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Looking after a Dog with a Sensitive Stomach

by Lauren Samet

A sensitive stomach is usually defined by gastrointestinal upset - in other words, you may notice your dog suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea. While it is assumed by many pet owners that any such symptoms are a serious cause for concern, this may not necessarily be so.

At one end of the scale, you may find that your dog has a single loose stool, while otherwise behaving normally and showing interest in their next meal. Assuming the issue does not reoccur; the cause is unlikely to be a “sensitive stomach” and probably shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. 

More seriously, you may find that your dog suffers from diarrhoea or vomiting on a very regular basis; sometimes multiple times a day. Such a condition should be treated with the attention it deserves, especially if your pet shows signs of discomfort. Signs of pain including whimpering, restlessness, listlessness or inactivity, turning to look at their stomachs, being needy or clingy or hiding away and being less sociable than normal. 

Showing no interest in their dinner is a big giveaway that there is a problem. Furthermore, anything else that isn’t “normal” for your individual pet e.g. blood in their poo, is also worth assessing and recalling to your vet or nutritionist.

If you are in any doubt about your dog - be that from digestive upsets or other medical conditions - you are advised to seek professional guidance as soon as possible. 

What Causes Sensitive Stomachs in Dogs?

Common Food Items

Certain ingredients often found in pet foods that are known to cause digestive problems in dogs are:

•    Wheat or other grains
•    Lactose – a sugar found in milk and other dairy derivatives 
•    Eggs
•    Food additives such as colouring or propylene glycol (artificial colours and flavours)
•    Beef
•    Chicken
•    Soya

Common household foods that are poisonous to dogs and can cause stomach upset and further illness include chocolate, onions, garlic, caffeine, alcohol, raisins and grapes. Xylitol is a sweetener found in many types of sugar-free, diet and diabetic foods that are also poisonous for dogs.

Eating Non-Foods

Occasionally dogs eat things they shouldn’t. Paying close attention to your dog can be helpful for identifying any non-food item regularly causing a problem. For example, is your pet nibbling at ornamental plants in your garden or chewing on non-food items while out on a walk? If necessary, keep your dog on a lead during walks to limit their opportunities for extra meals!

Food Contaminants

If your dog has suffered from an unusually sensitive stomach then an often-overlooked cause may be food contamination. Pet food companies carry out their own microbial testing and often include preservatives, but occasionally packaging can become damp or punctured, causing issues like mould to arise.

One of the controversies with raw feeding is the higher risk of contamination from bacteria such as Salmonella. Good food hygiene standards are therefore paramount when feeding raw foods.

If you suspect a shop-bought food is contaminated then get in touch with the manufacturer, providing them with details including the brand and batch number. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to test foods for contaminants if suspected, which can help you identify the reason for your pet’s sensitive stomach.

Coeliac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues with antibodies. It is triggered by the ingestion of gluten. Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains (e.g. wheat, rye, barley, oats, maize or spelt) and their derivatives (e.g. flour, starch, bran, couscous, rusk and bread). 

Gluten intolerance causes an inflammatory response in the gut. This reaction can prevent the tiny finger-like projections found in the gut’s lining (known as villi) from absorbing nutrients effectively. Eventually, this can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Gluten intolerance in dogs is rare but Irish Setters are a breed known for gluten sensitivity.


Certain breeds of dog are genetically predisposed to be more likely to suffer from chronic digestive conditions than others.  

Some breeds prone to such issues include:

Symptoms of a Sensitive Stomach

Common symptoms of a sensitive stomach might include:

Caring for a Dog with a Sensitive Stomach

Monitor Dog Food Ingredients

If your dog regularly suffers from an upset stomach then it may be worth monitoring what he or she eats to see if there are patterns between certain ingredients and bouts of digestive upset.

High-Quality Complete Foods

There are some fantastic quality foods on the market, but it is still possible for these to cause issues for some dogs. For example, diets very high in meat content can be a little bit too rich for some dogs, causing their stools to be runny. A food with more carbohydrate such as grains, rice or potato could be more suitable if the dog has no issue with these ingredients. 

Probiotics and Prebiotics / Good Bacteria

Good bacteria also referred to as probiotic bacteria, are those which are found naturally in the gut. Probiotic bacteria are able to break down those indigestible fibres, simultaneously providing extra nutrients to your dog and a food source for the bacteria. There is strong evidence to suggest a healthy gut microbiome (a community of microorganisms such as bacteria) is linked to a strong immune system, healthy skin and even mental well-being. 

Prebiotics such as those found in VitaPaws DigestiAid Plus are ingredients which can help promote the health of good bacteria in your dog’s stomach. For dogs that have undergone a course of antibiotics (which can destroy bacteria, including good gut bacteria) or regularly suffer from loose stools, a supplement like this could be beneficial.

Veterinary Treatment

If you notice one or more symptoms of a sensitive stomach then we do recommend that you speak to your veterinarian or a qualified animal nutritionist. They should be able to recommend an appropriate diet for your pet, such as a grain-free or hypoallergenic food. These are often known as prescription diets. 
If the food intolerance seems a little more obscure then they may be keen to carry out an elimination diet. This entails removing all but two or three ingredients in the diet to see if the sensitivity improves. New ingredients are gradually re-introduced one by one over a few weeks to see which, if any, cause a reaction. 


As we have seen, there are a range of factors that can cause (or worsen) a sensitive stomach in dogs. Fortunately, there is no need for such a condition to impact your pet’s quality of life. With some simple changes to their diet and lifestyle, combined with qualified veterinary advice, you should soon be well on the way to a happier, healthier pet.