A dog may show signs of sensitive stomach such as flatulence, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. This condition makes it difficult to feed a pet, and can lead to malnutrition and chronic pain in dogs. Knowing how to feed a dog with sensitive stomach is key to relieving these symptoms.

What is Sensitive Stomach in Dogs?

It's common for dogs to have sensitive stomachs, and some theories propose that this may be the result of canine domestication and how we feed them. Currently, there's no scientific evidence to prove this one way or the other, but the issue remains.

Studies have shown that certain dog breeds are more prone to have stomach issues like upset stomachs, sensitivity to foods and even cancer. Yorkshire Terriers and Scottish Terriers have been known to deal with this most often.

The most common symptoms of a dog having sensitive stomach are:

  • Vomiting (that occurs regularly; not just occasional throw up)
  • Diarrhea (regularly loose stools are likely caused by stomach issues)
  • Flatulence (dogs that pass gas very often may have an issue with the diet)

When you notice the above symptoms, you need to reassess your dog's diet. But before you set out to find a new sensitive stomach dog food, you should understand how to feed dogs that have tummy problems on a regular basis, and what are the causes of it.

Causes of Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs

There are a range of factors that can cause sensitive stomach in dogs, including stress, dietary allergies and even cancer. However, the most common causes of this condition are too many of filler ingredients, difficult-to-digest meals and high fat foods.

Dogs suffering from a sensitive stomach may become constipated, although more often they pass frequent, small stools with occasionally blood or mucous present, or they may have diarrhea followed by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and lost nutrients.

Although dog sensitive stomach can be a chronic condition, there is some research that shows that it's your dog's diet that most often plays the role in the pathogenesis and management of upset stomach disorder.

There are too many factors that can cause stomach sensitivity in dogs, but based on the most common, some dog food brands made specific formulas that usually help.

What to Feed a Dog with Sensitive Stomach

The first step to fighting stomach sensitivities in a dog is to simplify their diet and go back to the basics. Getting rid of as much unnecessary filler and ingredients will make these meals easier to digest for the dog, and also potentially pinpoint the biggest offenders.

In numerous studies, dogs who had previously experienced sensitive stomach symptoms were doing well long term on some commercially available, highly digestible hypoallergenic dog food diets and/or limited ingredient diets.

These carefully balanced complete diets for dogs with sensitive stomach are often more expensive than “regular” brands; however, this is reflective of the quality of nutrients and inclusion of novel proteins and easily digestible carbohydrate sources.

When manufacturing sensitive stomach dog foods, careful quality control protocols during processing ensure that these types of foods are not contaminated with potential allergens.

If feeding your dog a hypoallergenic dog food does not help, you'll need to find the exact cause of your dog's tummy problems. Visit a veterinarian and get on an elimination diet that will help to rule out products that your dog is allergic to.

Dog owners also have an option of feeding homemade dog food for sensitive stomachs, which many have found to be helpful. Find some homemade dog food recipes here, but to make appropriate meals for your pet, it's crucial that you first understand the basics of how to feed dogs with sensitive stomachs and how to make well-balanced meals.

RELATED: Vet's Guide on Buying and Using Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs

How to Feed Dogs with Sensitive Stomach

How to Feed Dogs with Sensitive Stomach

1. Therapeutic Dietary Support

A therapeutic dog diet is the one that is specially designed for your pet's condition. These diets have the most science and clinical research behind them, which makes them most effective at preventing or fighting a variety of health issues in dogs. However, that's also what makes them very expensive.

Therapeutic diets can be beneficial for dogs who suffer not only from a sensitive stomach issues but many other stomach related problems, kidney disease, and allergies more.

If allowed, these diets contain high quality (novel) protein sources and highly digestible carbohydrates in order to increase nutrient availability and decrease osmolar effects. These diets should also be lactose and gluten free, while containing low to moderate levels of fat.

2. Carefully Selected Protein

Protein is an essential part of a dog's diet; however, increasingly more and more dogs are showing sensitivities to protein that develop over time. Many pet owners choose low-protein dog foods to avoid these issues, but unless a low protein diet is needed for a kidney diseases dog, this doesn't always help with stomach issues.

Specifically designed (or vet advised) dog food diets for sensitive stomachs are usually formulated in a way to provide high quality, highly digestible protein sources that are often tolerated better by dogs with these problems.

Protein source itself may not be the main cause of stomach problems. Therefore, we need to look into any related problems, such as protein allergies in a dog.

3. Protein Allergies

For some pets, providing a highly digestible protein source is not enough to treat a sensitive stomach. For these dogs a protein allergy may be suspected.

It's been estimated that over half of a dog's white blood cells are located in the digestive system. These cells are an integral part of your pet’s defense system, which protect your canine against many different illness and disease.

When protein is not broken down effectively in a dog's intestinal system, the remaining acids are seen as antigens and an immune response is triggered. This immune response is often what causes the symptoms of a sensitive stomach in dogs.

To prevent this response, many therapeutic dog foods contain novel protein sources that are known to be effective for pets with sensitive stomachs. A novel protein provided should be from a source of which the pet has not been exposed to before. These diets are also often called “hypoallergenic” dog foods, even though there's more to it.

4. Hydrolyzed Diets

Hydroloyzed diets are often considered an option for dogs who have not had success on standard novel protein and other diets. Like novel protein diets these focus on protein as the most common nutrient that causes adverse reactions during digestion.

It is during breakdown that the protein causes histamine release in the dog's body, during molecule bridging, and therefore the development of symptoms. Hydrolyzed protein dog food diets aim to change this molecule, but we have no scientific evidence to this yet.

Basically, when using hydrolyzed dog food diet, the protein in the food is broken down into smaller peptide fragments that prevent bridging and histamine release from occurring. This, theoretically, should save the dog from developing stomach problems.

Hydrolyzed protein dog food diet does have a higher price point when compared to many brands, and it's also slightly controversial in the pet food industry.

5. Supporting Dog's Healthy Gut Flora

Studies have shown the importance of healthy gut flora for gastrointestinal health for both humans and canines. For example, feeding your dog good probiotics was shown in clinical trials to be beneficial in the treatment of stomach conditions in dogs, including diarrhea.

Not all probiotics work for dogs, however. Some brands contain the exact amount and variety of the necessary probiotic strains that address stomach issues. Furthermore, other components can be used in dog food diets that aid pets with sensitive stomachs.

For example, fructooligosaccharides (FSOs) are complex carbohydrates found in many sensitive stomach dog foods. They aid in many functions, including:

  • enhancing colonic microflora and promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria
  • supporting digestion and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria
  • responsible for the production of short-chain fatty acids
  • used as an energy source for specific colonic bacteria

6. Healthy Immune Function

Increased levels of antioxidants are thought to be beneficial in reducing the inflammatory response and increasing the health of the bacterial gut flora and enterocytes.

Whether your dog is suffering from upset stomach or not, ensuring that he gets a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals is essential nonetheless to prevent all types of other potential illnesses and diseases. Make sure your dog's diet is well-balanced.

7. Enhanced Levels of Omega-3s

The supplementation of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has been shown in studies to have many benefits for the health of your pet, including coat and skin health.

These fatty acids are also beneficial for relieving gastrointestinal pain, as they have been scientifically proven to reduce inflammatory cytokines, the protein molecules that cause inflammatory responses such as pain and swelling.

There are several fish oil for dogs supplements that may work well for dogs with stomach upset, and their levels of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA have an extensive list of studies proving the benefits for dogs' overall health.

8. Pick Dog Food for Sensitive Stomach

Nutrition is considered of great value and genuine efficacy for dogs who suffer from sensitive stomachs. It's the first and most effective way to fix this problem.

As there are a range of ingredients that may cause your pet to react, it is recommended that you contact your animal health expert to discuss your pet’s symptoms and the best diet for him. We've previously selected a number of dog foods for upset stomachs, and there's also a number of upset stomach dog supplements pet owners can try to help a pooch with digestion and other tummy issues.

There's a range of veterinary standard diets, some of which are mentioned below.

Purina Focus Sensitive Skin and Stomach Formula

Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach Dog...
23,135 Reviews
Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach Dog...
  • One (1) 41 lb. Bag - Purina...
  • Oat meal is easily digestible...
  • Fortified with guaranteed live...
  • Sunflower oil rich in omega-6...
  • Antioxidants for a healthy...

This specialized diet is made without common allergen’s such as corn, wheat, soy and red meat. It contains a novel protein in the form of salmon and rice for carbohydrates. This formula also includes antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, Omega-6 fatty acids and zinc. It contains no artificial colors or flavors.

Eukanuba’s Nutritional Intestinal Formula Low-Residue

This contains moderate levels of soluble fiber and it is low in fat. This dog food also contains an optimum balance of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids for increased digestibility. Unfortunately, this either may have been discontinued or the manufacturer are changing their formulate before re-releasing the product into the public, so try to find alternative dog food brands for sensitive stomachs in the meantime.

Hill's Science Sensitive Stomach & Skin

Hill's Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult, Sensitive...
18,163 Reviews
Hill's Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult, Sensitive...
  • This adult dry dog food...
  • A source of prebiotic fiber to...
  • This dog food is formulated to...
  • Packed with vitamin E &...
  • Made in the USA with global...

This dog food contains high quality, easily digestible ingredients with added antioxidants and omega-6 fatty acids. The main source of carbohydrates is brewers rice, and this food contains both chicken and pork as protein sources as well as soy oil.

9. Introduce a New Dog Food Diet Correctly

It is normal for your pet to initially refuse to eat his new diet. It is recommended to slowly introduce it by adding the new food in with the pet’s original food, gradual increasing the amount over a 7-10 days until only the new food is remaining. The same applies if you choose homemade dog food for sensitive stomach (like this recipe).

As pets with stomach sensitivities often have unknown triggers, it is vital that the new food is the only nutrition given during an elimination period. The elimination dietary trial is a gold-standard process for figuring out specific tummy issues in dogs (among other health problems) and making the necessary adjustments.

All other dog treats, snacks and table foods should be eliminated from your pet’s diet completely. If he is exposed to a food that he is sensitive to, clinical signs can show in as little as 12 hours, but in some cases they may take as long as 10 days.

For many dogs, clinical signs can diminish by 10 days of being on a low allergen diet. If a pet’s symptoms do not improve or become worse, a different diet should be considered.

Although managing a dog’s sensitive stomach may be difficult when trying to isolate the ingredients causing the reaction, these issues are often able to be well-managed through diet alone. Nevertheless, always consult with your veterinarian beforehand.

READ NEXT: Dog Food Prices – 30 Top Dog Foods and Their Prices Compared

Disclosure: We may earn affiliate commissions at no cost to you from the links on this page. This did not affect our assessment of products. Read more here and find full disclosure here.

Want to share this?

How to Feed a Dog with Sensitive Stomach

Dana is a qualified veterinarian with background in animal care and training sciences and an avid writer on the topics of dog health. Her range of expertise is wide but her primary focus in on animal nutrition and specifically dog foods.