Just like us, dogs can get sick stomachs from time to time. It can be frustrating (and messy) when your dog has diarrhea or start vomiting, but you probably just want to know what to do to help. No one likes to see their baby in pain and discomfort.
There are many different reasons why your dog might have a sick tummy, but some are more serious than others. It is wise to know which ones you can treat at home and those that require more urgent care from your veterinary office.
Let’s explore some of the most common causes of an upset stomach as well as what you and your vet can do to try and help.
How Should Normal Dog Poop Look?
A healthy dog should produce stools once or twice a day, depending on his diet and exercise level. The stool should have some segmentation and a firm (but not hard) consistency, such that when you pick it up, it doesn’t leave much residue behind. Your dog’s feces shouldn’t have any blood or noticeable mucus.
Fecal scoring charts are used by some veterinarians when discussing the consistency of your dog’s stools. If your dog has an upset stomach, then it means his stools are looser and waterier than normal, and they might be going more frequently too. This might mean your pet has accidents in the house if he gets caught short.
What Are Possible Causes of an Upset Stomach?
Diarrhea is a non-specific symptom, and there can be many different underlying causes. It is usually not possible to identify the exact reason without seeking veterinary advice. However, here are some of the most common causes of upset stomachs in dogs.
This means eating something that he shouldn’t have and often leads to a condition called “garbage gut.” Dogs may do this when out on walks, so it can be hard to avoid altogether, especially when he’s sniffing around or off leash. Try and discourage this behavior where possible as many things found on the ground have gone bad and contain high levels of bacteria.
If your dog has a large number of worms in his digestive tract, then this could cause diarrhea. Other parasites include the microscopic protozoan Giardia, which can cause loose stools and be infectious between pets. If you notice your dog scooting across the ground to wipe its butt, they should be tested for worms.
Salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli can cause diarrhea in some animals. Animals on raw food diets are at higher risk of encountering these bacteria.
The most well-known viral cause of diarrhea is parvovirus. Affected animals usually pass large amounts of bloody diarrhea, and it can be fatal in some cases. Regular vaccinations help prevent your dog from catching this disease.
Underlying food sensitivities or allergies may cause upset stomachs in some dogs. Your vet can diagnose these potential issues by assisting you through the process of doing a dietary trial.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Dogs with this condition can be affected to varying degrees, with some affected more severely than others. Hypoallergenic diets can be helpful for some animals, whereas others may require medication.
Pancreatitis can be triggered by eating very fatty or rich foods, with some breeds more prone to it than others (like miniature schnauzers and cocker spaniels). A small organ called the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing affected dogs to suffer from a painful abdomen, vomiting, and diarrhea. They can also become very lethargic and dehydrated.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
EPI is a condition whereby the pancreas doesn’t produce enough enzymes to help digest fats. Animals can suffer from severe malnutrition if left untreated and suffer from chronic diarrhea.
Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)
Also known as Acute Hemorrhagic Diarrhea Syndrome (AHDS), dogs with this illness have sudden-onset bloody diarrhea, often with vomiting. The exact cause is unknown but could be triggered by allergies, parasites, or issues with blood clotting. Some dogs may need hospitalization for treatment.
Addison’s disease is otherwise known as hypoadrenocorticism and requires lifelong treatment. It is a condition caused by the adrenal glands not producing enough hormones, including cortisol. These hormones help regulate electrolytes in the body as well as assist animals in dealing with stressful events. Animals can show symptoms that come and go, making it difficult for your bet to diagnose the condition until they are experiencing a serious Addisonian crisis, presenting collapsed and extremely unwell. Another way to diagnose it is with blood samples, but it would be difficult to detect the concern for testing.
Certain types of cancer could cause diarrhea in dogs. Tumors can cause loose stools with or without blood in them. A diagnosis is made using a combination of blood tests, diagnostic imaging, and biopsies.
Can You Treat a Sick Tummy at Home?
Yes, if your dog has a one-off episode of diarrhea and is otherwise bright and happy, then you could try treating him at home. Offer your dog small meals of bland, easy-to-digest food, such as cooked chicken breast or white fish and boiled white rice. Alternatively, a commercial sensitive stomach food over the counter from your veterinarian or your pet store might be easier.
Probiotics may prove helpful alongside bland food, aiding your dog’s gut flora and providing the digestive tract with good bacteria. Some of these products contain ingredients like kaolin and montmorillonite, which also help to firm up your dog’s stools. Probiotics don’t require a prescription, so again can be purchased over the counter or online.
When Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?
The following is a list of warning signs to look out for. When you see these, call your vet immediately:
- Blood in the stools – either fresh red blood or black sticky digested blood (melena)
- Large amounts of very watery stools – your dog is at risk of dehydration if he passes frequent or copious amounts of watery diarrhea.
- Vomiting – if your dog is vomiting and passing diarrhea, then you should call your veterinarian.
- Abdominal pain – if your dog is whimpering, crying when his tummy is touched, looking at his abdomen, holding himself in unusual postures, or appears bloated, then he could have abdominal pain.
- Lethargy – if your dog is not his normal self and is quieter than usual, then you should get them examined by a veterinarian.
- Collapse – in severe cases, your dog could become weak and collapse. You must see your veterinarian immediately in this instance, as he might be severely dehydrated or suffering from a serious underlying health concern.
How Will the Vet Treat My Dog’s Upset Stomach?
Depending on the findings of your veterinarian’s examination, they might suggest a blood test. Tests may indicate dehydration and show electrolyte imbalances. More specific blood tests can look at your dog’s pancreatic enzymes to screen for pancreatitis or an underactive pancreas (Pancreatic Insufficiency). Your vet can also assess your dog’s protein and vitamin levels for deficiencies.
Infectious causes of diarrhea such as bacterial infections or parasites are usually diagnosed from fecal samples. Your vet can also assess feces for signs of blood loss.
X-rays or ultrasound scans may be helpful to rule out obstructions in your dog’s digestive tract and to look for signs of cancer or liver issues. Surgical biopsies of your dog’s digestive tract are sometimes required for a definitive determination of some causes of diarrhea.
Food trials can be a helpful way to work out if your dog has a food allergy or intolerance. Your veterinarian usually suggests your dog eats a rigorous single-source diet for 6 to 8 weeks (with no other food, treats, tidbits, etc.). If his diarrhea resolves, then the dietary trial is challenged with different foods (like chicken or beef) to see if he reacts and has diarrhea again. Your veterinarian can advise you on this in more detail.
Can I Prevent a Sick Stomach?
You won’t be able to stop your dog from ever getting a sick stomach, but there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk:
- Try and stop your dog from scavenging on walks
- Prevent heavy worm burdens from occurring with regular deworming
- Don’t feed your dog table scraps, especially rich or fatty ones
- Never change your dog’s diet suddenly. Always mix the new food with the old over several days
- Make sure your dog is vaccinated to prevent viral causes of diarrhea
- Take your dog for regular checkups with your veterinarian to detect any underlying health problems early on.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of an upset stomach in dogs?
Symptoms vary depending on severity, but most dogs pass soft or liquid stools when they have a sick stomach. They usually need to defecate more often than usual and might be straining a bit too. Other signs include flatulence, inappetence, and lethargy.
What is the difference between a one-off occurrence and chronic diarrhea?
Most cases of upset stomachs involve a short bout of diarrhea that resolves with minimal treatment, though your dog might feel a bit off-color at the time. Most days, repeated bouts of diarrhea or a dog with loose stool indicate a chronic condition that needs investigation. Left untreated, your dog could suffer from malnutrition and weight loss.
What can I give my dog for a sick stomach?
If your dog is otherwise bright, you could treat his upset stomach with bland, easy-to-digest food. It is usually not necessary to starve dogs – instead, feed them small meals at a time of things like cooked chicken or white fish and boiled rice. Alternatively, a sensitive stomach food or probiotics could help.
If your dog has a mild upset stomach and is otherwise well in himself, then you could try treating him with bland food and probiotics. However, if things don’t improve or you see any warning signs, you should seek veterinary advice immediately. There are many causes of diarrhea in dogs, so get your pet examined if you are worried about him.