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12th Jan 2015

Digestive Problems in Dogs - How to Help Sensitive Tummies

by Laura Crotch-Harvey MSc BSc (Hons)

A recent review of our helpline showed that 20% of all enquiries were concerning digestive problems in dogs. Dogs suffering from digestive problems lasting longer than a day or two should always be seen by a vet. This is to rule out underlying causes such as infection, tumours or parasites. If these issues have been ruled out then dietary management is the next logical step.

Feed a highly digestible diet

The most obvious indicator of a highly digestible diet is the amount of faeces your dog produces. On a good quality, highly digestible diet your dog should produce small, well formed stools. They shouldn’t smell too strongly either!

Choose a hypoallergenic product

Put simply, hypoallergenic dog food is less likely to provoke an allergic reaction. Typically, a hypoallergenic diet will contain only one source of protein/meat and should not contain ingredients such as wheat gluten and dairy products which are known to cause reactions in some dogs.

Novel ingredients

Try feeding your dog a ‘novel protein’ which they are unlikely to have eaten before, such as duck, pork, egg or fish. Their body won’t have built up an immune reaction against it, making it unlikely to upset their stomach.

A natural solution

Avoid foods which contain artificial colourings, sugars or chemical preservatives. If the packet isn’t clear, contact the manufacturer for more information. Examples include:

* Natural preservatives such as vitamin E (labeled as tocopherols) are fine, but avoid chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin, which have been linked to health conditions such as cancer.

* Colouring in kibbles (biscuits) can sometimes occur naturally, but watch out for artificial colouring such as E110 (sunset yellow) which has been shown to cause tumours in animals.

Feeding amounts

The more food you feed the harder the dog’s digestive system has to work, which is why dogs with sensitive digestive systems often need less food than the amount recommended on the bag. Burns food is highly digestible, so it naturally has a lower feeding amount (making it also more economical and less poo for your to pick up). However, all dogs are different – our Nutrition Team can advise the suggested amount for your dog.

Underweight dogs

Sometimes dogs with digestive conditions are underweight. Owners are often so concerned they start feeding more than recommended to help it gain weight. This is unlikely to work as overfeeding can cause loose or frequent stools as the extra food goes straight through the dog. Once the digestive problem is being controlled the dog can digest and absorb food naturally and will gain weight with time.

Low fat diets

Many dogs with digestive problems require a low fat diet even if they are a little underweight, as it can be difficult for them to digest and absorb fats. Occasionally the opposite is suggested. Some dogs get loose stools if fed too much food but on smaller amounts of food they have normal stools but they cannot maintain their weight. In these instances smaller amounts of a higher calorie food may suit their digestive system better.

Don’t worry – the Burns Nutrition Team are here to help if you need advice on diet!

Treats, table scraps, tit-bits and chews

If your dog has a digestive problem ALL treats, tit-bits and other foods should be cut out until the condition is managed. Even small amounts can trigger an upset stomach. If you are feeding (for example) a crust of toast and your dog has a wheat allergy this small amount could be enough cause a reaction. Once your dog is better you can reintroduce treats one a time, allowing you to determine which (if any) don’t suit him.

Number of meals

One-two meals a day are usually recommended for healthy dogs but if your dog has a digestive condition, the body may struggle to digest large meals. Try offering small, more manageable amounts of food more frequently until your dog’s stomach is more settled.

Here to help

The Burns Nutrition Team are here happy to help – call 0800 083 66 96 or email for free support and advice from our experienced nutritionists.

by Laura Crotch-Harvey MSc BSc (Hons)

I've worked at Burns since 2015 and head up a busy, dedicated team of pet nutritionists at our Kidwelly head office. No two days are ever the same. We are often busy going the extra mile for our customers and offer free advice via LiveChat, telephone and email.