An upset stomach is often a sign that indicates an issue in the way your tummy processes food. It is so common that almost every other individual we know of has somehow experienced having tummy aches at some point in their lives. It is also too common that even our dogs experience it. The good thing is that most incidence of upset stomach doesn’t require serious medical attention. Most of the time, the symptoms resolve on their own and do so rather quickly, too. For dogs, the usual method of addressing an upset stomach is mulching on grass. However, it doesn’t always work or the pooch may not really feel like wanting to chew on grass. So what do we do? Here are some tips to cure your dog’s upset stomach instead of automatically reaching for a tablet of Pepcid or even Pepto-Bismol.
Keep Your Pooch Well Hydrated
One of the most common manifestations of an upset stomach is loose, watery stools. This is the same with humans. Aside from the rumbling in your tummy, you will also feel as if the sphincter in your anus is not closing tight enough to prevent the exit of loose, watery stools. The same is true with canine stomach upsets. Unfortunately, not only is your pooch losing water, it is also losing plenty of electrolytes particularly acids from the stomach. This can lead to fluid and electrolyte abnormalities.
Technically, there are two fundamental issues that can occur with diarrhea secondary to an upset stomach. This includes the following.
Dehydration occurs because of the rapid transit of digested (or, in this case, partially digested) food through the gut. You see, when we eat (that includes our dogs), the food passes through several regions of the gastrointestinal tract. From the mouth, dog food is partially broken down to make it a lot easier to be passed down through the esophagus where it enters the canine stomach. The stomach is a very acidic environment filled with gastric fluid that is made up of hydrochloric acid and several more super acidic substances. The reason why it is acidic is to make sure that any kind of food will be ‘melted’ or broken down a lot easier.
Once food has been ‘melted’ it is now called chyme – a mulchy, gooey glob that is made of digested food and digestive juices. Chyme is then pushed towards the small intestines, first through the duodenum where additional digestive enzymes are mixed to further break down the proteins into amino acids and fats into fatty acids. The chyme is then pushed further down the tube, through the jejunum and the ileum where it connects to the large intestines or the colon.
The colon is where water from the chyme is reabsorbed back into the system. The amount of water reabsorbed is dependent on the speed of the chyme passing through it. The faster it moves the less water that is reabsorbed the more watery the stool passing through the anus. Conversely, the slower the movement of the chyme the more water is reabsorbed into the blood vessels lining the colon the harder and more formed the stool that comes out through the rectum and anus.
By the way, water is not the only thing that is reabsorbed in the colon. Nutrients and other essential substances that are still present in the chyme are reabsorbed, too.
In essence, if your pooch has an upset stomach, the movement of the chyme from the stomach through the small intestines and colon is relatively fast. This means that there is not enough water being drawn back into the system. This is what can cause dehydration.
Dehydration can be manifested by a variety of clinical signs and symptoms. Typically it starts with increased thirst before you start noticing changes in the quality of your dog’s mucus membranes. There can also be a very fast heart rate, sunken eyes, and even very little urine being passed. If the dehydration is not corrected immediately, it can lead to the complete absence of urine production, a very fast yet very weak pulse, and substantially low blood pressure. If dehydration worsens to levels that is greater than 10 percent of your dog’s weight, death can ensue secondary to circulatory collapse or failure.
- Electrolyte imbalance
In addition to the loss of water, diarrhea can also lead to a loss of electrolytes especially sodium chloride, potassium, and bicarbonate. Loss of bicarbonate through the stool can lead to a condition called metabolic acidosis which is characterized by very rapid and very deep respirations in an effort to compensate in the loss of bicarbonate by inducing respiratory alkalosis and bring the serum pH back to more normal levels. There is also increased vomiting. Normally, the kidneys compensates by producing more bicarbonate.
On the other hand, potassium losses in the watery stool can have serious consequences since potassium is one of two principal electrolytes needed in the propagation of an action potential across the cell membrane. If there is excessive loss of potassium this can lead to generalized muscle weakness, paralytic ileus, and even cardiac arrhythmias which can adversely affect the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells.
Because diarrhea has the potential to cause both dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in your dog, it is thus, crucial to give your pooch fluids that are not only pure water but also contains essential electrolytes. Most veterinarians would recommend giving your pooch Pedialyte, an oral rehydration salt solution that is typically given to young children who experience mild to moderate diarrhea. There are also packets of powdered oral rehydration salts that you can mix with your pooch’s water. You can ask your veterinarian about the dosage recommendations of these preparations, although current guidelines dictate that you need to give such solutions after every episode of passing water stools.
However, do take note that if your pooch’s condition doesn’t improve quickly enough, often within the first 24 hours, don’t tempt fate by continuing to treat the dehydration yourself. It is important to bring your dog to your veterinarian. He may have to begin administering aggressive fluid resuscitation through intravenous infusions. The cause of diarrhea will also have to be determined since there are a lot of potential causes and not just because your pooch ate something bad.
Dehydration can progress very rapidly and often without warning. While you can keep your pooch fully hydrated, it is equally important to remain vigilant throughout the experience until such time that you can be certain your pet dog is clear of any threat to its life.
You may also like our article on Dog Water Fountain.
Monitor Your Dog’s Core Body Temperature
There’s a reason why it is important to take and monitor your dog’s body temperature every time it is showing signs of an upset stomach.
- Increased body temperature
An increase in body temperature can mean a lot of things. However, when taken within the context of an upset stomach, it can lead you to a potential cause of your dog’s gastric issues. Fever or hyperthermia is considered as one of the cardinal or telltale signs of inflammation or more specifically an infection. Fever should be considered as a sign and not as a disease. For one, it means that your dog’s immune system is mounting an effective defense trying to fight the invading microorganisms by increasing the temperature of the dog’s body where it will be quite difficult for the germs to thrive. It may not kill the germs but the increase in body temperature is an organism’s way of making life more difficult for germs. So, again, fever is a sign and not a disease. That being said, it should alarm you to the presence of something wrong with your dog.
- Decreased body temperature
A reduction in your dog’s body temperature is often interpreted as a sign of an impending hypovolemic shock. Of course, this is not the only reason why dogs can go hypothermic. But, when taken in the context of diarrhea especially with severe dehydration, it simply means that there is less circulating blood volume in your dog’s body. It should be noted that blood carries heat. That is why if an organism dies it turns cold because blood is no longer circulating. Of course, this is oversimplification of the obvious. But, the point is that, with severe dehydration, there is less volume of blood circulating throughout the body of the dog. This leads to what is called hypovolemic shock. And a reduction in the body temperature is one of the classical signs of shock.
Measuring the temperature of our pooches is actually not that different from taking the temperature of our kids or ourselves. However, owing to a number of anatomical differences there are certain routes of measurement that are considered a big no-no in canine thermal assessment. For one, measuring their temperature via the rectal route is considered to be the safest and the most accurate. Doing this to humans is not only gross, but is also considered unsafe, especially if you’re talking about kids. For dogs, using the tympanic or ear thermometer will not give you a very accurate measurement. However, it is more convenient and delivers very fast results. You cannot take the temperature measurement of a dog using an infrared forehead scanner since its body is virtually covered in hair. You cannot use its armpit, too for exactly the same reason.
As for the measurements, you need to stay within the normal range of about 101OF to 102.5OF, although this range can already be considered as fever in humans. If the temperature reading is higher than 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, you should already consider this as fever. If the temperature is lower than 99 degrees Fahrenheit, it is already considered as hypothermia. Regardless of whether your pooch has hyper- or hypo- thermia, it is important to bring it to the vet as soon as possible. This is to determine the actual cause of this thermal variation in your canine pet.
Take a look at our review of the Best Dog Thermometers.
Analyze Your Dog’s Immediate 3-Day Feeding History
Among humans, one of the most important assessment activities whenever a patient has upset stomach is to make a dietary recall of the immediate 24 hours as well as the last 3 days. Technically, it is a lot easier to recall what you have eaten in the past 24 hours than in the last 3 days. Unfortunately, if the cause of the stomach upset is a microorganism, it usually takes more than 3 days before you can see any sign. However, toxins and other gastric irritants can almost always produce an instant reaction, typically within several hours after its introduction in the stomach and small bowels.
Making a dietary recall among dogs can be challenging especially if your dog happens to venture outside the home, too. If it is restricted to its kennel, then determining what it ate should be relatively easy; unless, it happened to eat a cockroach it pounced on when the creature passed by your dog’s crate. Dogs are known to be very curious. And as such, whenever they are outside the home, they do have this tendency to ‘try’ out almost anything they can sniff their noses into. They may ingest mushrooms and even flowers that may not be harmful to us, but may contain toxins that are definitely harmful to dogs. Your trash is also an excellent source of a possible gastric irritant. So, you might want to become the detective you’ve always wanted to be to help ensure you get to the bottom of what’s causing your pooch upset stomach.
Consider Giving Your Pooch Commercially Available Canine Antidiarrheals
Sometimes you do need commercially available products to help manage your pooch’s upset stomach. We do not recommend giving these products to your pet without the expressed recommendation or, at least, go-signal from your veterinarian. While these products have been extensively used in the management of upset stomach in dogs, there really is no guarantee that your dog will benefit from it since it could have another reason for upsetting its tummy. Remember, stress can also upset a dog’s tummy.
Nevertheless, you may be interested in giving your dog any of the following.
- Oral rehydration solution
We have already mentioned above what oral rehydration salts solution can do for your pooch. These products provide your dog with both water and electrolytes that may have been lost due to diarrhea. These should only be used in cases of mild dehydration as moderate dehydration will often require resuscitation with intravenous fluids.
One of the most popular brands of oral rehydration salts solution is Pedialyte. It should be noted that this product is actually designed for human symptomatic treatment of mild to moderate fluid and electrolyte losses.
There are also pet owners who give their dogs energy drinks like Powerade or Gatorade since these also contain electrolytes and water. Unfortunately, we don’t recommend this as these products typically contain other ingredients that may not be beneficial for your dog.
As noted above, oral rehydration salts can also come in powdered form which you can mix with your dog’s drinking water.
Whether it is Pedialyte or a prepared oral rehydration solution, you will need to force this to your dog after every episode of loose watery stool. This is because your dog won’t typically take anything by mouth, even water, if it is feeling sick. So, you will have to get a syringe, remove the needle, draw just the right amount of oral rehydration solution, and ‘inject’ this into your pooch’s oral cavity.
To do this, you need to lay your dog on its side and insert the syringe over its tongue and direct it towards its throat. Alternatively, you can insert the syringe towards the side of your dog’s mouth, usually at the back of its cheek. Once in the correct position, methodically ‘inject’ the solution down your dog’s throat. The natural reaction is for it to swallow. However, in case it doesn’t, you can try massaging its throat to stimulate the swallowing reflex.
- Rice-based probiotics
Studies show that rice water is actually a great way to manage mild to moderate gastroenteritis in human babies. Other studies point to it as being more effective than oral rehydration salts solution. That is why there is a standing recommendation from the World Health Organization to give rice water to babies suffering from infantile gastroenteritis. Now, if rice water can tame an upset tummy in babies, it should work the same way to your dogs, right?
Technically, it should give the same benefit. Unfortunately, there are some dogs that may have difficulty digesting it well, especially puppies. Regardless, there are some dog probiotic products that are designed to mimic the natural benefits of rice water as a treatment for canine upset stomach. So, you can check these out. However, we do recommend getting the advice of your vet, too.
In hindsight, many animal experts actually recommend giving pooches with upset stomachs boiled rice to help lessen the diarrheic episodes. Furthermore, you can also give the same formulation of plain rice water to your dog since it doesn’t require any special preparation. You only need to wash a cup or so of rice thoroughly. Cover it with water and let it steep for 15 minutes. Strain and give your dog the rice water.
Check out our guide on Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs.
Give Your Pooch Some Natural Home Remedies
In addition to the oral rehydration salts solution and rice-based probiotics that we have already mentioned above, there are a few other remedies that you can provide to your dog that is suffering from an upset stomach. As always, your dog may react differently to these methodologies and as such you would want to seek your vet’s opinion about giving these home remedies to your pooch.
- Baby food, especially banana variant
Everyone in the medical community knows that banana is rich in potassium which can help address the potassium losses in diarrhea. This can also help return control to the colon, allowing for the reduction of the intensity and severity of diarrhea. The smooth consistency of baby food in banana variant should help make it easy for your dog to take.
- Boiled rice and unseasoned chicken
We mentioned above that experts actually recommend the giving of boiled rice to a dog with a sick tummy. But giving plain boiled rice may not really be that palatable to your pooch. One way to address this is by adding a few slices of boiled chicken without any added seasonings, not even salt. This is to help minimize further gastric irritation. If you put spices or any form of seasoning to your dog’s chicken, there’s a chance it will only upset its stomach even more. If your pet dog isn’t drinking enough water, you can also add extra water to the mixture to make it more liquid.
Whatever it is that you may want to give to your pooch, avoid anything that is greasy. It’s not that because this is irritating to your dog’s tummy, but because of the rather compromised state of the small intestines, the various pancreatic lipases that are supposed to dissolve fat may not work properly because of the relatively fast transit time of chyme. As such, your dog will be passing not only watery stools but also oily feces.
What is crucial is for you to make sure your pooch gets plenty of water. This is where wet or canned dog food can help. Because these are naturally more palatable and come with as much as 80 percent moisture, you can bet that you’re addressing your dog’s need for sufficient hydration at a time when it is most vulnerable to the ill effects of dehydration. Again, if you’re not really sure, you can always talk to your vet about the various remedies that you can observe.
Curing your dog’s upset stomach requires an understanding of its possible consequences. Once this has fully sunk in, then you can institute measures that will help address the issue and prevent further complications. As always, when in doubt you should never hesitate to talk to your vet because he can help you and your dog in more ways than you can imagine.
- Dr. Patty Khuly VMD, 4 Tricks for Dealing With Holiday Dog Diarrhea, Vetstreet
- Tammy Hunter, DVM, Gastroenteritis in Dogs, VCA
- People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets, ASPCA
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.