Cavalier King Charles dog eating in food bowl

If your dog has stomach problems, it'll probably need to see a vet.

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How do you fix a dog's digestive system?

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

If your poor dog has digestive problems, you'll soon know about it from the vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which are just two of the possible symptoms. As well as helping your dog get better, you may want to help their gut get better in the long term – and this could be with probiotics. 

How do you know if your dog has digestive problems?

The term ‘digestive problem’ refers to any issue or illness that affects the normal functioning of part of the digestive tract (oesophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines, anus). Vomiting and diarrhoea are two of the most common signs that an owner will notice, if their pet has a gastrointestinal problem. There are other more subtle changes that you may pick up on such as changes in faecal consistency – slightly softer or harder than ‘normal’. You might also notice decreased appetite, constipation, increased gassiness, straining to pass faeces, or blood/mucus in the faeces.

How do you treat a dog with digestive problems?

There are many causes of gastrointestinal symptoms in dogs, which include: intestinal worms, viral infections, scavenging, eating food that is toxic or high in fat, food allergies, inflammation of the pancreas, poisoning, motion sickness, anxiety, other underlying diseases (e.g. kidney disease) and more.

This means that your pet needs a vet health check to help diagnose the root of the problem, so that they can offer the best treatment plan. You should contact the vets, so that they can triage whether an appointment is required, and how urgently.

In the meantime avoid feeding your pet anything high in fat, and do not feed them treats or chews. If they have been sick, let their stomach settle for a couple of hours before you next feed them (or longer if the vet advises). You should continue to give them access to plenty of water, otherwise this can make any dehydration worse.

At their next meal, feed your pet a small portion of bland food. Many vet practices are able to offer a good option for sensitive stomachs, or alternatively plain white fish or chicken breast with a small amount of cooked rice may be suitable. This diet should be fed until 48 hours after their last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea, and their normal diet should gradually be reintroduced over a few days. If gastrointestinal signs start to return, contact a vet for further advice.

How can I improve my dog's gut health?

Speak to a vet about the best plan for your pet’s health. If your dog is showing gastrointestinal symptoms, then they need an appointment to check for more serious underlying causes. The vet will be able to suggest an appropriate order for any diagnostic tests or dietary trials, and what treatments may be suitable.

What is a natural probiotic for dogs?

Some human foods naturally contain probiotics and these are often partially fermented. Do not feed these to your dogs, as they can make digestive upset worse and may even be toxic to your pet. It is better to give a probiotic that is specifically designed for use in dogs.

What is the best probiotic for dogs?

Most veterinary probiotics contain Enterococcus faecium, which is a type of bacteria. There are different strains of this bacteria and some of these are more effective than others. Ask a vet which product they recommend for your pet.

Can you give a dog too much probiotics?

Probiotics will have guidelines for dosage. As with any treatment, it is always recommended that you stick to the guidelines unless advised otherwise by a vet.

Is it OK to give my dog probiotics daily?

If your pet has been prescribed a course of probiotics, this will usually be given once or twice a day as advised by a vet. If your pet is in good health, a daily supplement of probiotics is probably unnecessary. However, many people give their pet a daily probiotic and it is unlikely to be harmful, although a poor quality product has the potential to disrupt the balance of their natural gut biome. As with any supplement, it is worth seeking veterinary advice before you start giving these to your pet.

Can I give my dog yogurt as a probiotic?

Feeding your dog any dairy product would not usually be recommended. This is because they are unable to digest lactose properly and consuming it can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhoea. If you decide to give your dog yogurt, do not feed any that are flavoured or contain sugar or sweeteners. Xylitol in particular is an artificial sweetener that is incredibly toxic to dogs. Chocolate is also very poisonous. Your pet is unlikely to receive any probiotic benefit from yogurt, as it will not contain the correct species or strains of bacteria that are found in a healthy canine intestine.

When should I take my dog to a vet?

If a young puppy shows symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea, you should always contact a vet, as puppies are particularly prone to dehydration. In adult dogs, you must seek veterinary advice if poisoning is a possibility or if your pet’s vomit or faeces contain blood. Other causes for concern are lethargy, foul-smelling diarrhoea, a bloated stomach, yellow vomit, vomiting multiple times a day or bringing up undigested food hours after eating. If in doubt, contact a vet for advice.

What should I ask a vet about probiotics for my dog?

You can speak to a vet about any topic relating to pet health, including supplementation with probiotics. If appropriate, the vet may be able to offer telephone advice regarding a healthy pet. However, often an appointment is necessary, so that they can be examined.

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