There is a growing body of evidence that pooches, too, are not immune to the development of sensitive stomachs. Since the culprit is found in dog foods, it is important that we be choosy in the chow we give to them. We know you’re anxious on learning what food to give them, so we prepared this list of the best dog food for sensitive stomachs to get you started.
Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs Buying Guide
You noticed that your dog is passing loose watery stools more frequently now than ever before. This is prompting you to think that your pooch already has sensitive stomach. Unfortunately, determining the exact cause of the stomach upset can be very challenging, to say the least. You will need the help of your veterinarian to help rule out the possibility of other causes. You will also need to read our comprehensive guide to buying dog food for sensitive stomachs to gain a better understanding of this canine condition.
What Could Cause Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs?
Before we start looking at the causes of sensitive stomachs in dogs, it is crucial to follow the journey of food as it passes down your dog’s mouth through the stomach and gut before it is finally excreted in the form of stool through the anus.
Food gets initially digested in the mouth where your dog’s saliva mixes the bolus of food and breaks down carbohydrates into their component parts. The resulting mixture is passed down the esophagus just behind the throat as chyme. When chyme reaches the stomach, it undergoes intensive digestion through the action of gastric fluids which are very acidic. This breaks down the food molecules into smaller components. The bolus is then moved towards the small intestines wherein enzymes from the pancreas and substances from the liver are used to further break down the macronutrients. Carbs are reduced to glucose, fructose, or lactose while fats are broken down as fatty acids and lipids. Proteins are digested into peptides and amino acids. It is these smallest individual components of macronutrients that are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream.
As the bolus moves along the large intestines, or the gut, there are no more nutrients to be absorbed. Instead, water is removed from the bolus to form a stool. Depending on the speed of the movement of the fecal matter, you can either have loose stools or one that is exceptionally hard and solidly formed. The faster the transit times, the more water that is left in the stool. The slower the movement of the fecal matter the more water is removed from the stool.
Food sensitivities typically occur anywhere along the digestive tract. The causes of sensitive stomachs in dogs can include the following.
- Irritation of the inner lining of the digestive tract
- Issues or problems associated with digestion
- Issues or problems associated with absorption
- Issues related to the transit of food bolus through the gut
- Changes in the normal intestinal flora
- Structural problems in the intestinal wall
More specifically, this can be brought out by the following conditions.
- Food intolerance
This is a very broad category of problems that is characterized by a failure in the digestion and /or absorption of certain types of foods based on their nutrient composition. What is very difficult in such cases is that virtually every food has the potential to be not digested and /or absorbed properly by the dog’s digestive apparatus. If such is the case, then the identification of the foods that your dog is intolerant to will be particularly challenging.
- Lactose intolerance
This is a specific type of food intolerance that zeroes in on dairy products. Milk, cheeses, and other similar dairy products are not digested and / or absorbed easily by the dog. These food items are then passed onto the stool in their whole form.
- Gluten intolerance
Some dogs have a certain predisposition to the development of gluten intolerance. Gluten is a type of protein that is normally found in cereal grains like wheat. It is for this reason that many products today do not contain cereal grains including corn and soy.
- Fructose malabsorption
Just as some people become diarrheic every time they eat fruits, there are also dogs that can become diarrheic and show other signs of stomach upset whenever they devour fruits and fruit-related products like juices and other beverages.
- Disruption of normal intestinal flora
The canine intestine is normally inhabited by a variety of bacteria. Many of these microorganisms produce various substances that help in the proper digestion and absorption of food. Unfortunately, because of changes in immune system functioning, many of these microorganisms are overwhelmed by other bacteria that bring disease. The end-result is that the gut is no longer able to produce sufficient amounts of digestion-friendly substances. This leads to problems in digestion and absorption.
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How to Determine If Your Dog has a Sensitive Stomach
Because the symptoms of canine sensitive stomach can actually mean a lot of things including food allergy, gastritis, diverticular disease, or any other disease condition of the gastrointestinal tract, there really is no sure-fire way of determining by yourself whether your dog has sensitive stomach or not. The only person who can help you with this determination is your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough evaluation of your pooch including the various signs and symptoms that you have observed from your dog, the severity of these manifestations, and the duration of these clinical manifestations. Speaking of the signs and symptoms of sensitive stomachs in dogs, these can include the following.
- Loose, watery stool
- Lack of appetite
- Flatulence or the development of gas
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Weight loss
- Not gaining weight as expected
- Poor body condition
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These manifestations are carefully evaluated by your veterinarian to determine whether they point to sensitive stomachs or to another disease entity. A complete physical examination together with focused assessment can help your vet better understand what is happening to your dog.
Diagnostic and laboratory workout will also be performed. Chemistry profile and complete blood count will be taken and compared with the findings of the health and nutritional history plus physical examination. Stool exams and cholesterol profiles may also be required to help determine any abnormalities in these areas.
Radiographic imaging of the gastrointestinal tract will help rule out any obstruction that may be present along the length of the gut. In some cases, an endoscopy may be required to help visualize the internal structures of your pet’s gut especially if ulcerations are suspected as one of the causes of frequent upset tummies in dogs.
Ingredients in Dog Food that Cause Upset Stomachs in Dogs
Since sensitive stomachs are related to the presence of food in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract, it is crucial to have an idea of the kind of food that would normally cause such a hyperactive tummy.
- Dairy products
We already mentioned above that lactose intolerance is actually quite common in dogs especially among the elderly ones. This is often brought about by the absence of the enzyme called lactase. Any product that contains some form of dairy product in it can almost always lead to upset stomachs in dogs.
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Fruits contain a type of sugar known as fructose. In susceptible dogs, they are unable to absorb these molecules across the small intestines because they lack certain carrier molecules. This leads to abnormally high levels of fructose in the small intestines which can irritate its lining and lead to diarrhea.
We said that gluten is a type of protein that is often found in grass-related or cereal grains. It is especially high in wheat, although barley, oat, and rye typically contain gluten, too. Many consider the protein content of corn to be a form of gluten, too.
We now know what foods to avoid giving our pooches. Unfortunately, the list is exceptionally long as virtually any type of food has the potential to upset the stomach of dogs.
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What Kind of Dog Food is Best for Sensitive Stomachs?
What many dog owners want to know now is the kind of dog food that is best for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Here are some of your choices.
- Lower protein diets
While it is not food allergy, there is convincing evidence that lowering the amount of protein intake can help reduce the incidence of stomach upsets in dogs. This is perhaps attributed to the greater work involved in digesting proteins because of their unusually larger size. If the diet is rich in protein and there’s a problem with the dog’s ability to digest proteins, then it will not be able to break down all of it. Decreasing the amount of proteins can help the digestive system to work more efficiently.
- Single proteins
This is similar to having a low protein diet. Providing an exceptionally greater number of protein sources can tax the already-compromised digestive tract. Limiting the number of proteins to one or two should provide an easier work for the canine gut.
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- Digestible proteins and carbohydrates
Since the problem is in the digestion and absorption of proteins and carbs, providing dog food that comes with easily digestible proteins and carbs should help minimize the incidence of stomach upsets.
One of the causes of sensitive stomachs is an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. Since good bacteria is needed in the production of enzymes and other substances needed for more efficient digestion and absorption, dog food products that contain probiotics should help reduce both the incidence and severity of stomach upsets. Furthermore, since lactose intolerance is a result of a deficiency in lactase, introducing Lactobacillus species should help improve the synthesis of such enzyme.
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Addressing sensitive stomachs in dogs can be challenging especially if the clinical manifestations resemble other conditions like food allergies. However, understanding the nature and causes of canine sensitive tummies can help you choose the right food to give to your pets as well as the ingredients that you need to avoid. Of course, the diagnosis of canine sensitive stomach must be established first with the help of your veterinarian who will also help you outline a course of action that will empower you to manage the incidence of upset stomachs in your pooch.