Many dogs suffer from tummy troubles from time to time. If your pet is among these, he may benefit from a “sensitive stomach” formulation. These types of foods are usually made with limited ingredients that are proven to help with digestive upset. Dog food for sensitive stomachs needs to be chosen carefully, as they aren't all created equally.
There's a number of sensitive stomach dog food formulas, but not every one of them will fit every case and pet. Moreover, a diet change in itself could be a part of the diagnostic process as well. Many times, a sensitive stomach diet is helpful in managing your dog’s particular condition. It's important that you discuss all of these options with a vet before picking a specific dog food brand or making any changes yourself.
In my practice, I often see pet owners who come after attempting to fix the problem of dog food allergy or sensitive stomach themselves, only to later see more complications. Remember that making dietary changes on your own could lead to worse digestive upset or nutritional deficiencies in your dog. Your veterinarian will do a full examination of your dog to assist you in choosing dog food for sensitive stomachs that will meet all of your dietary needs.
ALSO READ: 9 Tips on How to Feed Dogs With Sensitive Stomachs
Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs
the vet’s guide for pet owners
When Is Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs Needed?
Sensitive stomach in dogs can be a quick-to-fix GI issue, or it can become a huge problem that may or may not stay with your dog for the rest of his life. Every pet owner will have to understand at least the basics of how to deal with sensitive stomachs in dogs (Merck Vet Manual is a good resource). If your pooch experiences some or all of these symptoms, be sure to have a check-up with your veterinarian before switching diets:
- excessive gas
- anal gland issues
- occasional vomiting
- occasional loose stool
- poor appetite
Likewise, dogs with a history of pancreatitis may benefit from dog food for sensitive stomachs. These symptoms may be warning signs of a more serious digestive problem. Your veterinarian may recommend a basic or even more advanced diagnostic work-up before making a diet change.
Some cases are most commonly treated using dog food for sensitive stomachs. Conditions that commonly will require a sensitive stomach dog food include:
- bacterial overgrowth
- antibiotic-responsive diarrhea
- digestive enzyme deficiency
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Your dog’s diagnosis can help determine which way to go in choosing a sensitive stomach dog food. Dogs with very mild symptoms may benefit from trying an over-the-counter diet first. Many can be managed this way successfully. However, if digestive problems worsen or a working or presumptive diagnosis is reached, a prescription dog food diet should be strongly considered.
How to Switch to a Sensitive Stomach Diet
Changing diets should always be done slowly, especially for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Start by mixing about 10% of the new food with 90% old food. Feed this mixture for 2 days, then over the course of 10 days, gradually increase the amount of new food being fed. On day 5, a 50:50 mixture is typical and on day 10 is 100% new food.
If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian for guidance.
If your dog has developed a sensitive stomach soon after switching foods, talk to your veterinarian before switching back or to something else. Tummy troubles from a diet change typically are “self-limiting” and only last for a few days. If problems continue for more than a week, a more serious issue may be at hand.
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Picking Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs
Home-cooked dog food for sensitive stomachs is sometimes the best option, especially if a food intolerance or allergy is suspected. Proteins are the most common culprit in cases of food intolerance or allergy, so a ‘novel’ protein source, such as bison, venison, or kangaroo can be included in a home-cooked diet.
With homemade dog food, you know with certainty what exactly is going into your dog’s food. You can find a lot of homemade dog food recipes online, or get them from your veterinarian or canine nutritionist. Editor-in-Chief Samantha has published a few good homemade dog food recipes for sensitive stomachs:
- Homemade Dog Food for Sensitive Stomach
- Pumpkin Dog Biscuits for Sensitive Stomachs
- Limited Ingredient Peanut Butter and Banana Dog Treats
While this feeding approach is best for certain cases of sensitive stomachs, home-cooking is not as simple as it seems. Because of the potential dangers of homemade dog food cooking, this needs to be done very carefully and under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist, complete with a balanced recipe and follow all the instructions to the letter.
Devising a new diet for your Fido can be very complicated. After you consult with a vet or canine nutritionist, and if you still decide to go the home-cooking route, make sure to read up on this and find as much helpful advice as possible to make well-balanced meals. Several excellent resources on homemade dog food for sensitive stomachs (and other conditions) are available online and through veterinary nutrition services, such as:
- Balance It – Online Pet Food Balancing Calculator
- University of California-Davis Veterinary Nutrition Service
- Dr. Susan Wynn – holistic veterinarian and veterinary nutritionist
Many trusted dog food companies make over-the-counter sensitive stomach dog foods if you don't have the time to make your own. Often, this is where concerned pet parents start when their dog starts to show signs of a sensitive stomach. These diets can certainly help and are often more affordable than prescription alternatives.
MORE TIPS: 10 Ways to Prevent and Treat Stomach Upset in Dogs
What to Look for in Sensitive Stomach Foods?
When you're finally on the lookout for dog food for sensitive stomachs, your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist will be your best resource. They will advise you on which food will meet your dog's unique nutritional needs because every pet's case will be different and require a set of specific nutrients (both to include and to avoid).
Some of the features a dog expert is likely to recommend when picking sensitive stomach dog food include:
- Moderate levels of easily digestible carbohydrates are best for energy and weight maintenance.
- High-quality proteins such as chicken, egg, or fish.
- The best carbs for sensitive stomachs are rice, brown rice, brewer’s rice, whole-grain oats, and pearled barley.
- High fiber levels (soluble and insoluble) help the gut maintain its best function. Good sources of fiber in dog food include: dried beet pulp, whole grains, and flaxseeds.
- These are special types of carbohydrates that help to support healthy gut microflora.
- High levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA. These can have a mild anti-inflammatory benefit and support many body systems.
What to Avoid in Sensitive Stomach Foods?
Avoid high-protein and high-fat dog foods if your dog has a sensitive stomach. Also, avoid raw diets, as dogs with sensitive stomachs may have compromised immune and digestive systems. Harmful bacteria found in raw meats, such as E. coli and Salmonella, can cause serious infection.
If your dog is suffering from gastrointestinal issues, you should also avoid Paleo, Low Carb, and Grain-Free diets. These can worsen diarrhea and vomiting in certain dogs with sensitive stomachs.
Finally, even some dog food for sensitive stomachs recipes will not be a good fit for your pet depending on his individual situation and tummy problem causes. This is why it's important to see a veterinarian and do some testing before deciding on the dietary approach and picking the next dog food formulation.
MORE: What to Feed a Dog With An Upset Stomach
Top Sensitive Stomach Dry Formulas
There's a number of what could be considered the best dog food for sensitive stomach recipes available online (both dry kibble and wet food). In most cases, none of those will be far superior to others, but some formulas are better than others for a specific case or your individual dog. Also, some companies invest a lot more into research and science of finding the most appropriate ingredients, and those are usually vet recommended brands.
Some puppies begin to show signs of a sensitive stomach early in life. It is possible to support both their gut health and their growth with a properly formulated diet. Properly formulated puppy foods that also support a sensitive stomach is hard to find.
A good one to try is Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Puppy Dry Food. Royal Canin has been a leader in canine nutrition for over 40 years. Their foods are trusted by veterinarians and puppy parents alike.
This dog food for sensitive stomachs will give you the peace of mind that your pup is receiving balanced nutrition for growth, omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for brain development, and proper digestive support to help prevent tummy troubles.
Adult and Senior
More options are available over-the-counter for adult dogs than puppies. Many of these are very similar to one another in the formulation and ingredients list. The choice may come down to availability, cost, and how well your dog likes the taste. Most of these can also be used as senior dog food for sensitive stomachs after discussion with a vet.
- Hill’s Science Diet Sensitive Stomach & Skin Chicken and Barley
- Purina Pro Plan Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon and Rice
- Nature’s Recipe Chicken, Rice, and Barley Stew
The Veterinarian’s Go-To
I've mentioned that some brands are preferred by veterinarians because these companies spend a lot more money and time hiring scientists and nutritionists to formulate accurate, science-based dog food for sensitive stomachs formulas. Here are two of the go-to's that myself and my colleagues will often recommend.
Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care has been a “gold standard” sensitive stomach food for decades. Its formula has changed a bit in the last few years and more variety has been added to its line, including tasty “stew” canned options.
Hill’s i/d is a low-fat “intestinal” diet that contains easily digested proteins and carbohydrates, as well as a balance of vitamins and minerals suitable for adult and senior dogs. It is sometimes called the “balanced chicken and rice diet” for dogs – bland, low-fat homemade chicken and rice are often well-tolerated by dogs with sensitive stomachs.
Many of these dogs do well on homemade chicken and rice, but this type of diet is not recommended, as it is incredibly nutritionally deficient and should not be fed long-term. Hill’s takes ‘chicken and rice’ to the next level by making it convenient, affordable, and nutritionally balanced for safe short or long-term feeding.
If your veterinarian prefers Royal Canin Gastrointestinal or if Hill’s i/d isn’t available, this is excellent alternative dog food for sensitive stomachs. Royal Canin also has a ‘high energy’ option, which is best for dogs in poor body condition or those that are very active. If your dog is at risk for or suffers from chronic pancreatitis, Royal Canin’s ‘low fat’ gastrointestinal diet is an excellent choice. Deborah Shores, DVM also wrote a list of most common vet recommended dog foods if you'd like to explore other alternatives to what your veterinarian is likely to recommend.
Food Intolerances and Allergy
Sometimes, a sensitive stomach is caused by an actual food allergy or intolerance. Diagnosis can be made through ‘diet trials’ and specialized testing. These cases need to be handled carefully and veterinarians often recommend a hypoallergenic diet.
Hypoallergenic diets are formulated with a protein structure so small that the immune system can’t detect it. If the immune system cannot detect it – a reaction (and the fallout of symptoms) is much less likely.
Several hypoallergenic diets are available, including:
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein PS Adult Dry Formula – Main ingredients are hydrolyzed soy protein, potato, coconut oil, potato protein, and fish oil.
Hill’s Science Prescription Diet z/d – Main ingredients are hydrolyzed chicken liver, corn starch, and soybean oil.
Purina HA Hydrolyzed Dry Formula – Main ingredients include hydrolyzed soy protein, canola oil, and vegetable starch.
The Doggy-Bag: Take-Home Message
Dogs with sensitive stomachs can often benefit from specialized dog food. In some cases, other recipes such as limited ingredient formulas, foods for dogs with allergies, or specially designed dog foods for GI problems can also work, but you'll need to have your pooch tested to rule out certain health problems and find specific causes.
It is always important to talk to your veterinarian before making a switch to a new diet. Certain nuances or specifics about your dog’s condition can make a difference when selecting an appropriate food. Finding the right food for a dog with digestive issues can take some time but luckily there are many options out there to try.
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