Updated: Sep 10
Every dog or cat, at some point in their life, is probably going to deal with tummy troubles.
That's just the reality!
And while most cases are self-limiting and resolve on their own... Other cases may need a bit of help and support.
Signs & Symptoms of Upset Stomach in Dogs & Cats
There are MANY signs of upset stomach, some more obvious than others. Probably more than I can list, but we will start here with the basics and most common.
Symptoms of tummy troubles can include:
Loss of appetite
Eating grass or licking the floor, air, objects or self excessively
All of these can be uncomfortable for the pet, and some can be scary for the owner!
A few of these symptoms can warrant an immediate veterinary visit depending on the severity and frequency.
Investigating the Cause
What caused the stomach upset?
It's important to always ask some important questions when we are investigating an upset stomach in pets. Since they cannot talk, we must be the voice of reason and put together some pieces to the puzzle.
Could the pet have gotten into anything?
(Piece of food at the park, a toy in the kid's room, socks that were left out, garbage & leftovers, etc.)
Was a new bag of food recently opened? (this one is a big red flag).
*ALWAYS keep the bag and make note of the lot number in case of a recall. Take notice if your pet had a newly opened package of food or even a new brand or flavor and an upset stomach began within 3 days of that. I will also note, improper food storage can also contribute to mold, mites, or having it go rancid all together.
Does your pet have a sensitive stomach to food changes? Maybe the latest switch didn't agree with them.
(which can happen, especially for puppies who are getting used to rotational diets)
Has your puppy been more adventurous and exploring things with his mouth?
Aka: shredding beds and blankets, eating things at the park & chewing on sticks
Are toxins available to your pet?
Mouse poison, moth balls, leftover food (holidays), medications, cleaning products, etc.
Minor causes of stomach upset in dogs and cats:
Food changes (this can include food sensitivity/ intolerance and feeding poor quality brands)
Stress and anxiety
Overeating or gulping food/water
Recent antibiotic use
Causes that are more of a concern:
Sometimes after a trauma (emotional or physical) a pet may not want to eat. This could be the loss of another pet, or after they have had surgery. While this can be normal and just need some time, it can also be serious and potentially require a vet visit.
Parasites can be pretty common in pets. And they can cause quite a bit of damage such as decreased nutrient absorption, stomach bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting. Puppies should be routinely checked for worms at least twice before a year old with a fecal test. Adult animals should have a fecal test yearly.
Unfortunately, I've been seeing more and more veterinary clinics send out their fecal samples for analysis vs. in-house lab testing.
The problem: full tests are NOT being run. Most commonly, these send-outs are testing for: Tapeworm, hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm (most common worms. They are NOT testing for giardia or coccidia or cryptosporidium! These are considered protozoa. They are also not looking for bacteria imbalances. Recently, I've spoken with 2 dog owners who have spent thousands on veterinary visits and tests in attempt to resolve their dog's stomach problems... After I referred them to another vet for a specific fecal test: coccidia was found. This is (sadly) SO common!
Acute illness: bacterial or viral infection
I'm sure we've all experienced stomach upset due to acute illness.
More serious causes:
Foreign body ingestion
Blankets, toys, sticks, cooked bones, fruit pits, rawhide, garbage, etc. All of these can get stuck in the intestinal tract and cause severe damage that can be life-threatening.
Chronic disease or other health conditions
Parvovirus, IBS, pancreatitis, etc.
Offering Supportive Care
Always be sure your pet stays hydrated in cases of vomiting and diarrhea.
Be sure to call your vet whenever your pet has an upset stomach, just to rule anything out that could need medical treatment.
*Puppies, kittens and small breed dogs can become very sick and dehydrate quickly. Please seek immediate veterinary care if they are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.
Usually, the first step with a minor stomach upset is a bland diet (or even withholding a meal or two) to let things settle down.
Withholding food should be done at the discretion of a veterinary professional who knows your pet's medical history. Not all pets are fit for fasting and it could be dangerous to some (especially diabetics).
*Do not fast puppies, kittens and small breed dogs without veterinary guidance! They can easily become hypoglycemic (a potentially life-threatening condition of low blood sugar)!
My dog, Maddie, does not do well with fasting... but occasionally we will hold off on one meal in cases of stomach upset. I like to remind people that if you were vomiting and had diarrhea, would you be up to eating an entire meal? Probably not.
Most people opt for chicken and rice as a bland diet, but from my experience... Most pets have an issue with chicken and rice. So we choose alternatives.
As for the bowl: Meals aren't always pretty around here!
Small, frequent meals of:
(boiling meat helps take the excess grease off: NEVER season or fry for a bland diet protocol)
Few tablespoons of plain pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
What Happens if My Pet's Symptoms Do Not Resolve?
If your pet needs medical care for on-going tummy troubles, there are a few tests & diagnostics that can be run to figure out the cause of the problem:
This can check for intestinal parasites and bacterial imbalance.
To rule out underlying infection or even monitor for dehydration.
This would be ideal to check for a forwign body but it can also detect gas patterns and constipation.
First line Treatment options:
A staple for everyone! Be sure it's high quality from a reputable brand.
Sometimes, pets just simply need more fiber in their diet to firm things up!
DiGize is a favorite around here! Anytime Maddie has a rumbling tummy, she fets a drop of diluted DiGize rubbed on her belly.
Slippery elm, plantain, fennel and ginger are all great. I prefer an herbal mix.
A natural antibiotic that everyone should have on hand!
Some breeds have a genetic pre-disposition to adverse events from these medications, so be aware.
Should only be used when a known infection is present. These can severely disrupt the gut and cause more problems.
Unfortunately, most conventional veterinarians jump to the big drugs and interventions right away. If you can, please ask what alternatives are available or if you can run some tests first, as opposed to blindly treating with antibiotics.
It's important to recognize that you as a pet owner have a deep responsibility to notice signs of illness and injury in your dog or cat. It's also very important to know what needs medical attention and what can possibly be managed at home.
I always encourage pet owners to be thorough in providing their pet's health & symptom history in order for a proper diagnosis and/ or treatment plan to occur.
Please be aware that it may be up to YOU to recommend the tests and treatments listed above. If your veterinarian recommends a wait and see approach, and your gut is telling you something different: say something!
If a fecal test was normal, but you now want an X-ray: ask for it!
YOU are your pet's advocate and know them best.
Follow your gut.