Many dogs have a “sensitive stomach”.  Symptoms typically include diarrhea or loose stool, gas, and/or vomiting. Determining the cause and how to resolve the problem can be very frustrating as there is no single solution that applies to all dogs.  Dogs’ digestion is impacted by many different factors and when something’s not working right, it can take time and a lot of patience to pinpoint the problem and come up with a solution.   

It’s important to first talk with your veterinarian to rule out any medical condition that might be causing digestive problems.   If there is no systemic illness present, then it’s time to put on your detective hat and try to figure out what foods or ingredients are causing the problem.  You may need to try several diets before you find the right one for your individual dog. But where do you start? 

According to Dr. Leilani Alvarez, DVM, head of the Integrative and Rehabilitative Medicine Department at the Animal Medical Center of NYC, “Most food sensitivities are due to excess fat; inadequate amounts or proportions of soluble to insoluble fiber; and poor-quality foods that contain fillers, chemicals, preservatives, and other artificial additives. In general, diets that are less processed with whole food ingredients are likely to be better tolerated.” 

There is often confusion between a food allergy and food sensitivity.  Dr. Alvarez explains that, “A food allergy is caused by an inappropriate response of the body’s immune system. This occurs when the body confuses a food item (usually a protein) for a foreign invader and mounts an attack on that “foreign” protein. Food sensitivity or “intolerance” means the body may not digest or react to a certain food very well. This would lead to a stomach upset with symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, but this is not the same as an “allergy.” True food allergies are actually pretty rare in animals (<10% of reactions).” 

Prescription food is often the recommended solution.  However, many experts caution that these diets only treat the symptom, not the cause, and aren’t meant to be fed long-term. Dr. Karen Becker, a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian, says that, “Since 99.9% of pet foods – including specialized prescription foods - are made with conventionally raised, factory-farmed meats (and only the leftover, rendered pieces and parts), blended with glyphosate-contaminated fillers known to disrupt the microbiome, sensitivities will continue to be a problem for almost all susceptible pets.  Pets with food intolerances do best on a very low-starch diet. Starch (aka soluble carbohydrates) are pro-inflammatory to the body and can exacerbate GI inflammation. Oftentimes animals experience a reaction to both the primary protein and carbohydrate sources in their diet. It's important to reduce or eliminate any "filler ingredients" (as well as synthetic nutrients) that can play a role in food sensitivities and inflammatory conditions.” 

Following are some alternatives to prescription diets. 

  • Make your own food. In a homemade diet, you have complete control over the ingredients. However, it can be time consuming and it’s crucial to do your research to be sure that it is complete and balanced.
  • Freeze-dried or dehydrated commercial diets are easy to use and almost like making your own food. They have limited ingredients, use whole foods, are low in fat and starch, and keep the nutrients intact and in their natural state, making them easier to digest and providing excellent nutrition.
  • Limited ingredient dry food (LID) is made with fewer ingredients and works well for many dogs. However, just because the label says “limited ingredient” or “for sensitive stomach” doesn’t mean it is a high-quality formula that will be good for your pet.
  • A raw food diet can be ideal for sensitive stomachs, because raw food is minimally processed, very low in carbs and sugars, and digests quickly and efficiently. Keep in mind though, that raw food diets are rich in protein and fat, and may be too rich for some dogs.

It’s a good idea to work with your veterinarian on your dog’s diet plan. Many veterinarians recommend a high quality and highly digestible whole food-based diet rather than kibble (dry) formulas which are highly processed.  An elimination diet may be recommended. This simply means feeding your dog a new, balanced diet of clean, simple foods and seeing how it affects them. If their symptoms resolve, you can slowly add in other foods, and see how they react.  There are also tests available that provide you specific results as to your pet’s food intolerance or sensitivities. 

A healthy diet will work wonders for the digestive system of our pets. There are also many natural digestive supplements and probiotics that can help to resolve the digestive upset while at the same time helping to restore healthy digestive function.  

**This article is not meant to substitute for individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.