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What foods are good for a dog's digestive system?

Owner feeding dalmatian dog advice

Every dog will suit a slightly different diet

© Shutterstock

Finding the right foods for your dog's digestive system can be a challenge, so what are the best options out there?

By Dr Alice Watson MA VetMB MRCVS

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It is important to find a diet that suits your dog to try to keep them in the best shape possible. Having a food that does not suit your dog may lead to an upset tummy, bringing about problems such as vomiting, diarrhoea or flatulence. Other problems can also be associated with poor diets, such as weight loss or deficiencies in vitamins or minerals.

What is the best dog food for dogs with digestive problems?

There are many different types of diet available for dogs – and different dogs will suit different diets. Every dog is an individual, just like us humans. It is important that you choose a diet that is appropriate for the life stage and style of the dog. For example, puppies should always be fed puppy diets to ensure proper growth and development, while adult dogs may develop diarrhoea on these diets. Working dogs should be fed high-calorie diets, if they are doing lots of exercise, while this diet would be inappropriate for a dog that gets little exercise.

There are some diets specifically formulated for dogs with digestive issues. Generally these diets are easy for dogs to digest and have higher protein and lower fat than normal diets. You may like to talk to a vet about what diet is best for your dog.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk 

What is the easiest food for a dog to digest?

Easily digestible diets are often high in protein and low in fat. Some owners chose to make a homemade diet, for example boiled chicken and rice, or scrambled eggs. Homemade diets should not be fed for more than three days without consulting a nutritionist, as they are not necessarily balanced in nutrients and will also vary from day to day.

What is the best food for my dog?

Every dog will suit a slightly different diet. It is always best to look for a good quality food that is appropriate for your dog's age (e.g. puppy, adult, senior) and how active your dog is. Some dogs suit breed-specific diets, and others require specific things like low-fat (e.g. for pancreatitis), easily digestible, hydrolysed or hypoallergenic diets. If you aren’t sure what diet is right for your dog, this is something you can ask a vet. Sometimes investigations are required to help to choose the right diet.

What helps a dog's digestive system?

There are many things that can help a dog’s digestive system. The first of these is finding a diet that suits your dog and trying to keep this consistent. Daily changes in the diet may lead to tummy upsets or vomiting and diarrhoea. Probiotics and prebiotics may also help your dog’s digestive system.

How long does it take for things to go through a dog's digestive system?

Most food takes about 24 hours to travel from the mouth and come out of the other end. This does depend slightly on what has been eaten. Large things may get stuck in the stomach until they are broken down, and high-fat meals are emptied slower from the stomach. If there are digestive issues such as diarrhoea, food may pass through the digestive tract faster.

What can I feed my dog with digestive problems?

When your dog has an upset digestive tract, you may see vomiting and diarrhoea. Here a low-fat and high-protein diet that is easily digestible will help to settle your dog’s tummy. It is often best to feed small meals more often rather than giving all the food in one go, if your dog is having digestive issues. Lower fat diets are recommended for tummy upsets, as fat delays the stomach emptying. This means that the stomach will empty quicker and it is less likely to be vomited back up. Probiotics can also help to improve diarrhoea that has started recently.

What can I feed my dog with irritable bowel syndrome?

If you think your dog has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it is worth discussing with a vet what is the best diet for your dog. Sometimes the best diet for a dog with digestive issues may be a hypoallergenic diet or even a hydrolysed diet. Hydrolysed diets are special in that anything that the dog may be allergic to is broken down into such small pieces that it cannot cause an allergy. Hydrolysed diets are different to hypoallergenic diets where the food may still cause an allergy, but there are a reduced number of ingredients that may cause an allergy, or the ingredients are less likely to cause an allergy.

Probiotics may also be useful for dogs with IBS, and there is some evidence to suggest that they can help to resolve signs quicker (alongside other medications) than when only using medications.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk 

Are eggs good for dogs with digestive issues?

Scrambled eggs made with water and no extra fat (e.g. butter or milk) are high in protein and easy for dogs to digest. This is often something that is recommended by vets when dogs have tummy upsets.

What is the best dog food for a sensitive stomach and skin?

If your dog has a sensitive stomach and skin, it is worth discussing with a vet what the best diet for your dog is. Sometimes these issues can be caused by a food allergy or intolerence, and so your dog may need to do a food trial to work out what is the best food for your dog. Food trials are often started with a hypoallergenic or hydrolysed diet. Hydrolysed diets are carried out so that anything that your dog may be allergic to is broken down into such small pieces that it cannot cause an allergy. Hypoallergenic diets, in comparison, contain ingredients that may still cause an allergy, but there are a reduced number of types of ingredients, or the ingredients are chosen because they are less likely to cause an allergy. Food trials can take six weeks to show any effect and must be strictly followed (so no treats) or they will not work. After a food trial other diets may be introduced to work out what does and doesn’t suit your dog.

An alternative to specific hypoallergenic or hydrolysed diets are the use of novel protein and carbohydrate sources. A novel protein or carbohydrate source is one that the dog has never tried before e.g. salmon and potato, or venison and sweet potato.

Is cheese bad for dogs?

Cheese is very high in fat, so it' s very calorific. This is one of the things that makes it extra tasty to dogs (just like us humans with chocolate or cheese). Cheese also contains lactose, which dogs cannot digest very well, as they do not have as much of the enzyme lactase as humans (lactase is the enzyme people with lactose intolerance are missing). This means that cheese may give your dog diarrhoea.

Is rice good for dogs?

Rice is a good source of carbohydrate for dogs and is often recommended for dogs with an upset tummy. As dogs are carnivores, they require a high-protein content in their diet, therefore rice should not be fed as the only part of a meal.

Are probiotics good for a dog's digestive system?

Probiotics are live bugs (microbes, such as bacteria, yeast and viruses) that are beneficial to health when eaten. The guts are full of lots of different types of microbes – this is known as the microbiome. Some of the gut microbes are ‘good’ and some may be harmful, if too many of these grow. Probiotics work by providing ‘good’ bacteria that can grow and by reducing the numbers of harmful bacteria (by out competing them).

There are different brands of probiotic available. You may want to ask a vet about which type they recommend for your dog. It is best to look for a dog-specific product that has been studied to prove it works.

When should I talk to a vet?

If you are wondering what food to feed your pet, it is best to discuss this with a vet. Food is something that we can easily change to keep our dogs in the best health possible, and a good diet can prevent many diseases (although sadly not all).

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

You may wish to check with a vet whether a probiotic is appropriate for your pet. You may also like to ask what probiotic they recommend and what evidence there is to prove that it works.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk 

Some links in this article will redirect you to My Family Vets website.

Ask for advice

Worried about your pet?

Speak to a qualified vet online, from the comfort of your home