Dog Food for Digestive Problems
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Many dogs have occasional problems with their digestion. And they show it — through vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Often the problems are brief and may come from a singular episode of eating something they found in the garbage, or something simply not agreeing with his system. But digestive problems in your dog can also be signs of larger issues or signs that the food that he’s eating every day isn’t a good fit.
Veterinarians and dog nutrition experts are increasingly recognizing problems with many commercial dog foods available today. They’re seeing the effects on dogs, both in terms of short-term problems and their longer-term health. Read expert dog nutritionists’ advice and learn of changes you could make to keep your pet healthy for the long term. ,
- Causes of Digestive Problems in Dogs
- Foods that Cause Digestive Issues
- Best Food for Dogs with Digestive Issues
- How to Help Your Dog with Digestive Issues
- Benefits of Natural Raw Dog Food
Digestion Problems in Dogs
Most dogs will experience digestion issues from time to time that can occasionally turn into longer-term problems with digestion. Either way, the symptoms can be similar and include:
- Regurgitating undigested food
- Chronic vomiting
- Bloody stool
- Mucus in stool
- Difficulty in passing stool
- Change in appetite
- Eating grass
When your dog is having digestive issues, they may present the following symptoms:
- His body has detected something bad for his system and is rushing it through the digestion process or vomiting or regurgitating it out.
- Food has remained too long in the colon and water from it has reabsorbed into the body, causing them to form stools that are difficult to pass.
Causes of Digestive Problems in Dogs
Stress, anxiety or deeper medical issues can cause digestive symptoms. But more often, the digestive problems are caused by garbage or other food or items the dog has eaten. Your dog’s regular food can also be a culprit. Common causes of digestive problems include:
- Food that is high in fat
- A sudden change in the dog’s diet, or the kind of food he eats
- Many commercial dog foods, which have artificial ingredients and flavoring, chemicals, preservatives and food dyes
- Food that contains ingredients your dog may be allergic to or have an intolerance to, including corn, grains, and gluten
- Proteins, or dog food with proteins, that are challenging for his digestive system to break down
- Your dog eats table scraps, small animals, or foreign objects out of the trash
- Bacteria, including salmonella
Linda Case, a canine nutritionist, dog trainer, and author of Dog Food Logic, Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices, says corn and wheat do not cause as many digestive and other problems as commonly believed. “They’re actually pretty low on the totem pole.”
Food allergies and intolerances can sometimes produce digestive symptoms in dogs. But the most common symptom of food allergies is not digestive at all. It’s itchy skin and other skin issues. “Only about 10-15 percent of dogs will have vomiting or diarrhea (from food allergies),” says Case. “A more common reaction to a food ingredient is skin problems.”
She adds that common food ingredients like chicken, beef, and dairy cause more problems. She also says low-quality meat meal in commercial dog foods causes many of the problems. Meat meal in commercial dog food can be “very high-quality, with a highly digestible protein source — or they could be crap basically. It depends on where the meat meal is sourced and the rendering plant that produces it,” Case explains.
Dr. Judy Morgan, a veterinarian, pet food therapy expert and author of Yin & Yang, Nutrition for Dogs, Maximizing Health with Whole Foods, not Drugs, agrees that the most significant causes of dog digestive issues don’t appear to be grains. She also says intolerance to chicken common and that may be because a lot of the poor-quality commercial dog foods “have poor quality chicken components.” Morgan shares, “For the pets I treat, I find chicken to be the number one problem.”
Health Effects of Poor Digestion
Some dogs’ digestive issues can be short-term, occur occasionally and present minor problems. Short-term problems are hardly unusual — especially when problems are sometimes caused by your dog scrounging in the garbage and finding that four-day old takeout box of macaroni and cheese. However, some dogs can suffer longer-term problems with digestion. And those problems can sometimes cause health issues. Potential issues include:
- Loss of energy
- Loss of muscle mass
- Weight loss
- Intestinal parasites
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Loss of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and potassium
- Unhealthy looking coat
- Chronic skin and ear problems
- Development of certain diseases, including pancreatitis and even some cancers
As you know, dogs are decidedly not “one size fits all.” Your dog’s nutritional needs, and the way he or she reacts to certain foods, will depend on a number of factors, including breed, weight, age, activity level, and individual characteristics of their digestive system. But there are things to watch for that would suggest a veterinarian should take a look at him, which include:
- When vomiting or other significant symptoms last for more than 24 hours, or they get worse
- When you see mucus in the stool, a possible sign of irritable bowel syndrome
- When you see blood in the stool
- If there’s significant weight loss
- When the vomiting and diarrhea are chronic
“In my book, it is never normal for a pet to vomit or have diarrhea once or twice a week,” says Dr. Morgan. “That’s not normal.”
Most of the time, your dog’s digestive problems won’t be an indication of something more serious. But rarely, the symptoms can suggest other possible issues such as:
- Diseases of the liver, pancreas, adrenal glands, prostate or kidneys
- Chronic inflammatory gastritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Atypical Addison’s disease
- Clostridial diarrhea
- Bilious vomiting syndrome
Keep Your Dog Away From these Hard to Digest Foods
First, it’s important to realize that your dog is a natural scavenger. He eats things he finds, and those chicken bones he found in the garbage are never going to be digested easily. But there’s a wide range of more traditional food that your dog eats that his system may also have a hard time digesting. Here are some examples:
Case advises looking at your dog’s stool to quickly measure the quality of a dog food’s protein meal and how digestible it is. If the protein meal is lower quality, the poop will be larger. And when the low-quality protein meal has byproducts, those byproducts end up sitting in the large intestine longer, and the poop “is really stinky,” Case says. “They smell bad.”
Human Foods that May Cause Digestive Problems in Dogs
Some food that humans eat will definitely cause digestive issues for your dog and can be the source of a much more serious illness and even death. In some cases, the foods have components that are toxic and extremely dangerous to your dog. These foods include:
Best Food for Dogs with Digestive Issues
There are foods and ingredients in dog foods that are best for dogs with digestive issues. Here are some of those best foods:
- Proteins that are more easily digestible: fish is most digestible, chicken is second (if you’re dog doesn’t have issues with it). Following those two choices are lamb, beef, and pork.
- Other more exotic proteins like venison, rabbit, duck
- Commercial dog food that shows that’s lower in fat: Look for foods with 12 percent to no more than 20 percent fat.
- Dog food with fewer grains: While some dogs have no problems with corn, wheat, and other grains, they can cause problems for some dogs
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Dog food with a limited number of ingredients: The fewer ingredients, the less chance of the food containing components that are not easily digested or that can upset your dog’s system. Make sure the dog food has the required ingredients for a nutritionally balanced diet.
- Prescription dogs foods: Your vet may suggest a specific dog food if your dog has identified allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients.
- Raw or freeze-dried dog food from a reputable manufacturer
- Homemade dog food: When you make food for your dog, you can start with a limited number of ingredients and then add ingredients slowly to ensure there are no digestion issues. It’s important that the diet you feed him offers the complete balanced nutrition he needs, however. Ask for your vet’s recommendations. There are also online resources that can help, like the website balance.it.
Dr. Morgan says she’s often treated dogs professionally that had been eating commercial dog food and were severely underweight because of digestive problems. She often has owners start them on a simple homemade food diet of a protein they haven’t been eating, and two or three other ingredients like pumpkin, squash, kale or green beans.
“Ninety-nine times out of 100, people are calling me and telling me, my dog is a new dog,” Morgan states.
Best Food for Older Dogs with Digestive Issues or Sensitive Stomachs
In general, an older dog with digestion issues should respond well to the same foods that are good for younger dogs with digestion issues. But there are a few points to remember:
- A senior dog may require a bit more protein and fewer calories, since he or she is going to be less active than younger dogs.
- Your senior dog has more difficulty digesting fats. So, look for a dog food with a fat content between 8 and 12 percent.
- A dog food with hydrolyzed proteins might be helpful for a senior dog. These are proteins that are broken down into small parts and are more easily digestible.
- Your senior dog may need more fiber in his daily diet. But make sure not to give him too much fiber. Good sources of fiber include vegetables, oats, sweet potatoes, and brown rice.
- Feed your senior dog smaller portions throughout the day, instead of one or two big portions. This will give his digestive system time to process the food.
- When you switch what you’re feeding your senior dog, make sure you transition slowly. Initially, give him a small portion of new food mixed with his old food at first. Then gradually increase the portion of new food.
Steve Weinberg, founder and CEO of 911 Vets, a house-call veterinarian service in Los Angeles, says very often older dogs don’t need any changes in their food. “If an aging animal is healthy, in good body condition, and eating a good quality, nutritionally balanced diet, there is no reason to change foods,” he explains. But, adds, changes might be needed for specific health conditions, including lower amounts of protein if the dog has kidney problems and restricted sodium for dogs with heart diseases. Learn more about diets for senior dogs by reading What Should You Feed Your Senior Dog?
Best Food for Puppies with Sensitive Stomachs
As with senior dogs, puppies will respond well to the same foods that are good for adult dogs with digestion issues. The primary thing to remember with all puppies is that “they are growing rapidly and have higher energy requirements,” Weinberg says. Good dog food formulated for puppies accounts for these requirements.
Low-Quality Protein Meal, and Digestibility Ratings for Dog Foods
Commercial dog food packaging has a plethora of information about ingredients, unfortunately, much of it is unhelpful. A main problem: a dog owner has no idea of the quality of the protein meal by reading the label.
Most protein meal in dog food is made through “rendering,” which occurs when the moisture is cooked out of the material found in the protein ingredients. The residue from this process is baked at extremely high temperatures, resulting in a concentrated protein powder. The protein meal includes various protein ingredients that are fit for human consumption—and other organs and parts of animals that are not fit for human consumption. In low-quality meal, that might include various slaughterhouse waste, animal carcasses, and expired supermarket meats.
“I don’t like rendered meals,” Dr. Morgan explains. “I think when we put food through a rendering process, we’re making it devoid of nutrition.”
Other than trying to make an educated guess from the cost of the dog food, “The consumer has absolutely no way of knowing whether that protein meal is high quality or low quality,” Canine nutritionist Case says.
Case wrote about the problems in her Dog Food Logic book and advocates for dog food manufacturers to include “digestibility ratings” on their dog food packaging. Digestibility ratings would rate how efficiently a dog’s body can use the ingredients in the dog food, or just the protein sources. But Case knows of no commercial dog food companies that provide such ratings on their packaging.
“Most smaller companies do report the source of their ingredients,” she says. “If you ask them, they will often give you digestibility data.”
Ways to Learn More and Find the Best Food for Your Dog’s Digestive Issues
You can learn a lot about dog food and your dog’s digestion—both by reading and by talking to experts. Here are some things to consider:
- Talk to your veterinarian.
- Take a look at reputable online sources. The American Kennel Club has a guide on dog food and the Association of Feed Control Officials’ has a range of information on its website about pet foods.
- Check out a few of the hundreds of books on the topic written by veterinarians and other experts.
- Don’t choose a food based solely on price—certainly not because it’s the cheapest but also not because it’s the most expensive.
Short-Term and Longer-Term Actions You Can Take When Your Dog has Digestive Problems
If your dog’s digestive problems mean he’s having significant issues with vomiting or diarrhea, there are some immediate steps that might help:
- Keep him away from all solid food for 12 hours.
- To help him avoid dehydration, offer him small amounts of water a number of times per day. You can also feed him diluted chicken or beef broth.
- After the first 12 hours, offer him white rice with boiled white meat chicken. If he can eat this without vomiting, continue giving to him for the next few days, until his system and his stool appear more normal.
- If the diarrhea or persistent vomiting continues for more than 24 hours, or you dog seems to be getting worse, call your vet.
How Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes Can Help Dogs with Digestive Issues
Probiotics are microbes that live in the gut of humans and animals, including your dog. These are “good” bacteria. They keep your dog’s gut healthy and help his digestive system. Sometimes, the amount of good and bad bacteria in the gut can become unbalanced, and your dog may suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. That’s when appropriate probiotic supplements can help. Some specific dog probiotic supplements include:
- Purina FortiFlora Canine Nutritional Supplement
- PetVitalityPRO Probiotic Premium Plus for Dogs
- Amazing Nutritionals Probiotic Joint for Dogs
- Nusentia Probiotic Miracle, Probiotics for Dogs
- Dr. Mercola Complete Probiotics Dietary Supplement
- TummyWorks Probiotic for Dogs & Cats
- Advita Probiotic Nutritional Supplement for Dogs
Studies have shown that probiotics can be helpful for specific digestive conditions in dogs. But using probiotics can be complex, and a probiotic will do no good unless it is the specific kind that your dog needs and served in the right amount. It’s best to consult your veterinarian before adding probiotics to your dog’s diet.
Your dog’s body produces natural enzymes to help in digestion. If he’s healthy and eating normally, he likely doesn’t need digestive enzyme supplements. But if he is having significant digestive issues, he might be helped by supplemental digestive enzymes. They help do the work his natural enzymes would do—breaking down larger molecules in food into smaller particles that are easier for the body to digest. Digestive enzymes often come in capsules, powder or chewable pills.
The four basic kinds of digestive enzymes are:
- Protease – which breaks down proteins
- Amylase – which breaks down starches and carbohydrates
- Cellulase – which breaks down fiber
- Lipase – which breaks down fat
Some examples of specific digestive enzymes include:
- NaturVet Digestive Aid Pet Supplements
- Nusentia Pet Balance Enzyme Miracle Vegetarian
- PetVitalityPRO Probiotics Premium Plus
- Dr. Mercola Digestive Enzymes for Cats and Dogs
- Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes & Probiotics
As with probiotics, many dogs won’t need digestive enzymes, and their digestive system could be hampered by them. Consult with your vet before you start adding them to your dog’s diet.
Medicine/Natural Remedies that Might Help
There are also medicines and natural remedies that might provide relief for your dog’s digestive problems, but you should check with your vet to determine which are right for your pet and in what quantities. They include:
- Cerenia (either injectable or tablet medicine for nausea)
- Famotidine (known by the brand name Pepcid for human stomach issues; can be given to dogs short-term)
- Metoclopramide (prescription required)
- Slippery elm bark (an herb)
- Antibiotics (only if need and prescribed by your vet)
How Raw Natural Dog Food Can Be Good for Dogs with Digestion Issues
Commercial dog food often causes dogs’ digestive problems because of ingredients that aren’t nutritious and are difficult to digest. That includes food that is high in fat and includes certain grains. It also includes food with low-quality protein meal that contains many parts of the animal other than what humans would eat, and that has little nutrition value and is difficult to digest. Many experts say that raw dog food — sometimes freeze dried or dehydrated — is much better for a dog’s health.
W. Jean Dodds is a veterinarian and author of Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. She also founded Nutriscan, which created a diagnostic saliva test that can identify food intolerances and sensitivities in dogs, cats, and horses. “Properly prepared raw diets made with fresh wholesome ingredients are nutritionally superior to kibbled food, cooked diets,” she says. She adds, however, that the diets are not appropriate for dogs with chronic illnesses or cancers or who have a compromised immune system.
But for many dogs, the changed diet can be transformational. Morgan remembers a three-year-old golden retriever mix she once saw, who had been brought to a university veterinarian school where she worked. He had been fed a diet of commercial dog food but had ongoing vomiting and diarrhea, “was probably 50 percent underweight,” and had significant fibrosis and scarring in the small intestine. The owners had tried various prescription diets but nothing was helping.
“We fed this dog a raw beef diet, and within 48 hours the dog had zero vomiting, zero diarrhea,” she says. “It was a complete turnaround.”
Morgan said it is crucial that dog owners take care with raw food diets, however. Once the frozen food is defrosted, it must be used within a reasonable time. And, just as they do when they handle their own raw meat for cooking, pet owners must take care to properly wash dishes and utensils after the raw food has had contact with them.
Help Your Dog’s Digestive Issues by Getting Raw Food Delivered to Your Home
Raw food has been shown to help dogs with digestive issues, but how do you find an option that’s best for you and your pet? At Darwin’s Pet Products, our number one goal is to help keep your pets healthy and active for as long as possible. To help accomplish this goal, we provide a library of articles in the hope of providing consumers with useful information to help their pets. And, primarily, we produce affordable, high-quality raw dog and cat meals which we ship directly to consumers, so they are as fresh and convenient as possible.
Our meals are high in protein, gluten-free, wheat free, and are created to provide complete and balanced nutrition. We encourage you to learn more about our meals for dogs and meals for cats. Or, if you think you might want a trial of Darwin’s (at an introductory price), we would love to send you our meals and hear how much your dog or cat loves them.