Dog Gut Health - 10 Ways you can be helping your dog's tum tum
Published on 4 Nov 2021
Just as for people, good gastrointestinal health is very important for the comfort and wellbeing of our dogs. Gastrointestinal problems commonly manifest in dogs as diarrhoea or soft poos, flatulence and smelly poos, and sometimes vomiting and a loss of appetite. Many gastrointestinal problems can be resolved with an appropriate balanced diet, parasite prevention, and the use of prebiotic or probiotic dietary supplements.
Poor gut health and associated issues such as diarrhoea are upsetting problems for both dogs and their owners. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of providing a diet that is supportive of the microorganisms that live in the gut, the gastrointestinal microbiome.
Read on for an overview of some of the ways you can help your dog to have great gut health.
The importance of good digestive health for dogs
Nobody enjoys cleaning up diarrhoea, and it is highly unpleasant for your dog to have an upset tummy too. Gastrointestinal imbalances cause pain and discomfort for our dogs and can cause them to be miserable and in poor condition. Ideally your dog will eat their food with enthusiasm and produce well formed faeces each day. There is a "poo chart" and more information about ideal dog poo here, All About Dog Poop.
If your dog is persistently having diarrhoea, constipation, or vomiting, or is not eating well, please discuss this with your vet.
What are dog digestive disorders?
Digestive problems we commonly see in dogs include:
- Diarrhoea. This can range from soft poos to liquid depending how severe the problem is. This can be an intermittent or ongoing problem, depending on the cause
- Vomiting or regurgitation. Vomiting occurs with abdominal effort, whereas regurgitation is a passive process of stomach contents returning up the oesophagus. Vomiting occasionally is common for dogs, but seek veterinary advice if it is happening often or your pet is unwell. Passive regurgitation of food is abnormal and should be discussed with a vet.
- Constipation, have you noticed your dog straining to poo, or producing hard, dry faeces? This is a big cause of discomfort for affected dogs
- Flatulence. Nobody wants their house to smell like dog farts. Fortunately diet changes and prebiotics and probiotics can help.
- An audibly rumbly tummy. This suggests the gut is "hypermotile" and is likely to occur in conjunction with diarrhoea or flatulence or both.
- Gastrointestinal problems as described above can also occur as secondary issues caused by serious disease processes such as cancer, Addison's disease (steroid insufficiency), pancreatitis, or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, so any persistent or severe gastrointestinal concerns should be investigated further.
- Dogs with problems causing maldigestion and malabsorption cannot use nutrients from their food appropriately and thus can have weight loss, poor general health, and often a dull coat and potbellied appearance.
- If your dog is trying to vomit and not bringing anything up, and has a bloated appearance, this is an emergency and veterinary treatment should be sought immediately, as this can reflect gastric dilation and volvulus (a twisted stomach).
Signs of distress
If your dog is having diarrhoea, vomiting, or constipation, these are likely to be causing them discomfort. Additional signs of distress include that dogs may vocalise when trying to poo, may appear lethargic, or may find it hard to get comfortable and settle, so may stretch out or keep getting up and down. If you feel your dog is suffering pain and discomfort, seek veterinary assistance.
The cause of Dog gut problems?
Many things can cause your dog to have an upset tummy or other gut issues. The commonest, and often easiest to manage, are dogs eating the wrong thing. Dogs can also have food sensitivities and allergies, can ingest bacteria or parasites, or can have various underlying medical conditions that affect their gut health.
Steps for good dog gut health
There are several steps you can take to encourage good gut health in your dog:
- Choose a good quality complete and balanced diet that suits your dog's life stage, and always provide fresh water for your dog to drink
- Prevent your dog from accessing and eating rubbish, compost, and random items, for example when out on walks. "Dietary indiscretion" is a common cause of gastrointestinal upsets
- Feeding dogs a raw diet is a popular fad but it comes with a high risk of upset tummies, as raw meat is innately likely to be harbouring bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Cooked food is generally safer.
- Avoid human food, and especially avoid any foods high in fat, as dogs are very sensitive to fat and can develop pancreatitis.
- Keep your dog up to date with parasite prevention to protect them from intestinal worms.
- You may consider using prebiotic or probiotic dietary supplements such as Field Day's The Balancing Act. There is increasing evidence that prebiotic supplements can be very helpful in supporting a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome.
- If your dog has persistently poorly formed stools, or appears unwell, please discuss this with your vet.
Best food for dogs with digestive issues
In general it is best to feed dogs a complete and balanced diet which suits their life stage. If your dog has a short period of gastrointestinal upset, it can help to feed them a commercially formulated low residue diet such as Hills I/D or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal for a few days.
Sometimes people like to cook chicken meat (just muscle, no skin or fat or bones) and rice for their dogs, this is fine in the short term but not complete and balanced in the longer term. If your dog's faeces return to normal after a few days of a gastrointestinal diet (commercial or home cooked) then you can try to reintroduce their normal food and see if they continue to have normal poos. Hills I/D and Royal Canin Gastrointestinal can be fed long term, but it is worth discussing with your vet if your dog is having ongoing problems with an upset tummy.
For dogs that have a continuously sensitive stomach, it is important to keep them on a consistent diet that works for them. Sometimes you may need to try them on a novel protein diet, for example based on fish, venison, or crocodile meat. This should be done in conjunction with veterinary advice. Some animals will just do well on one particular diet, for example my first clinic cat Boussel could eat Hills Science Diet Sensitive Stomach, but would vomit anything else. If your dog tends to have a finicky tummy but you have found an appropriate diet that suits their digestion, it is easiest to stick with it.
Once again, if in doubt, seek veterinary advice.
Commercial dog kibble was first produced over 160 years ago in England, and the first canned wet food nearly one hundred years ago. Since then the science of nutrition has come a long way.
Best digestive aid for dogs
The best aid to your dog's digestive health is to feed them an appropriate complete and balanced diet, keep up to date on parasite prevention, and prevent them from eating things they shouldn't. If your dog is flatulent or has intermittent diarrhoea, or you are just unhappy with the consistency of their faeces, you can add in prebiotic supplementation to their diet such as Field Day's The Balancing Act, which can be fed as an ongoing addition to the diet.
Another interesting source of protein for dogs is insect protein. An environmentally friendly food source, expect to see more bugs in the diet of both pets and people, as we move towards lower carbon emission food sources in the future.
Dog gut FAQs
How long does it take for dogs to digest food?
After consumption, food usually enters and exits the stomach in about an hour and a half, and then travels through the intestines in about five to eight hours, before being produced as faeces. Gastrointestinal transit time is affected by a number of factors including food type, activity levels and moisture content, but is quicker for dogs than for people.
Can stress impact a dog's digestive system?
Stress can definitely impact on dogs' digestion. Stress affects all body systems, including causing changes to levels of hormones such as cortisol and thus affect gut transit time and dogs can develop diarrhoea or constipation. Stress can also result in your dog eating and drinking less.
Do dogs get heartburn?
"Heartburn" (gastric acid reflux) occurs when stomach acid moves from the stomach back into and up the oesophagus. If this happens a lot, dogs will show symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, regurgitating, weight loss, a general appearance of discomfort, and lipsmacking. Dogs affected by acid reflux can generally be managed medically, and fortunately this is not a particularly common condition.
Is milk good for a dog's stomach?
Once puppies leave their mothers at eight weeks of age or so they are weaned and do not need milk any more. Lactase is the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose, which is the sugar present in milk. Older puppies and adult dogs have reduced levels of lactase in their gastrointestinal tract, so many will get an upset tummy from milk with signs such as diarrhoea and flatulence.
- Digestive health in dogs, accessed 03/10/21
- All about dog poop, accessed 08/10/21
- History of pet food, accessed 08/10/21
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Non-Brachycephalic Dogs, accessed 09/10/21