Feeding dogs with a sensitive digestive system

Questions about dogs with sensitive stomachs/digestive system seems to crop up fairly regularly on the forum. I therefore thought it might be useful to have a thread about this in order to gather up opinions and general advice.

The description ‘sensitive stomach’ or similar doesn’t really say much about the problem so we would ask our members to provide more detailed information, for example:

  • Symptoms, e.g. diarrhoea, vomiting, poor appetite, excessive flatulence, weight loss, generally unwell.
  • Frequency and how long the problem has existed.
  • List of Foods that have been tried and with what result. Include snacks.
  • Any know trigger factors.
  • Veterinary opinion and any tests that have been done.
  • Stress - has your dog been in any stressful situations? Stress and anxiety can have an effect on the digestive system.
  • Scavenging - is your dog is prone to scavenging? This is a very common cause of intestinal problems.

Dietary management:

  • It is impossible to give precise advice re what to feed an individual dog with this kind of problem. However, sometimes the choice can be narrowed down if the owner has noticed that a specific ingredient seems to have caused problems. That is why it is essential to think carefully about what has been tried. Note taking is useful as it is so easy to forget.
  • Labeling: Always choose a product with crystal clear labeling so you know exactly what you are feeding your dog. Check the ingredient list carefully before purchase.
  • **Single source of protein (i.e. fish, meat or poultry): **Food with a single source of protein should be used because any reaction to it can be identified more easily. It can then be eliminated from the diet.
  • **Simple ingredient list: **Generally speaking, choose a food with a simple ingredient list. Wet foods tend to have simpler recipes than dry food so may be a good choice.
  • Overfeeding: Make absolutely sure that you are not overfeeding the dog. This can cause loose, frequent stools leading to misdiagnosis. Weigh the food and give the correct amount. Bear in mind that feeding guidelines are often on the high side and that your dog may require less than advised. Following a change in food it can take several weeks to properly assess the amount required.
  • Extras: Whilst trialing a new food it is important not to give table scraps or any other additional food. This will enable the owner to properly assess how the dog is coping with it’s new diet.
  • The Dog Food Directory: When sourcing a new product using the Dog Food Directory on this website, under the ‘Avoid ingredients’ filter, consider ticking the ‘no red ingredients’ box.

I hope that other members will add to this thread in order to make it a useful resource.


Excellent advice Dottie and thank you for starting the thread.

Might I add also it is useful to make a note of the specific protein being fed to a dog, so for domestic fowl this includes chicken, goose, duck, or turkey and whichever of these within that poultry group is being eaten is the one to record. It’s worthwhile as dogs may become intolerant of any one, or several, of these proteins and to record which are being eaten makes it so much easier to know which ones are to avoid feeding to the dog.

Also record the individual fish that is named on the ingredient list, if fish is fed to a dog. The list includes salmon, cod, sardines, herring, pilchards, hake, char, mackerel, tuna, pollock, flounder, coley, krill, menhaden and trout and for sure there are others that are not named here …

Notably sometimes fish may be named as the oil (of the fish) or the liver oil (of the fish) which is being used in the dog food; for example salmon oil. And this too ought to be in the notes which are kept to record what a dog is eating; the reason being is that if a dog is intolerant to salmon then regardless of salmon’s appearance, either as one of the main ingredients, or as the oil (of salmon) simply by eating the food a dog would still potentially throw up intolerant reactions.

The same principle is true when feeding a meat protein - that is, to keep a record of which of the individually named meats are being fed. The variety of meat proteins (including what is known as game) is increasing, as expected over time, and includes beef, lamb, pork, goat, venison, kangaroo, buffalo, quail, partridge, ostrich, pheasant, bison, rabbit, reindeer, and wild boar and others for sure!

It is also worthwhile noting if there are eggs in the food as I have known dogs who cannot tolerate egg and who will also react if egg is used in vaccine preparations.

Dogs are individuals of course and it therefore seems reasonable to expect the possibility that dogs may be able to tolerate a particular ingredient in one form and yet not in another version. An example of such a situation was of a dog who could tolerate a food such as organic (interestingly chicken was the protein) though he showed intolerant reactions if ever the chicken was not organic!! This may have been due to any number of reasons…nonetheless it was not an easy task to find out that this was indeed the trigger for that dog’s issues! Again it pays to keep complete notes of specific ingredients that are being eaten by our dogs.


…and Sugars.

As strange as this may sound, I’ve had a dog that could eat a food in the same variety, made by the same company and packaged in a can. Yet that particular dog invariably began to have diarrhoea sessions if fed the same variety, made by the same company and packaged in a packet!
My first reaction was to wonder (aside from whether there may have been an issue with the packaging of course) whether the recipe of the food had been altered. And yes it had. There were added sugars in the packet. That alone was enough to trigger a reaction.

To their credit the company removed the added sugars from their recipe, and all was well again. This demonstrates how thorough we must be in keeping ourselves aware of tweaks which manufacturers may make to their recipes.

I’ve also had a dog react when a company changed the geographical area of where their food was being processed. ‘Different’ land on which animals grazed resulting in an altered end product. And I’ve had a dog that reacted when a named fish was “farmed” rather than “wild caught”.

Therefore, further advice is that if anyone has a dog that has been ‘happily’ eating a food, and then begins to react, it’s as well to double-check that the ingredients stated on the packaging are the same as always, and if they are then I’d be inclined to contact the food manufacturer to enquire if there are any manufacturing alterations, such as where their food is currently being sourced from, or where it is now being produced.


Thank you for this useful information Meg.

To add to the aforementioned list in #1:
**Changing food when dog is unwell: ** Changing food is not usually a good idea when the dog is unwell, especially when it is known to have a sensitive digestion. It could be too much of a challenge for the dog and the owner cannot assess the dog’s response to treatment and diet correctly. Vets usually advise a light diet e.g. rice/pasta and chicken/fish. If you don’t wish to return to the previous food once the dog begins to recover, consider transitioning gradually to the new product from the light diet.
Transition to new food: For dogs with a sensitive digestive system, it makes sense to transition to a new food very gradually. It can take a week or two for particularly sensitive dogs.
Meal times: Dogs with this kind of problem may benefit from having smaller, more frequent meals so the stomach is not empty for very long.
Pre/Probiotics: Some foods contain these but supplements might be helpful. Choose a canine specific preparation e.g. YuDigest. Further information here.


Non dietary causes of a sensitive digestive system:

Scavenging and coprophagia: This is arguably the number one cause of stomach and bowel upsets. Continued vigilance is needed to prevent it. Kitchen bins, food scraps etc need to be kept well away from the dog. In the case of coprophagia, clean up the garden immediately. If the dog is a persistent eater of poo and cannot be supervised when let out in the garden, consider use of a basket muzzle just until the poo can be cleared.
Infection: Preventing infection is not easy. It might be useful to clean their paws when they return from a walk, particularly in muddy conditions. Dogs lick their feet when they are dirty and if they have stood in something that is infected, the bacteria could be ingested.


…and pesky parasites!

Adding to other causes of a sensitive digestive system, intestinal parasites if left untreated would detrimentally affect a dog, including outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting. Fortunately many parasites can be treated by owners with dog wormers. Notably there are others, for example giardia which may need treatment with antibiotics prescribed by a vet.

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