What Causes Upset Stomach in Dogs?

Just like people, dogs can be prone to having a sensitive stomach or allergies influence their lives. These can affect the dog in a variety of ways, including vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, or lethargy.

Similarly to humans who are lactose intolerant being sick shortly following the ingestion of lactose, dogs may experience similar symptoms of discomfort and pain. This makes it super important to pick the right diet for each of our furry friends.

The best way to pick the ideal diet for any dog is to know what type of sensitivities or allergies they may have or be prone to. Let’s start by understanding some of the many things that can cause a sensitive stomach.

1. Poor quality food

A common reason that your dog may have a sensitive stomach is the ingredients in their food. Some dog food brands may try to cut costs by choosing poor quality ingredients or ingredients that have a high-fat content. Foods like these are not a good choice for your dog, however, because they are difficult to digest and maybe nutritionally lacking.

Fortunately, this is super easy to resolve by simply switching your dog over to a better food. It is good practice to ensure any of your pets’ food is a complete and balanced diet. This is a great first step in preventing a sensitive stomach.

2. Dietary indiscretion

Another common issue in dogs with a sensitive stomach is that they eat things they shouldn’t. Although some dogs enjoy acting as a garbage disposal with minimal discomfort, other dogs can face severe consequences.

If your dog is frequently ingesting foreign material such as sticks, toys, socks, or anything else they might chew on, that very likely may be the cause of their upset stomach. Thankfully, this is normally easy to solve by ‘baby-proofing’ your house and yard as well as being mindful of your pet while they have access to toys or household items they may play with.

3. Eating habits

As dogs evolved from wolves, they were meant to eat quickly, as they were always on the move and working for their next meal. Unfortunately, dogs continuing to eat so fast makes it easy for them to overeat and they will often vomit when they’ve eaten more than they have room for. This is especially true of dogs who eat a kibble diet since the dry food tends to expand in the stomach as it mixes with liquid.

Another consequence of their evolved desire to eat quickly is that many dogs simply don’t chew their food, swallowing it whole instead. This allows the dog to eat even faster, which causes them to severely overeat and inevitably throw up. This leaves them extra hungry for their next meal, which tells them to eat even faster, creating a dangerous cycle. Thankfully both of these issues can be solved or alleviated by being mindful of your dogs’ eating habits.

You can start by feeding your dog smaller, more frequent meals to help prevent overeating. Some dogs eat once or twice a day, and others up to three or four times a day, so it may take a little experimentation to find what works best for your dog. Most dogs can also benefit from using a slow feeder, which forces them to eat slower and encourages them to chew their food before swallowing it. Slowed feeding also gives them time to realize their stomach is getting full, which further prevents overeating and regurgitation.

4. Too many treats

Although it can be tempting to feed your dog lots of dinner scraps or treats, it can actually lead to a sensitive stomach. Human foods are often difficult for dogs to digest due to their processing or the herbs and spices they are cooked in. It can be especially dangerous if your dog has an unknown allergy or sensitivity to a food like chicken or beef, which are common household scraps.

An excess of treats is also not good for a dog’s stomach as they are high in fats and calories which may upset the dog’s stomach. This is why it is best to limit the treats and household scraps your dog is allowed to have.

5. Too many or not enough supplements

Despite our best attempts to provide the right amount and type of nutritional supplements to our dogs, sometimes we just can’t get it right. Many vitamins are vital for proper health and development, but if given in excess, may disrupt their body’s natural balance and digestive processes.

Supplements can be extremely beneficial if they are dosed appropriately, or equally detrimental if they are given carelessly. The best solution for this is to only give your dog supplements as your veterinarian recommends and monitors.

6. Medications

Similarly to humans, certain medications can cause a sensitive or upset stomach as a side effect. Pain relievers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be given with the recommendation of your veterinarian since they may cause vomiting, diarrhea, discolored or bloody stool, decreased appetite, or lethargy.

Medications can also exacerbate issues like ulcers, nausea, and vomiting. Even medications intended to ease a sensitive or upset stomach can be difficult to dose correctly, and may not be helpful. This makes it super important not to give your dog any medications without the knowledge and approval of your veterinarian.

7. Allergies

An allergy is a damaging immune response by the body to a substance, especially pollen fur, a particular food, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive. A food sensitivity or food intolerance, however, is a reaction caused by the digestive tract. Both allergies and sensitivities are normal and not usually caused by one direct thing, and are simply the body’s individual response to a certain stimulus.

Thankfully, they can be easily managed by avoiding those foods or ingredients. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or common allergic reactions such as runny eyes or nose, itching and redness of the skin, or symptoms involving the respiratory system like coughing, sneezing, or wheezing, your dog needs to see a veterinarian for treatment and a diagnosis.

8. Primary gastrointestinal (GI) diseases

These are issues that affect the gastrointestinal tract directly, like parasites, bacterial or viral infections, ulcers, foreign material, food sensitivities, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Although these diseases are different in their effects, they can often have similar symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and dehydration.

Diseases like these which can be difficult to diagnose are a prime example of why pet owners should be familiar with their pet’s normal behavior, routines, and personality. If you notice unusual behavior or any of the above-listed symptoms, your dog should go see a veterinarian.

9. Extra gastrointestinal diseases

Alternatively, these diseases are illnesses that are caused by another body system, but still have a negative effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Some examples of this could be metabolic disorders, endocrine imbalances, dysfunction of the kidney or liver, or chronic pancreatitis. Diseases like these, although acting directly on the digestive tract, can easily give your dog an upset or sensitive stomach. If you have reasons to believe your dog may be suffering from any of these conditions, you should go see a veterinarian or animal hospital.

Now that we understand some of the most common reasons for a dog to have a sensitive stomach and know what NOT to feed them, we can better understand what they should be eating. Start with any dog food brand you feel good about, maybe it’s what your previous dog ate, or your friend’s dog, or maybe it had good reviews online.

Unfortunately, feeding a dog with a sensitive stomach or problems with allergies involves a lot of trial and error, so be ready to experiment. The internet can provide you with a lot of information and tips on what might be best for your dog. Following the guidelines above and advice from your veterinarian, you will be able to find a diet that works well for your furry friend.

If you have eliminated causes of a sensitive stomach (as listed above) from your dogs’ diet, and are still having issues, here are a few more suggestions to help your dog with a sensitive stomach:

  • Try limited ingredient dog foods.
  • Boost fiber.
  • Increase easy-to-digest foods.
  • Give them probiotics.
  • Try a raw/homemade diet.
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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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