One of the hardest experiences for just about any pet owner is when their pup is clearly in distress or discomfort. The problem lies in the fact that it’s obvious that something’s the matter, but your dog can’t communicate exactly what they’re feeling. Instead, you have to be attentive to their actions and changes in behavioral patterns in order to piece together the clues and figure out what’s wrong—that is, in most cases.
When it comes to dog indigestion or gastric issues, the unpleasant symptoms are often all too apparent. And while all canine breeds are susceptible to stomach problems from time to time, there are signs that you should be on the lookout for that indicate a more serious gastric issue.
Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know as a pet owner about indigestion in dogs.
What is Indigestion
Because your dog’s diet is relatively unvaried, it’s easy to forget that they, like humans, are susceptible to gastric distress. Most people incorrectly assume that dogs have a much tougher and robust digestive system. This is understandable, particularly when you remember that the canine is not so far removed from its wolf predecessors. Amongst other factors, domestication and years of selective genetic breeding have gradually sensitized the average dogs’ stomach.
All that said, your normal case of canine indigestion is simply gastric distress that comes from eating the wrong food, too much food, or too much of a certain type of food. Often this causes stomach issues that manifest as symptoms related to:
- Acid reflux
Why Does Indigestion Occur?
Typically, standard dog indigestion comes down to three key gastric issues:
- Excessive stomach acid buildup — When the body is working properly, this potent substance is used by both human and canine stomachs to break down food into nutrients and wastes as well as aid the digestive process. However, indigestion occurs when your pup’s stomach begins to produce too much stomach acid.
In such cases, pressure builds up within the gastric system, which causes pain, discomfort, and bloating. In response, a dog’s body naturally attempts to alleviate the problem by releasing the pressure however possible; and the only way that pressure can go is through your pup’s orifices, i.e. the mouth and anus.
- Inflammation of the stomach – This can cause muscles contractions, which lead to vomiting.
- Inflammation of the intestine – Similarly, this causes muscle contractions within the intestines which speed the contents of your stomach through the tract, leaving it too little time for the fluids to be properly absorbed back into the intestines. This is what causes diarrhea.
Signs and Symptoms of Dog Indigestion
As you might imagine, stomach issues are a common issue every dog owner runs into. According to Nationwide pet health insurance, diarrhea/intestinal upset and vomiting/upset stomach were cited as the 5th and 6th most common reason for trips to the veterinarian. As the Telegraph notes:
There are many possible causes of vomiting and diarrhea in dogs: entire textbooks have been written on the topic. The most common cause is simple: scavenging. Dogs have evolved to “eat first and ask questions later.” When a dog eats something that really ought to have been left alone (the list of possibilities is too long to itemize), the consequence is commonly that their digestive tract becomes inflamed (red and irritated).
With everyday gastric problems come several noticeable dog indigestion symptoms. These include:
- Weight loss – When your dog’s stomach hurts, especially if the problem persists, it will have an impact on their diet. At first, your dog may have trouble with the act of eating itself, regularly choking or hacking as it tries to get the food down. If the matter continues, it may stop eating as much or lose interest in food altogether. Over time, this will result in noticeable weight loss.
- Lip smacking and gulping – Repeated lip smack and gulping are noticeable signs that your dog will likely soon vomit. Per Pet Helpful:
The production of saliva is initiated by the salivary glands and increased saliva can be due to two different scenarios: either too much saliva is being produced or there is a decreased clearance of saliva. In the case of nausea, there is an overproduction of saliva. Because vomit is highly acidic in nature, it can cause potential harm to the dog’s throat, mouth and teeth. An increase in salivation, therefore, helps reduce this damaging effect.
- Stomach bloat – If you see that your pup’s stomach has been visibly distended, likely by gas buildup, this is a sign that something’s wrong. This may not always be apparent, but you can check by gently feeling your dog’s stomach and local areas. If they react with pain, you know there’s a gastric issue. Also, frequent whimpering is an obvious symptom that they’re in distress.
- Vomiting/Diarrhea – The most obvious and unpleasant sign that your dog’s stomach is in distress is the body violently attempting to rid itself of the offending substances.
- Bad Breath – Vomiting, choking back bile, and excess stomach acid will leave your dog’s breath smelling less than pleasant. Although it may not generally smell like roses, the odor is especially pungent and acidic.
- Change in behavior – If your pup is normally energetic but begins to act differently, especially if their behavior is characterized by lethargy, they’re likely dealing with both discomfort and low energy levels due to weakness caused by improper digestion.
- Eating grass – A common phenomenon is that when a dog’s stomach is upset, they’ll eat grass as a form of natural emetic or osmotic. In 2014, a study from Proceedings of the National Academy of Science was released about animals that naturally self-medicate. It states: “Anyone who has seen a dog eat grass during a walk has witnessed self-medication. The dog probably has an upset stomach or a parasite. The grass helps them vomit up the problem or eliminate it with the feces.”
- Passing gas – Flatulence is a normal doggy pastime, and some breeds are far gassier than others. That said, excess flatulence may indicate that your dog’s stomach is trying to relieve itself of pressure.
What Can You Do About A Dog with Indigestion?
If you have a dog with an upset stomach, there are several home remedies you can try for treating canine indigestion. These include:
- Wait it out – Oftentimes a bout of indigestion may be a singular thing resulting from something bad your dog ate. Sometimes, the best answer is to let nature do its work and see if they can pass the problem on their own. In such cases, avoid feeding your pet for 12 to 24 hours so that you are not compounding the problem.
- Ice – Although you may be tempted to give your dog a lot of water after they’ve been throwing up or having diarrhea, avoid doing so. Hydration is important, but it’s possible that your dog drinks too much water and only makes matters worse. Instead, give them a bowl of ice chips to chew on once every few hours. If the pup can keep those down, you can move to water.
- Canned pumpkin – Per Pet MD, canned pumpkin is one of the best holistic remedies for pet indigestion. They write:
It has a low glycemic index, so it slowly absorbs, which helps with upset stomach and digestion. Make sure to get canned pumpkin, and not pumpkin pie mix, as you don’t want to feed your dog spices. Smaller dogs (approximately five pounds) can be fed ½ teaspoon of canned pumpkin, while larger dogs (approximately 75 pounds) can be fed 1 tablespoon.
- Diet change – If the digestive problems are the result of gastric acid buildup, you may want to change your dog’s diet. A change in diet is usually an effective way to improve digestion in a dog’s body. Withhold food for a day or two, and then feed them small and regular meals of low-fat, low-protein foods, since fats and proteins are often the cause of an increase in gastric acid.
- Bone broth – One of the best ways to soothe the stomach and hydrate your pup involves feeding them a bone broth soup. This can take up to 24 hours to make, but once you’ve done it, you can freeze it and then break it out whenever stomach issues crop up. For a recipe, check out the one provided by Brindleberry Acres.
Treating Your Dog’s Indigestion
Although all these can be signs of everyday indigestion in dogs, they can also point to more serious medical conditions. If your dog’s digestive problems are worsening or not subsiding, he may be suffering from something more than just regular digestive issues. Digestive upset is normal for dogs and cats, but when your dog’s health begins to decline, that’s when you have to go see a vet for further examination. You may not want to, but it’s worth it to peruse your dog’s excretions to confirm that there’s no blood in the vomit or fecal matter. In such cases, or should the problem persist, it’s crucial that you take your dog to the veterinarian for further testing in order to determine whether or not there are serious underlying health concerns.
- Nationwide Pet Insurance. Most Common Medical Conditions that Prompt Veterinary Visits. https://blog.nationwide.com/news/reasons-to-take-pets-to-the-vet/
- Pet Helpful 15 Signs of an upset stomach in Dogs. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Signs-of-an-Upset-Stomach-in-Dogs
- NCBI. Animals that self-medicate. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4267359/
- Pet MD. Five remedies for upset stomach in dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/wellness/evr_dg_remedies-for-upset-stomach-in-dogs
- Brindleberry Acres. Healthy bone broth for dogs. https://brindleberrypetphoto.com/healthy-bone-broth-for-dogs/
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.