normal, follow the steps laid out above to find the right dog food for your four-legged fur baby. If after 7 days, if your dog’s stool has not become solid then you have one unlucky dog that has some sort of sensitivity to both chicken and beef.  In this case, you will change your dog from beef and rice to salmon and rice. 

Salmon and Rice

For this mix, you will use ½ lb of salmon per cup of rice.  You will feed this mixture in the same portions as you did with the first mixture.  You will feed this for 7 days.  If after this time, if your dog STILL does not have solid stool, you need to add one more meal a day of JUST rice cooked in a veggie broth with the addition of a probiotic to that meal. 

I have never come across a dog where ONE of these options did not work to help a dog’s stomach sensitivity.  However, if none of these options work for your dog, you need to have a long discussion with your veterinarian about another plan of attack. 

Often, It is Not the Meat

If you start the “testing” and your dog’s stool becomes solid after 7 days on the chicken and rice, you know your dog does not have a sensitivity to chicken (which is one of the main ingredients in MANY dog foods). If you would like to try the other two mixes to see if your dog has any sensitivity to the other meats, you can.  This will not hurt your dog.  However, if your dog’s stool stays normal with one or all of these mixtures, the issue is not the meat in your dog’s food, it is the grain or the fat content. If it is the grain, in most instances, this grain is some mixture of corn or wheat.

In turn, if corn or corn meal is the first main grain ingredient, then you will need to find a food that does not have corn listed in the first 3 ingredients.  There are many of these foods available. Safe alternatives are brown rice, barley, or oatmeal. Remember not to choose a food with any form of peas as one of the first 9 ingredients.

Since there are multiple foods available that do not contain corn and/or wheat, you will still have a variety of choices. In turn, there is no reason you cannot work towards the practice of using mixed foods.  However, at first, you want to find ONE food that you know your dog can handle. 

To do this, when you are trying out new foods, purchase the smallest bag you can.  You do not want to have to toss out a bunch of dog food because your dog did not have a good reaction to it. Since the issue could also be fat content, it will not hurt to make sure that the new food that is lower in fat and carbs.

Returning to Kibble

When you are re-introducing your dog to kibble, you should mix the food with the rice mixture for a few days. Example: Days 1 – 2: 1/4 kibble and 3/4 rice mixture — Days 3 – 4: 1/2 kibble and 1/2 rice mixture — Days 5 – 6: 3/4 kibble and 1/4 rice mixture — Day 7: all kibble. If at any time your puppy/dog starts to get loose stool again, return to only the rice mixture and find a different food.

In addition, leave some of the hard food out for your dog to graze on it during the day. You will add the rice for three days.  After this point, if your dog’s stool has stayed consistent, start feeding just the hard food on a regular basis.  You will follow this regimen until you find the food that your dog’s system can handle.

Adding a Second Food

If you would like to mix foods as suggested in the “Feeding Golden Retrievers” article, you may want to use a second food that has the main meat ingredient as salmon or is made for sensitive systems.  This will help ensure that your dog will not have to go through the system upset again.  When adding the second food, mix it 1:1 with the food you know does not upset your dog’s system.  If the dog’s stool stays solid, you have found a winning combo.  Otherwise, change the second food until you find the best combination for your dog.   Make sure that the second food also follows the result parameters.

Unless ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, I do not recommend using a grain-free food for ANY Golden Retriever (or any dog for that matter).

Wrap it Up

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