Dogs with upset stomachs leave you fretting. Not only is coping with occasional vomiting and loose stools not the most fun activity in the world, but it’s also frustrating. Does your poor pup have something wrong? Are you dealing with a food allergy? Should you change their diet? And, if you do, how do you know what to pick? In most cases, sensitive stomach dog foods are the best option. They’re pretty boring, though. But there’s a good reason, and we’ll explain why.
How do you know if your dog has a sensitive stomach or not? Unfortunately, the signs are vague. And they’re the same you see with plenty of diseases and other health conditions:
- Vomiting (not continuous, more of an occasional pattern)
- Soft or loose stools
- Noticeable flatulence
Since GI signs can mean bigger problems, the first thing you want to do is make an appointment with your vet – NOT head to the dog food aisle. While your dog may have a touchy tummy, you need to rule out other issues first.
You also need to take a look around the house. The sporadic symptoms of an upset stomach may have nothing to do with sensitivity to proteins or a lack of fiber.
Some dogs like to help themselves to table scraps. (or, you know, convince YOU they need something off your plate) And while it seems harmless enough to offer your favorite furry friend a slice of bacon, the fat content is higher than they’re used to. It’s enough to throw their GI tract off. There’s nothing wrong with their system, and if the snacking stops? So will the signs.
An abrupt change in their usual dog food can do the same thing. Diet changes should happen slowly, over a couple of weeks. This allows the stomach to adjust to the new formulation, protein, and fat content. But if a quick substitute happens, your dog’s GI system will rebel.
The Genuine Sensitive Stomach
When you get a clean bill of health and check off on any possible issues around the house, though, sensitive stomachs come into play. Dogs can struggle with the protein sources in their diets. Other times, the fiber content is too low to keep their microbiome happy. And other pups need as little fat as possible.
Ordinary dog foods? They may not do the trick. Even if you opt for high-quality brands, things can be off-kilter enough to lead to your pup feeling miserable after a meal. And that’s where sensitive stomach dog foods fill in the gap.
Sensitive Stomach Dog Food Differences
At first glance, it may be difficult to figure out why sensitive stomach dog foods are so different. (Ignoring the fact they usually say so on the label) You need to dive a little deeper into the ingredients to discover why they’re easier on the GI tract.
- Protein: Some proteins are simply gentler on the stomach. Chicken, turkey, and fish top the list.
- Fiber: Fiber not only helps with binding up stools but also feeds the bacteria in the gut. Beet pulp does the trick, and so does rice.
- Fat: While some fats are okay, canines don’t need much. And if you have a pup with a wobbly tummy? They really don’t need a lot (10-15%). A high level of fat can cause plenty of problems.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Usually, dog foods don’t come up short here. But raw diets and homemade diets CAN. The GI tract requires nutrients to function properly, and without them, your dog may struggle.
- Quality: It’d be nice if a label indicated the quality of the ingredient, but that’s not the case. And there’s no requirement to provide that information. And while commercials assure you they only use top-quality ingredients, you need to do some homework. This means checking for clinical studies using the sensitive stomach dog foods and ensuring the company employs board-certified veterinary nutritionists.
Choosing a Sensitive Stomach Dog Food
If your vet’s made a recommendation for a sensitive stomach dog food, odds are they gave you a list of brands to look for. And that’s your best bet for places to start. Because while many companies offer a “sensitive stomach” option, they aren’t all created equal. And plenty include ingredients that will make an iffy tummy feel worse. You may need to keep a magnifying glass handy to read labels, but it’s important to check for key features.
Whenever you’re uncertain, talk to your vet. It’s VERY easy for occasional stomach issues to lead to dehydration and lethargy. So you want to make sure you’re choosing a sensitive stomach dog food that will help out your canine companion. Your vet is the best source for recommendations – NOT a television commercial.
What do all sensitive stomach dog foods have in common? They’re BLAND. Not because you’re depriving your dog of a good meal, but because that’s what a tender stomach wants.
If your dog’s ever gone through a major GI upset, odds are your vet recommended several days of chicken and rice (the ultimate bland diet). And that’s what you’re looking for. You want a simple protein, an easy-to-digest carbohydrate, and not much else. This means a pretty minimal ingredient list.
It also means avoiding the following triggers:
- Dairy: Canines, in general, are lactose-intolerant. But you don’t want to see cheese or milk in a sensitive stomach dog food.
- Fruit: Some fruits are acceptable in a dog’s diet. But you need to watch the sugar content. As sugar goes up, so do the GI problems. Fruits should never make up more than TEN PERCENT of a sensitive stomach dog food.
The Grain Question
Some people will tell you dogs with gut issues need gluten-free foods. No canines have been diagnosed with celiac disease. And switching to a grain-free diet is a BAD idea.
However, you can choose grains that are easy to digest. They’re the same ones doctors prescribe if YOU struggle with GI problems:
Your dog’s digestive system needs all of the help it can get. And the best sensitive stomach dog foods? They have it. This can come in the form of high-fiber superfoods, prebiotics, or probiotics.
Pumpkin is a natural source of fiber. Dogs love the taste, and it isn’t high in sugar. You’ll see it as a superfood addition to some sensitive stomach dog foods. That fiber also helps feed the bacteria in the intestines. When they’re happy, they work efficiently.
Other foods have probiotic cultures. The cultures help shore up the bacteria in your dog’s microbiome. Sensitive stomachs often struggle with systems that don’t work properly. So those cultures go a long way to resetting everything.
The Best Sensitive Stomach Dog Foods
Your dog loves to eat. That doesn’t seem to be the problem. It’s keeping all of that food down that gets tricky. And once you’ve ruled out other medical concerns (and human – or feline – snacks), it’s time to consider a sensitive stomach dog food. It may seem mean to opt for a bland diet, but dogs don’t mind. Most dog foods are on the bland side. These diets simply take it a little further. And once you see those common stomach ailments go away? YOU’LL feel better, too.
Iams Minichunks doesn’t have the “sensitive stomach” label on their dog food, but they also don’t use a bunch of extra ingredients that can bother a dog’s GI tract. You get farm-raised chicken and corn. Then they throw in beet pulp as a healthy source of prebiotics. You also get a bonus of omega-6 fatty acids, which will help with the immune system – and give the coat a healthy shine. And that fat level? It’s just under the wire at 14%. Iams also maintains veterinary nutritionists on their staff, giving you the peace of mind that they’ve done their homework on the food.
Downsides? So corn isn’t the best source of carbohydrates. It’s harder to digest and can cause a flare-up of allergies. And the food can cause some of those gassy issues to persist.
Some dogs prefer canned food to dry options, and that’s where Iams Proactive Health comes in. Again, it isn’t specifically a sensitive stomach dog food, but the chicken and rice flavor cater nicely to pups searching for a bland diet. You still get healthy omegas in the mix, in addition to the proper balance of vitamins and minerals. It comes in formulas for puppies and seniors, too. And with only 3% fat? Your dog’s stomach will thank you.
The downsides? The protein is low – only 7%. Dogs need a range of 18-26%, even in a sensitive stomach dog food. So this isn’t ideal on its own. And, unhappily, meat by-products top the list rather than the chicken. You also find wheat flour in addition to the rice. Wheat can be a problematic ingredient for some dogs.
Nutro’s Natural Choice gives you the option of chicken, lamb, or venison as your protein source. And they make sure to avoid by-products, as well as any corn, wheat, or soy. Instead, you get rice and barley for your carbohydrates. Then they add in superfoods like chia seeds, pumpkin, kale, and spinach. That makes sure your dog gets plenty of fiber and omegas. And with the prebiotic kick of beet pulp? Their GI tract will settle down.
So what are the downsides? Chicken and lamb may work for wobbly stomachs but skip the venison. It may lead to more problems as it’s NOT a bland protein. You will also find potato protein in the ingredients. It’s not the same as potatoes, but you’ll want to keep an eye on any changes in your dog’s activity or breathing.
When it comes to sensitive stomach dog foods, Purina Pro Plan is one of the top (without a prescription). They use salmon as their protein, and they mix in rice and oatmeal. They’re all easy-to-digest ingredients that have the bonus of providing fiber and omegas. You’ll also find probiotic cultures (600 million CFU/pound). Oh, and they toss in glucosamine, so your pup will get added joint health, too.
This is the diet of choice for our Greyhound. She’s hypothyroid, which can influence digestion, and she had a nice infestation of resistant hookworms when we first adopted her. Purina kept her stools as routine as possible while also boosting her appetite. And now? She won’t eat anything else.
Downsides? Due to the probiotics, the food can start to go bad if you don’t store it properly. Make sure you order the right size bag. And it DOES smell like fish (our cats can vouch for that). This means your dog WILL develop fish breath. But that’s easily corrected with regular toothbrushing. However, the fat does come in high at 16%.
If you like the Purina model but don’t want to spend as much, SmartBlend has a sensitive stomach dog food that won’t break the budget. You still get salmon as the protein, with the same rice and oatmeal to keep a nice level of fiber and omegas. And they even add vitamin E to keep your dog’s skin looking sleek and shiny. You also get a nice addition of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. And you’ll even find some veggies for that extra kick.
The downsides? The fat level (it’s the salmon) still matches the Pro Plan level. And, of course, you’re going to get the same fish breath. But it’s when you look at the ingredient label that you see more problems: it includes corn gluten meal, chicken by-product meal, and dried peas. None of those are great.
The absolute best sensitive stomach dog foods come with a veterinary prescription. And Royal Canin’s Gastrointestinal Low-Fat is one of the favorites among canines. They use pork as their protein source, with corn and rice making up the carbohydrates. You’ll also see plenty of beet pulp as a prebiotic. There’s also a touch of fish oil, giving your dog a source of healthy omegas. And that fat content? It only comes in at 3.75%! (This is why it’s labeled a low-fat diet)
So what are the downsides? Well, yeah, you need a prescription at the checkout. However, you chatted with your vet about your pup’s tummy troubles, so that’s easy to come by. Unhappily, the protein content on this diet is low (6%). And pork isn’t the usual bland protein source. Nor do most dogs like corn. However, it IS a prescription, and plenty of canines do well with it.
Hill’s has plenty of prescription sensitive stomach dog foods. But their Science Diet line makes a similar formula that DOESN’T require a script to purchase. Your dog still gets a bland diet of chicken and rice, with the benefit of beet pulp in the mixture. They also include fruits and vegetables to make sure your pup’s getting a balanced diet. You’ll see omegas on the list, too, and vitamin E. So even though you’re watching out for a touchy tummy, you also get to protect their skin.
Downsides? The fat content is 16% – and they don’t have fish to blame. You will also see peas on the ingredient list. But there IS a caveat: they have a team of certified veterinary nutritionists AND veterinarians on their staff. That means they understand how to use the ingredients. They are peas, though. It’s up to you.
Bland is Best
Believe it or not, dog food usually comes out on the bland side. But if you have a dog with certain intolerances, you may need to go further and find a sensitive stomach dog food. With specific proteins, carbohydrates, and helpful bonuses like extra fiber and pre-and probiotics, they’re designed to cater to wobbly tummies. And then your dog? They can enjoy every meal.
Plus, you won’t have to fret about possible clean-up situations whenever your dog finishes breakfast or dinner. And that’s peace of mind you can appreciate!