Does my dog have sensitive stomach?

posted: 05/15/12
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How do I know if my dog has a sensitive stomach?
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You may notice that your dog is vomiting more than usual or passing a lot of gas. Could he have a sensitive stomach? What does that mean? And what would cause that?

"Sensitive stomach is a generic and vague term," says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a veterinarian from Los Angeles. "This can range from vomiting and diarrhea due to changing foods, to internal organ system damage. It's very common for dogs to have sensitive stomachs, in part because dogs are curious and explore the world through their mouths." Meaning dogs will eat just about anything.

Sensitive stomachs can have several causes, according to Mahaney.  Some breeds such as the Scottish Terrier and the Yorkie are more prone to this.  Older dogs, puppies and small dogs are also more susceptible.   Dry dog food can expand inside of a dog's stomach, causing a dog with a small stomach to vomit soon after eating.

Signs of a Sensitive Stomach

The good news about sensitive stomach is that the signs are easy—albeit unpleasant—to recognize. Among them are:

- Vomiting: Occasional vomiting is not necessarily a cause for concern, but if there are other symptoms, such as lethargy and diarrhea, it's time for a veterinary visit.

- Diarrhea:  Loose stool can be a sign of a sensitive stomach, particularly if there was a recent change in diet.

- Gas: Dogs can have flatulence from gulping air when they eat, from a gastrointestinal illness or from eating too fast. Try using an elevated feeder and taking your dog out for a walk soon after eating if gas is an issue.

- Eating grass: Grass is a natural remedy for an upset stomach.  However, the grass blades tickle the stomach lining which may cause your pet to vomit.

Food intolerance and food allergies can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.  Some dogs are allergic to certain grains (wheat, soy, corn) found in pet foods while others are allergic to certain protein sources used in pet food. 

If you think that food might be the culprit, try switching your dog to a food specially formulated for sensitive stomachs. Your veterinarian might prescribe this food for a short time, or for the long term, depending on your dog's reaction.   Your vet may also suggest switching to a brand with a different protein source or grain component to see if the reason for the upset stomach is allergy-related.

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Ways to calm a sensitive stomach
Lawrence Manning/Corbis | Andersen Ross/Blend Images/Corbis | Image Source/Corbis

If your dog vomits or has diarrhea only occasionally, try putting him on a bland diet of boiled rice and chicken. You can also give him a small amount of canned pumpkin or yogurt.  Pumpkin is good for diarrhea and yogurt acts a probiotic, replacing the good bacteria lost during sickness.   There are also probiotics made specifically for dogs that come in a powdered form which you can sprinkle into dog food.  For small dogs, try moistening dry food or adding wet food to dry to lessen the chances of vomiting.

However, if your dog has been vomiting or having diarrhea for several days, it's time to visit the vet. He will take a stool sample, blood sample and possibly an X-ray to determine if this is due to something more serious such as:

- Parasites such as roundworms, whipworms or tapeworms

- Bacterial infection

- A fungal infection from eating something moldy from the trash

- Inflammatory bowel disease

- Addison's Disease (a disease of the adrenal glands near the kidneys)

- Gastrinoma (a tumor of the intestines)

- Ingesting a foreign body or toxin

- Pancreatitis (from eating fatty food or table scraps)

- Stomach ulcers

Once your vet has determined the reason for your dog's sensitive stomach, proper treatment can be given, whether medication or surgery.

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